Sexton only worrying about the things he can control during race for triathlon glory

IT IS not about the bike ... or so the most famous cyclist of them all, Lance Armstrong, declared in his best-selling autobiography.

But sometimes it is.

The trouble with bikes, as Australian triathlete Brendan Sexton discovered in his final warm-up for the London Olympics, is that no matter how lightweight, high-tech and expensive they may be, they all rely on inflatable rubber tyres.

And tyres tend to come off second best when they encounter sharp, foreign objects.

Competing at the International Triathlon Union word series event in Hamburg on July 21, Sexton’s race came to a grinding half when he suffered a puncture, resulting in the dreaded ‘‘DNF’’ alongside his name.

Unlike the Tour de France, where support teams arrive in seconds to lend assistance and fellow riders slow down out of courtesy, in triathlon it is a case of catch and kill your own.

At various points around the cycle leg, there are stations where competitors can change wheels.

But how far the rider has to push his or her bike, and how much time is forfeited, is luck of the draw.

For 26-year-old Sexton, not finishing in Hamburg was disappointing but far from the end of the world.

It would be a different story, or course, if similar misfortune was to dog him on Tuesday when he makes his Olympic debut at the picturesque Hyde Park course, which includes a 1.5-kilometre swim, 43km bike ride and 10km run.

Sexton nonetheless has taken the setback in his stride, insisting there have been no recurring nightmares.

‘‘These things, you can’t let them enter your mind,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s completely out of your control. It’s not something you can pre-meditate or anything. It’s not something I think about.

‘‘You try and get on with it. I actually did change my wheel midrace in Hamburg, but it was only a half-distance event and by then I was well out of it.

‘‘It’s something that you can get over in an Olympic-distance race. If it had been in the Olympics, I would have definitely have continued right through to the finish.

‘‘But it’s out of your control, so really you’ve just got to put it out of your mind.’’

Sexton said he hated not finishing any race but accepted that equipment malfunction was an occupational hazard.

"It happens every now and then,’’ he said.

If flashbacks to Hamburg are not causing Sexton insomnia, then that should perhaps be no surprise.

He has survived much worse.

Four years ago, during a training ride in Canberra, a high-speed crash left him unconscious on the side of the road with multiple facial fractures.

While he was left with no memories of the incident, his recovery was so slow and painful he doubted he would ever again compete at the highest level.

But as he rebuilt himself physically, psychologically he grew in strength.

Yet as his date with destiny draws near, even his steely mindset is under siege.

Now it is not doubt nor fear that is causing his adrenaline to pump late at night, but the realisation that he is on the verge of living a dream.

‘‘It definitely has held up my sleep a couple of nights over the past few months, and it’s becoming more frequent,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m lying in bed thinking about what could happen and going through the hundreds of scenarios that could happen.’’

And Sexton believes he is a genuine gold-medal chance, pointing out that underdogs have dominated since triathlon became an Olympic sport.

Having spent two months training in France, much of it at altitude, Sexton says he is ‘‘the fittest I’ve ever been’’.

And watching the Olympic opening ceremony from the other side of the English Channel is a sacrifice he was happy to make.

‘‘We often prepare for a race outside the city it’s being held in,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s definitely a bit disappointing we’re not there for all the excitement, but for me it’s important to keep focused.

‘‘I am missing out on a bit of the Olympic experience, but it’s all about the race.’’

Sexton spends half of every year in Melbourne and the other half in Europe, but like Australian hockey star Simon Orchard, he is proud to call Maitland his home town.

In the weeks ahead, the Hunter Valley could have two reasons to celebrate.

‘‘If any Maitlander gets a gold medal, I’ll be over the moon,’’ Sexton said. ‘‘Just to have have two Maitlanders at the Olympics is a good achievement.’’

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