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Sam Gardner: (Double) Saipan success
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Monday 22nd March 2010


Tags  Saipan  |  Sam Gardner  |  Tagaman  |  Xterra Saipan


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Top GB off-road triathlete Sam Gardner reports in from the Pacific paradise of Saipan. Sam has been a busy - and successful - boy over the past week, firstly retaining his XTERRA Saipan title, and then following that up with a win in the Tagaman Triathlon, which unusually for Sam is a road-based event. Both events were incredibly tough, with winning margins of less than a minute in both cases. However, the reward for all of his effort is some cash, and a seven night stay at the Pacific Island Club (PIC), which I guess means he will be back in 2011 to defend both titles...


"Hafa adai" (as they say in Saipan). My first major goal of 2010 was Xterra Saipan, which I won in 2009 and is one of my favourite races on the circuit.

With a week of acclimatisation to the 30 degree heat and high humidity, I was disappointed on race day to see it raining like back at home (almost like the UK, except it was still 25 degrees). The sea was pretty rough when the gun went at 6:30am, making it difficult to see the buoys, and impossible to swim in a straight line. With the swim completed, I was in fifth place just behind fellow Brit and training partner Michael Hiscott, two minutes down on my major rival Mike Vine and a minute behind another previous winner, Aussie Jason Chalker.

After a reasonable first transition Michael and I set off to chase down the opposition. On the first major climb I could see Jason ahead, but it took me until the second climb of this very hilly hard course to pass him.

Not long after this, I got my first glimpse of Mike Vine. I was not reeling him in as quickly as hoped however and it took a lot longer than last year to catch him. When I eventually did make contact, I attacked almost straight away and worked on getting a decent lead in the remaining half a lap. My new 17lb Cannondale Flash with its single front chain-ring danced up the 30 minute long climb to the top of Mt Tapochao.

Into T2 I had a 2 min 15 second gap over Mike. Little did I know the carnage that was occurring further down the field with Jason taking a tumble and cutting himself to the bone and Michael spending more time on the dirt than on the bike!

The run starts with 2km of flat paved paths round a park, where I tried to get in a rhythm before it hit the jungle proper. I didn't look back and just concentrated on the rocks and roots in front of me. Entering the dreaded ‘gully’ towards the end of the course, which is a deep rocky ravine with a 100ft long cave section where the Japanese soldiers hid from the Americans in the second World War, I apparently had a two minute lead still (which I found out afterwards). The rocks were covered in a thick coating of slippery moss from the recent rains, and a rockfall since the 2009 race had changed some of the route. I thought I ran this pretty well, considering there are sections where you have to clamber down 10ft drops where European Health and Safety would suggest the use of ropes and harnesses, I had one nasty moment where I slipped over on a slick rock and bashed my hip pretty badly, but somehow Mike had closed the gap to 45 seconds.

Luckily I looked back on the straight section and saw him chasing. From then on I just dug in for the last 2km along the beach back to the finish. Breaking the race down and treating every palm tree as the finish. Amazingly I only lost another two seconds to defend my title and carry a 43 second advantage into the Tagaman Middle Distance road triathlon the following weekend.

The other British contingent finished nicely in the money and raced well, with Michael getting 5th in the men's pro race, Emma Ruth-Smith and Daz Parker (both in their first ever pro race) got 4th and 5th respectively.

Tagaman is the final event in the Saipan Sports Fest (which had a Marathon also the week before Xterra). It consists of a 2.2km swim, 60km bike and a 15km run. This years event had a great international field including most of the Xterra pro competitors and a large contingent of Korean pros, a Japanese Olympian and also several Aussie pros. In previous years I had got 3rd (2007) and 2nd in 2009, not matching the record of Tagaman legend (and my very kind 2XU sponsor), Mike Trees who won this event several times and podiumed plenty more. In order to be fresh, I had a relaxed week of light training, scuba diving with my wife to be and eating far too much fantastic food at the host hotel, the PIC.

The swim started with a false start possibly caused by your truly, and we were all called back! On the second attempt we got way properly and I realised why I was leading the first time around, as the Korean ITU pros got to work at the front and got a good gap. A bad line by all competitors on the first lap (in the half light at 6am) led us over beautiful but razor sharp coral in very shallow water. The fastest swim of the day was by one of local guys called Kai who also put us all to shame in the Xterra swim too.

I exited the water in 17th, two seconds behind Michael Hiscott (as he continues to mention to me), had a good transition and got on my new Cannondale Slice which they very kindly loaned me for this, possibly my only road tri of 2010. I was about three minutes down on the leaders.

The bike was predominantly head wind for the first half and a group of four Korean pros took advantage of the lack of draft busters and held a commanding lead, while first Jason Chalker, then Mike Vine and finally I struggled to catch them. When I did make the junction I attacked on the opposite side of the road, so no one was going to get on my wheel. From here it was a do or die effort to gain enough time on some potentially very fast runners that I knew little about. I must thank AW cycles for lending me some posh carbon Fulcrum wheels before I left the UK, which certainly helped today. Over the next 40km I managed to build a three minute lead, over the chasers. I had been careful to consume plenty of Maximuscle Viper to keep my carbs and fluids up in the heat, but there was still 15km left to run and last year I knew how I faded and didn't want the same to happen.

The run turned into a repeat of the Xterra with Mike Vine chasing hard and gaining time, but eventually running out of road, and I took the tape with less than a minute to spare yet again, but extremely happy with the result after two years of taking the lower steps on the podium. It was great to finally get my name on the same trophy as Mike Trees! Michael Hiscott ran the second quickest run split of the day to move from eighth into third at the line. Emma Ruth Smith finished a superb fourth and Daz raced very well to finish seventh in a large 30+ pro field.

Winning both these races guarantees me the prestigious PIC double prize, which as well as some cash includes seven nights accommodation next year at the PIC resort. Next week is Xterra Guam, where I again hope to defend my 2009 title. Emma and Daz are racing again too.

I'm off to hit the "lazy river" in my rubber ring perhaps, with a well earned Asahi beer, mmm...

Sam


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