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Racing Rough in Vila Velha

By John ONeill | July 09, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

I’ll get right down to it: the PATCO Championship held last weekend in Vila Velha, Brazil was hard racing on a tough course. Myself along with three other American Elite men went to down to Brazil to represent the USA at the race – with the aim of bringing home a medal. Jason Pedersen, one of the American guys, would come the closest by finishing fifth. I was next in 13th, followed by Sean Jefferson who took a nasty crash on the bike. The fourth American, Luke Farkas, caught a nail in his tire on some bumpy roads and did not finish, but did an excellent job setting the team up before he pulled off the course. First off: the course. Before Brazil I had only ever raced in calm lakes or mellow ocean bays, and well-paved roads. Brazil was none of these things. The swim was a two-lap ocean swim with a decent size break we fought on the beach and then again on a sandbar farther out each lap. The bike course was rugged. I can’t believe there weren’t more flat tires as I personally plowed through potholes and sewer grates that were impossible to spot in a pack. At times the bumps were so severe athletes were knocked up out of the saddle or hands bounced off handlebars. All the while, the Brazilian police did their best to keep traffic at bay, but sometimes came up short. Twice during my race a rogue motorcycle would carve it’s way between the bike packs to avoid traffic. Next up, the competition. The South American countries brought the heat, the Brazilians in particular having the home course. I should have known this to be the case as we showed up in Brazil during the height of the Confederation’s Cup and apartments all around the course were decorated with the green and yellow Brazilian flag. We actually watched the final of the Confederation Cup when Brazil defeated Spain 3-0, but explaining the chaos that ensued in the city after that would take a completely different and nearly irrelevant blog. Even in the swim, as packs usually string out, this one remained physical right up until the end. The race became a lot louder every time I came even with a Brazilian athlete as each pack of spectators had something positive to yell at the Brazilian, and something else to yell at me. I did catch and pass some Brazilian athletes, but it wasn’t without major effort. Hats off to the home country. I would add, though, that the Americans also came down and represented. Along with the men’s elite racers was a horde of juniors who crushed their competition in the PATCO Junior championships. The guys finished 1-2-4 and the girls finished 1-2-6 on the top end. Steve Kelly, the USAT Junior coordinator, put together a fantastic team for the race.

The entire experience was new to me. The course was tough and the competition was stiff. I wasn’t thrilled with my finish but happy with how I stepped up in a new racing environment. I fought for every inch of that finish and I brought it back to the USA with a certain amount of pride.