Local racer John O’Neill third US finisher at World Cup triathlon, 23rd overall | VailDaily.com

Local racer John O’Neill third US finisher at World Cup triathlon, 23rd overall

John O'Neill poses for a picture with Diego, Pablo and Alejandra Garza Sunday after the 2015 ITU Cozumel World Cup. The Garza family is from Cancun and spends time in Vail during the summer; O'Neill stayed with the family in Cancun for two days to prepare for the race.
Special to the Daily |

Quintana Roo, MEXICO — Local John O’Neill was the United States’ third-fastest racer at the Cozumel ITU Triathlon World Cup on Sunday.

O’Neill finished 23rd overall in the race, which consisted of a 750 meter swim, 20k bike ride and 5k run. It was the Edwards resident’s best performance at a World Cup-level race since his entry into the sport a few years ago. Earlier this season, he won a Continental Cup-level race, which is one level below World Cup. That race was also in Mexico.

“Mexico has been really good to me this year,” O’Neill said Sunday. “After winning in Ixtapa, I was excited to come back. As always, the Mexican federation put together a very difficult course and everything from the swim, road surface on the bike to the heat in the run was a challenge.”

O’Neill described the swim portion of the race as a violent competition.

“We dove off a pontoon and only had about 300 meters before 80 guys tried to make a left turn at the same time,” he said.

O’Neill exited the water in about 50th place and was behind the main group of racers. He was able to close the gap slightly on the biking portion of the competition and catch the main group.

“The bike course had a bunch of difficult turns and cobble stones, making riding in a pack of about 70 guys really difficult,” he said. “Once in the group, I wasn’t really able to relax since everyone was worried about getting tangled up with other riders. I was more apprehensive than I should have, so I got off my bike at the back of this main group.”

But on the running portion, O’Neill was able to put his true talent to work. The Battle Mountain graduate was a star runner in high school and in college at Colorado State University.

But those races didn’t take place in the Mexico heat.

“The race started at 11 a.m. so the sun was blazing by the time we got to the run, at about 11:45 a.m.,” O’Neill said.

Regardless, he ran the 5k in 15:16, passing about 40 runners. In the final stretch, he battled it out against Olympian Diego Sclebin from Brazil to take 23rd, the third of six athletes from the United States who were competing on Sunday. The top-finishing U.S. racer was Joe Maloy who took seventh.

GAINING CONFIDENCE

While O’Neill has shined at the Continental Cup-level, climbing the podium several times in his short career, the World Cup has been another story.

The 25-year-old has a dead last World Cup finish on his resume, and has also failed to finish a few times. He’s crashed, his muscles have completely seized up in races and he was kicked in the head once, rupturing his ear drum. A year ago at the 2014 Cozumel ITU Triathlon World Cup, he finished a disappointing 61st.

“Sunday’s race was a major step forward for me,” he said. “I’m finally starting to believe that I belong among some of the best triathletes in the world.”

Follow his progress by visiting his blog at http://www.johnrobertoneill.com/.