Sunday morning it was pitch dark when I grabbed my cameras and set out for a 5:30 am rendezvous with Specialized's Bobby Behan at the Uvas Reservoir. Bobby is Global Sports Marketing Director for Specialized and an accomplished triathlete, DS and coach. At an athletic 6'5" the affable Irishman now living outside Capetown, SA is hard to miss.
I was there to shoot Chris 'Macca' McCormack, Specialized Sponsored athlete and triathlon legend along with his S-Works Transition participating in the 2009 Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon (much to the surprise and delight of the event's organizers). Bobby was going to ensure I had access to Chris for the assignment. As it turned out, "security" was the eight-year old son of an organizer guarding a 10' section of railing designated "for professionals only" The little guy only had to mention the word professional and anyone thinking about setting their bike down in that hallowed ground was backing up, bowing and apologizing profusely. Such is the power of the word PRO.
Shortly after 5:30 am Chris arrived, graciously said hello to anyone who wanted a word, and then set about getting his gear ready to race. While his principle competition on the day, Chris Lieto, set up shop immediately to his left, Macca hung his gleaming white/blue/black S-Works Transition running SRAM Red on the rail to organize his matching aero helmet, sunglasses and BG shoes for the bike portion of the event. For the record I don't have any ambitions to own a TT bike, but there's no denying the Transition is one sleek looking bicycle... make that missile.
Designated as a Sprint, the course consisted of a 3/4-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5-mile run. The bike course was the very same loop that the Specialized lunchtime hammerfest used to put the screws to me.
Before long the pro field was in the water and underway. I shot the first few strokes and then walked back to the transition area to shoot a few more statics of the bike and to wait exactly 38:54.4 for Chris to get round the island and out the water. Amazing to watch them get out of their wetsuits, don helmets and glasses in 20 seconds, all without a trace of panic. In bare feet they jog out to the designated point where they can mount their bikes and ride. With shoes already clipped into pedals they push off and get up to speed before wiggling into the shoes. Lieto and McCormack made this look effortless.
Bobby and I then quick marched in the opposite direction down Uvas Road to where I'd parked my car. A certified car nut Bobby got behind the wheel of the S4 grinning and set off backwards down the course to a spot where we'd pick Chris up so I could shoot out the sunroof. Flashers on, photo banner in the windshield we waved to CHIPS officers watching the course. We didn't have to wait long. Lieto and Macca appeared, separated so as not to contravene the no-drafting rules of triathlon, but for all intents neck-and-neck. Bobby punched it and we pulled 25 metres ahead so I could shoot backwards. Watsonville Road yielded a handful of good shots but Uvas proved near impossible as the twisting, undulating, surface had me bouncing around in the turret. In contrast the guys on the bikes stayed smooth and tucked in their aero positions throughout.
A few more shots and we disengaged to blast ahead to the transition. While I jumped out Bobby talked his way through a road block and parked the car. The two Chris's had finished their bike circuit before many of the staggered divisions had even started theirs. Since the run was a simple out and back, all we had to do was wait to see who appeared first. Meanwhile the riders continued to stream out on to the road course.
Twenty-eight minutes later the two runners appeared matching each other stride for stride, Macca just off Lieto's left shoulder poised for his strong finishing kick. It didn't come, instead Macca anticipated the sharp turn into the finish a little better and leapt on to the ditch-crossing ramp first. We didn't see it but they finished McCormack 1st, Lieto 2nd. Given the state of my crawl, I might still have been in the water at that point.
Post race I couldn't have been more impressed with how Macca handled himself, congratulating competitors, chatting with fans and eventually walking round the lake so his Clif sponsors could film an interview in peace. He speaks so well and all his answers were tempered with typical Aussie humor and that 1000-watt smile. An example that every professional athlete could learn something from.