First-year elite Lukas Verzbicas, the reigning ITU Junior World Champion, used his well-known prowess on the run to pull away from the field and earn his first career professional victory at last weekend’s Dallas ITU Pan American Cup. USA Triathlon recently caught up with the 19-year-old to get an update on his rookie campaign.
USA Triathlon: Can you walk us through your race in Dallas? Did it play out as you expected? Lukas Verzbicas: Going into the race I was confident that I could win based on how in shape I was from my training. I was very excited to face 2012 Olympic qualifier Manuel Huerta; it was a great honor to be with him on the start line. The heat was a huge factor, but I was lucky to have come down from Colorado Springs altitude to be more suited for extreme weather conditions at sea level. And I made sure to be hydrated before, during and after the race. I was a bit disappointed with my swim since I expected to come out of the water with the leaders and this was due to having a poor start after which it was really difficult to move up, but 12th was good enough to be on the front of the chase pack. On the bike I was in a group of around 20, and we caught the three-man breakaway pretty quickly. But a new two-person breakaway occurred, and by the end they built up a 90-second lead. I just stayed safe and hydrated while on the bike. The run was the hottest, and we had a group of five until Manny kept dropping them off one by one till it was just the two of us at the halfway point. Then I stayed behind him until surging away on the last of four loops. I have to thank Manny for doing all that work on the run. USAT: How did it feel to earn your first elite win? LV: I was very excited to win, and it was a huge honor having done it with an Olympic qualifier in the race.
USAT: Can you walk us through the comeback from your shin injury? Was that difficult for you? LV: It took me longer than expected to be fully healthy due to mainly trying to get back too soon when my body wasn’t ready yet. Injuries are very frustrating, but they teach us to be patient and I’m grateful to have learned that lesson this year.
USAT: How has training at the Olympic Training Center been? What can you learn from training beside such great athletes? LV: The training here is absolutely amazing! We have a great group of athletes at the Elite Triathlon Academy who are amazing training partners and I’m very close with along with all the elite resident triathletes who mentor us youngsters to survive as elites, it’s quite fun … It’s really great because I just moved in to live at the Olympic Training Center. As any athlete at the OTC will tell you the awesome cafeteria is the best part of the Training Center — it makes even hard long workouts go by faster by having the great meals to look forward to. We have an amazing group of people taking care of us at the OTC, and I’m very thankful to for all they do for us.
USAT: How special was it to race beside Kevin McDowell again? LV: It was great having Kevin on the start line with me. It wasn’t so much just because he’s racing completely healthy again, but because we train together every day and it helps having someone who encourages me while training also competing alongside.
USAT: What’s next for you and what are your goals for the rest of 2012? LV: I’m off to Spain on Monday for the Banyoles World Cup on June 17, followed by the Kitzbühel World Triathlon Series race a week later. The goals for this year have become primarily to gain as much experience as possible traveling around the world and racing my first year as a professional. After this Europe trip I’ll return shortly to the Springs and then head off to Hungary and Germany for ITU races for July. Afterwards nothing is set in stone, so we’ll figure it out as the season goes on.