The American star won the race 12 months previously and came into the event as the clear favourite but had no answer to a scorching run from winner Jason West as he finished just off the podium places which were completed by Tom Bishop and Daniel Bækkegård.
It was Long’s first event under new coach Dan Plews and in his YouTube recap, embedded below, he was at pains to underline the bigger-picture aspect, with this being the start of a busy campaign.
He said: “I guess mixed emotions to start off. I mean, I thought obviously I was coming to do a little better than fourth place. And so if I just look at the place, it’s a little disappointing in a way. But, yeah, I want to avoid doing that too much. I’m getting a little bit away from that and really focusing on my own process, especially as it’s the first race of the season and I thought I raced really well.
“If I break it down, the swim was my Kryptonite for sure. I mean, I just lost too much time. I don’t know what it was exactly. Maybe I just wasn’t quite ready to go at the start. I don’t know. It was like I don’t know if I didn’t warm up enough or something, or maybe since it was a much smaller field, there just weren’t as many people to fill the gaps. And so it was basically either making a pretty selective group or swimming on my own. And of course, it was a bit of a disaster then with Lionel [Sanders] coming by me, and then I don’t know, I was so gassed, I wasn’t even able to stay on his feet, so I exited a little bit behind.”
Cranking up the power
But after the struggles of the swim, Long was able to take positives from the rest of the race as he explained: “It took me a while to rev up and get going on the bike, and it took me a while to rev up and get going on the run. And obviously a race that’s two hours and 35 minutes, you’ve got to be going from the get go.
“I still had the fastest bike. My bike power was actually higher than last year, and my run was faster, but the temperature was much lower. I think the big difference with the conditions this year on the bike was because of the temperature and especially the wind. It didn’t break groups up. And so I think if you came out in a proper swim group up front, the guys really did a great job of working together.”
Long ran alongside eventual third-placed Bækkegård on the run but couldn’t even contemplate trying to go with West when he powered past both of them: “Jason West came flying by. There was zero option of hanging with him and just absolute hats off to him on a terrific, terrific race. I think he’s been a hugely underrated athlete for a few years. No one was even close to his league on the run. He was on a whole another level there.
“A lot of people are going to say, oh, well, you were first last year and now you’re fourth, so this coach thing isn’t working out. You’re behind where you were at last year, you’re just not going to be the athlete you were last, but I’m just going to correct that here.
“I think last year… I had burned the house down with training when I got to this point. And I think it was actually some of the highest fitness I had had all year, which was great then to come here and win, but then it had this domino effect later on the season that I actually wasn’t able to maintain the fitness.
“And so with that I’m happy. I’m going to stick with the process… and looking forward to Oceanside [his next race, on April 1st].”