Andrew MacNaughton finally landed the starring role he desired before putting his acting career on hold two years ago to become a professional triathlete.
Last Oct. 25, all the world was a stage for MacNaughton who led for much of the Nice World Championship Triathlon in Nice, France. The West Hills resident is one of the featured performers in today's one-hour national broadcast of the event (Channel 2, 11 a.m.).
MacNaughton, 25, finished 34th in the race that drew an international field of 900 and included a 3-kilometer swim, 120K bike ride and 32K run along the Cote d'Azur. After leading New Zealander Richard Wells--the eventual winner--through most of cycling portion of the race, MacNaughton faded during the run.
His performance, however, further established MacNaughton as a threat in the upcoming triathlon season that begins at St. Croix, Virgin Islands, on April 10.
Last year, MacNaughton won eight of the first nine short-course races he entered--and about $15,000--before fatigue began to adversely affect his performance.
MacNaughton paid the entry fee and purchased airline tickets to Hawaii to compete in the Ironman Triathlon on Oct. 10, but decided to forgo the event so he could rest and be in the best possible shape for the race in Nice.
The water temperature was about 70 degrees when MacNaughton, wearing No. 79, dove into the Mediterranean Sea with the other participants to begin the race. Wells was the first competitor out of the water in 36 minutes, 50 seconds. About three minutes later, MacNaughton emerged among a group of other competitors that included Brad Kearns of Woodland Hills, two-time Ironman champion Scott Tinley and Mike Pigg, the 1987 U. S. Triathlon Series champion.
MacNaughton went through the transition area and began the bike ride. Soon, he was just 100 yards behind Pigg.
"I thought, 'perfect,' " said MacNaughton, who is 6-feet, 160 pounds. "I'll just stay with Pigg and let him pull me to the lead."
After six kilometers on a flat portion of the course, the competitors headed 11 kilometers inland toward the Maritime Alps.
As they began a mountain ascent, MacNaughton pulled alongside Pigg, made small talk for a few kilometers then surged past him. Gradually, he pulled away until Pigg was no longer in sight.
A few minutes later, the leaders of the race came into MacNaughton's view. Chris Hinshaw was in third, Harold Robinson was second and Wells was in the lead.
"The excitement of being that far up front with the motorcycle escort and the media coverage was a little overwhelming," MacNaughton said. "I was a little overzealous. I went flying by everyone, said 'Hi,' then took off."
MacNaughton, who is one of the premier cyclists on the triathlon circuit, was alone in front. He built a lead that grew to as much as 1 1/2 minutes over the next 70 kilometers, but the pace was sapping strength from his legs and Wells began to close the gap.
As he approached a five-kilometer descent that included a number of hairpin turns, MacNaughton said he made a tactical blunder.
"There was another four-mile climb coming up after that and I figured I'd be able to extend the lead," MacNaughton said. "I took it real easy on the descent and that was a mistake. I probably should have just let it rip. If Richard hadn't seen me, he probably wouldn't have caught me."
Wells did, however, and the two took turns in the lead for the final 25 kilometers.
When they emerged from the transition area to begin the run, MacNaughton was about 30 seconds behind.
"I took four steps and my legs barely moved," said MacNaughton who had trouble negotiating a short ramp with a small incline. "I heard my girlfriend in the background say, 'I've never seen him look so bad.' "
MacNaughton tried in vain to catch Wells, losing 20 seconds over the first mile and 40 more over the second.
MacNaughton was in fifth place at the the 16K turnaround, but he said it felt like 500th. He finished the last half of the race by running a mile at a time, then walking through aid stations.
Wells won in 5:59:53. Tinley was the next closest competitor at 6:07:23. MacNaughton finished at 6:36:04.
"It was a learning experience," MacNaughton said. "Wells approached it more intelligently than I did. It might have been a different outcome had I passed him at 40 miles or even 30 miles on the bike rather than 15 or 18."
Still, it was an impressive performance by MacNaughton, who should play more major roles this year.
He plans to reduce his racing schedule from last year's 20 events to about 15. His emphasis as the season approaches is on lifting weights to gain strength and power in his running.
No longer is he considered a surprise competitor. He is now a contender.
"I've done it before, so people are going to expect me to be competitive whether it happens or not," MacNaughton said. "They're going to say, 'OK, Andrew's here. There's another potential winner.
"You know, I never figured I'd be as good as I got last year. Now I hope I can get there again."