After last Saturday's Age Group National Championship race were the Women's & Men's Elite National Championship races. I stuck around to watch because I had never seen triathletes of that caliber (i.e. professionals) compete live (and also because the road back to the parking lot blocked off).
It was fascinating to watch, even though I didn't know much about the competitors. All I knew is that most of the U.S. 2008 Olympic Triathlon team would be racing. The highest placed U.S. triathlete in Beijing was Laura Bennett, who finished fourth. Apparently my mother-in-law knows her mother. Neat.
Nearly all age group competitors wore wetsuits for the swim, whereas none of the elites wore wetsuits. Their transitions were just so ridiculously fast they would lose major time taking a wetsuit off. They're all so good at swimming that they don't really need them anyway.
The biggest difference is that the bike portion of the elite race is draft legal. This means the elite triathletes can work together on the bike, but the Age Group triathletes have to ride alone. This totally changes the dynamic of the race. The race leaders at the start of the bike have a huge advantage over those who are a little bit behind. Both the winners of Women's & Men's races were in the first group out of the water and the first group onto the bike. They both worked together with other competitors to stay in front of the chasers on the bike.
The bike & run courses for the Elite race were different. Instead of two long loops on the bike or a long out and back on the run, they did shorter loops (8 on the bike, 5 on the run) and came back through the transition area every few minutes. This made the race much more spectator friendly. We could stay in the same place and see the competitors a dozen times.
The women went first. I watched the race unfold from the top of the hill coming out of the transition area. On the bike one woman was chasing the leaders all by herself (and making up big time) when she crashed right in front of me. She took the corner a little too fast and slid out. She was able to get back up and finish the race. It was sad, but the crowd really cheered her on after she started riding again. Here is some of the video footage I took during the race.
The men started as soon as the women finished. The interesting thing about this race was there were two leaders on the bike and a chase group of around ten. Conventional cycling wisdom says ten working together are always faster than two. However, in this race the ten chasers were not very well organized and the two leaders pulled farther away every lap. One of these two eventually won. As a person who has ridden in a few cycling races (and watched a hundred on TV) the apparent lack of tactical knowledge by the ten chasers was painful to watch.
After the men's race ended the road was reopened and I rode the Pocket Rocket back to the parking lot. Of course, I couldn't find my car when I got there. I was driving a rental and it was completely dark when I parked. After a few minutes of walking in circles I realized I had already walked past it. I ate dinner at Pizza in Paradise before heading back to my hotel and falling asleep rather quickly.