The Pacific Coast triathlon is known for serving fancy pastries at the finish line, but race organizers really have gone international this year.
In its sixth year at Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach, the event has branched out to include an International Triathlon Union race on Saturday, part of USA Triathlon's Race to Athens elite series. The Olympic-distance draft-legal format will serve as a lead-in to the original USAT regional sprint-distance age-group championships on Sunday.
Hosting its first ITU race is considered an honor for Southern California's triathlon community and particularly the event's organizers.
However, adding a second race and an additional day to the schedule has proved more time-consuming. Everything has taken longer, said race director Bill Leach, from understanding and implementing ITU's strict guidelines to the time it will take to set up the course and extravagant post-race festivities.
"The whole two-day thing causes a lot more work during the year and exhausts you during the week," said Leach, who has been race director since the event's inception. "We're getting to the point that we may step back next year and just go back to the age-group race. It's more efficient, in a way."
ITU events range from prestigious World Cup races, which include the top 125 ranked triathletes in the world, to the less competitive international races, such as the Pacific Coast event where athletes can earn points toward making the top 125. The USAT hopes the Race to Athens series, a seven-race series in the U.S., will give Americans a better chance to gain points toward making the top 125, while eliminating the expense of competing overseas.
"We didn't have many of these points races in the U.S. the last few years so this is our push to give our athletes a better chance of getting points," said B.J. Hoeptner, media relations director for USAT. ITU races typically ride piggy-back on existing triathlons allowing them to stage on the same day and lessening much of the cost. But that's not possible at the Crystal Cove venue, which uses portions of Pacific Coast Highway for the bike leg of the race. Getting permission to close down several lanes of PCH beyond the late morning would be too much to ask, Leach said.
That dilemma forced race organizers to secure a second day to accommodate the ITU race, meaning twice the cost for lifeguards, traffic enforcement and other emergency personnel.
"It's costing a lot of money," said Leach, who estimated he will spend an additional $10,000 and $20,000 for the extra date.
"Luckily, the USAT is picking up the prize purse. If we had to do that, I would have said, 'No way,' "
Others who have been involved with the event since its beginning are looking forward to having some of the world's best triathletes competing on their regular training grounds.
Bob Kinney, owner of Waters Lake House restaurant in Irvine, has not only competed in every Pacific Coast triathlon but was the event's original sponsor. Instead of resting for his race Sunday, he plans to spend Saturday as a volunteer at the ITU event.
"The ITU race is piquing a lot of interest," said Kinney, 49. "A lot of people are planning to come out on Saturday to watch the elite competitors and then race on Sunday."
Lisa Ogilvie, ITU's media manager, said the Crystal Cove venue has all the elements her organization seeks when looking for new competition sites.
"Leading into a pre-Olympic year, ITU is looking for venues that will produce high-quality events and bring good media exposure," she said.
Competitors in the ITU race will swim 1.5 kilometers, bike 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers. In Sunday's age-group race, the course will be approximately half those distances.
Among those expected to compete in Saturday's race are Jeff Sneed of La Canada and Julie Swail of Irvine. Sneed is currently 113th in the men's rankings and Swail, captain of the 2000 U.S. Olympic women's water polo team, is ranked 137th.