It was a warm Friday evening on June 24, which is Jean-Baptiste Day and a holiday in Quebec, so it’s little wonder the indoor pool in Mont-Tremblant was all but empty, except for one swimmer in the middle lane, putting in his paces with perfect form.
A few kilometres away, at the ski resort that becomes 70.3 Ironman village this same weekend, athletes were arriving, picking up their race kits and toasting each other on the packed outdoor patios.
Meanwhile, Tomas Andres Rodriguez Hernandez swam lap after lap.
“You have such a beautiful stroke,” said the only other swimmer in the pool.
“Thank you,” said Hernandez.
“You make it look effortless.”
“Thank you,” he said again.
“Are you here to do the Ironman 70.3?”
“Yes,” he offered.
“How will you do? Do you think you will be on the podium?”
“Yes,” he said.
It was Hernandez’s first time in Mont-Tremblant, indeed, his first time in Canada – suffice it to say the Mexican from Leon, Guanajuato, who won Ironman 70.3 Acapulco last year in a time of 3:58:05, was a complete unknown coming into Sunday’s race.
But nobody outran him on Sunday, with his 21.1K time of 1:13:13, and overall, he came within two minutes and 16 seconds of the great Lionel Sanders, who has never been beaten on the 70.3 Mont Tremblant course.
As he predicted, he made it onto the podium, and yes, he will be back.
“It is a beautiful race, a beautiful landscape,” he said in Spanish.
Hernandez found himself in a pack of 10 pro men who led the race, no Sanders in sight, for the first 50K of the bike leg Sunday. Little did they know about Sanders’ flat in T1 until he caught them at the top of a long climb.
“We had a very good group,” said Canadian Taylor Reid, who finished in sixth place. Turning to Hunter Lussi, the American who came eighth, he said, “This man did a lot of work on the bike. He was very, very strong. I knew Hunter from Eagleman, knew he was strong … so I was like, ‘Let’s just push it.’”
“Nobody was giving an inch and everyone was together, so it was a bit of a tactical race in that sense,” said Jackson Laundry. “There was a big surge when Lionel went through.”
“I really tried to hang with him, but I just couldn’t,” he said. “When he is on, and working, I really need to be at 100 per cent, and it just wasn’t that day for me.”
Laundry said he felt a little off from the start of the race, his heart rate a little high, and he struggled to relax.
“I was fighting some mental demons there, telling me to give up a lot of the time. I was close to just packing it in,” he said. “I managed to rally in the last seven or eight K of the run, so I was reeling Cody (Beals) back in. He had dropped me, earlier on. I was able to keep pushing, pushing, and I just caught him in the last 300 or 400 metres.”
“Cody and I are good friends, and it was a great battle between us, and if he had won the battle for third, I would have been almost as happy for him, so it was just great to be part of that. We don’t race each other too much, so that is one I won’t forget soon.”
“It was a really, really nice finish,” he said. “Certainly not my best day, but it is always a good day when you can rally and finish strong.”