Wildflower: One for the record books
It is no wonder why this is a favorite race for age groupers and pros alike. An odd combination of roughing it, sleeping in the dirt, cooking everything on the fire and carbon, lycra, and compression, more on that in a later article.
The premiere event of the weekend is the Pro Long Course race. This year's race did not disappoint. When the festival kicked off Friday it was clear to see that this is easily one of the favorite events for pro athletes to attend. Tri California takes great care of the athletes, setting them up in cabins about 8 miles out on neighboring Lake Nacimiento. This keeps them away from public eye and away from the madness that has been known to occur in the camp grounds at night. On top of that, most pro races force the pros to sit through a long drawn out review of all the rules of the sport, while here, yes they still do a rules briefing, but also included in this meeting is a raffle for Wildflower goodies like sweatshirts and even bottles of wine. It is the little things that keep the pro athletes happy and wanting to comeback. Even more exciting is the increased prize purse this year, many of the athletes have said that they are treated much better at this race than a lot of the other big races out there.
The women's race was star-studded. Even with Dibens, Jackson and Corbin all late withdrawals, the field was still very deep. When the gun went off, Jodie Swallow took control of the front of the pack and lead through the 1.2 mile swim putting about a minute on the chase group which included Leanda and Mary Beth among others vying for the win. About another 30 seconds back was Magali, Virginia and Sam Warriner, not a group to take lightly.
Throughout the bike Leanda battled some gusty "Kona-like" cross winds while she strategically stomped her authority on the rest of the field taking the lead and holding on all the way to T2. Virginia made a move and the reports are she was actually grunting while hammering up Nasty Grade putting a couple hundred meters on anyone brave enough to try to stay with her. Swallow didn't have as easy of a time up the hills and drifted back to out of the top 5 coming into T2. Magali claimed she simply didn't have it on the bike today but still managed to get to T2 in the top 5.
Heading out on the run Leanda maintained her calmness and her long strides looked effortless. Mary Beth Ellis headed out in second with a very different running style, but still strong and swift. Magali started the run in 5th but looked by far the strongest on the run course and clawed her way through the field. Despite not having it on the bike, she said her legs just started turning over on the run and never stopped - likely due to all her treadmill training lately. Coming to the last mile, a long steep downhill, only 15 seconds separated Leanda and Mary Beth. Determined to maintain her lead and get that first win at Wildflower, Leanda let her long legs do the work and was able to hold off the charge. She crossed the line victorious with only a few meters to spare. She even had to skip her Blazeman roll to insure the win - true to her support of Blazeman, she went back and rolled across the line. Magali battled and posted 3rd with an impressive run. Only one real lead change throughout the day, but the action came battling for the rest of the podium.
With a full minute countdown provided by the Cal Poly kids, the men's field took hit the water at 8am. The swimmers showed up and the men's field was lead out of the water by Dustin McLarty and Clayton Fettell with a sizable gap over the rest of the players. Big Bad Bjorn Andersson came into T1 with the another strong swimmer John Dahlz. No surprise, Bjorn then went to work and did what he does on two wheels, powered his way up the hills and into the lead. Fettell maintained his spot near the front while the rest of the field lost some time to those two.
The real fireworks in the men's race came on the run. Bjorn hit the pavement first but quickly started to fade back. Fettell slowly started pulling him in while the rest of the men's field behind them began the hunt. Cunnama made the big move toward the front as Bjorn started fading more. Then out of 8th place, the big move of the day came from rookie pro, Jesse Thomas. With a pace that put the rest of the field to shame, he picked off one guy after another, quickly moving to the front of the race and never looking back. When he came to the last down hill he was already in disbelief. He was a late entry and when he came up to the finish the announcers were scrambling for his name! When he broke the tape, the expletives flew. He ran a very impressive 1:13 - especially for this course. Fettell held on tight and maintained a spot on the podium in second with Cunnamaa close third.
After the finish while being interviewed in the finish area, fellow Pac North Westerner Matt Lieto came across the line in fourth after a few jumps, screams, high fives and hugs from winner Thomas. The two drove down from Oregon together and couldn't be more excited with each other's races. Jesse came back through, held his head and said to himself "I need to text my wife." The dark horse victory was the story of the day.
Men's Top 5:
1. Jesse Thomas
2. Clayton Fettell
3. James Cunnama
4. Matt Lieto
5. Chris Leigh
Women's Top 5:
1. Leanda Cave
2. Mary Beth Ellis
3. Magali Tisseyre
4. Tenille Hoogland
5. Virginia Berasategui