Coming into Saturday’s Wildflower Long Course triathlon, reigning Hawaii Ironman world champion Chris McCormack was unsure of what he’d do, but didn’t expect much. He’d had a spate of good mountain training in Agoura Hills north of Los Angeles, but didn’t think it would transfer to the intensity he’d need for this race.
And never mind the fact that that the men’s field was stacked. Defending race champ Bjorn Andersson would strive to defend his title. Chris Lieto had kicked Macca’s tail at a short race in Florida three weeks before. Spaniard Eneko Llanos, a former Xterra World Champ, was capable of inflicting damage on the run trails. “This is one of the most competitive half Ironman fields we’ve had in a long time,” said Andersson.
“Aw, we’ll see,” McCormack said with a shrug of his chances the day before the race. “I’ve been doing hills, but I haven’t been doing any intensity. It’s early season and I have to be prepared to lose. But, I’ll give it a dig.”
Apparently, McCormack surprised himself. The Australian wisely bided his time on the bike and dogged Llanos on the run to take the title by just 19 seconds in 4:00:33.
“I was definitely apprehensive coming here because in the past I came out of Australia having done some races and landed in America fast, but just doing the miles in L.A. and getting belted by Chris Lieto three weeks ago, I was like, ugh,” McCormack said. “I guess that’s because back in the days when I first came here, I had so much torque coming from short course, and I was a rider. I think Wildflower is a good course for the Ironman guys as opposed to a Clearwater or something, because the back end is so tough. It looks like my transition to long course has worked out!”
The women’s race was an exhibit of steady pressure as Canadian Samantha McGlone rode to the front of the race with Leanda Cave in pursuit, then ticked away from the tall Briton to win by five minutes in 4:31:38.
The victory was McCormack’s fourth title in four starts (winning in 2001, ‘02 and ‘04, tying Cameron Widoff for most Wildflower titles. McGlone’s Wildflower title was her third (winning in ’05 and ’06), tying her with Donna Peters for second, behind Paula Newby-Fraser’s five wins here.
In the men’s race, reigning champ Bjorn Andersson blasted out to the lead early in the bike. Midway through the ride he enjoyed a 48-second lead over American Chris Lieto while putting in a good rebound after a flat showing at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside a month ago. “I did what I had to do on the swim and bike,” Andersson said. “Four weeks ago I was in terrible shape, but managed to lift my swim and bike to a pretty good level.”
The duo of former race champ Terenzo Bozzone and Llanos pursued the big Swede over two minutes arrears, with the trio of McCormack, American David Thompson and Fraser Cartmell another 1:30 back.
But after Nasty Grade, with less than a quarter of the ride to go, McCormack poured on the gas to drop his compatriots, pass Bozzone and Llanos and close to within 1:30 off the bike, with only Andersson and Lieto up the road.
At mile five, McCormack passed Llanos and the two ran together as they overtook Lieto for the race lead three miles later. As Llanos sized up McCormack in the final five miles of the run, the Aussie had plans of his own.
“I was running behind him comfortably and I thought, ‘maybe I should attack him on the coming downhill,’” Llanos said. “I think he thought the same, because he attacked me. I started feeling a lot of quad pain and I couldn’t follow him.” McCormack gained a few precious seconds on the Spaniard and rolled down the final descent to the finish line to the win. Llanos followed to take second just 19 seconds later.
Lieto held off a hard-charging 2000 Wildflower winner Chris Legh to take third.
The women’s race saw American Linda Gallo out of Lake San Antonio first with Cave and Australian Pip Taylor exiting not soon after. While Cave assumed the early bike lead, McGlone overtook her by mile-15 and grabbed the lead—only to have Cave and American Kelly Couch attach to the Canadian like a limpet. While Couch did her best to stay on pace, the ensuing miles after Nasty Grade saw her fall off tempo set by the two leaders.
“(Cave) was sitting behind me legally the whole time,” said McGlone. “I was like, ‘Why is she coming by, does she have some crazy run in her back pocket?’ Leanda’s such an awesome athlete and I had to respect her run.”
Into T2, McGlone forced Cave into the lead for a couple of miles. “I wanted to get my bearings and, really, I just wanted to see what she had,” McGlone said.
For Cave, ignorance was bliss, but the hills on the run became a true surprise. “At [Ironman 70.3] California we had pretty much the same run time, so I figured if we got off the bike together, hopefully I’ll run with her the whole way and go for a sprint finish,” Cave said. “I didn’t expect the first few hills, straight out of transition; you gotta be prepared for them—and I didn’t know they were there.”
McGlone chipped away through the remainder of the run to take a comfortable win over Cave. Taylor’s steady day-long effort was rewarded with a third-place finish as she passed the fading Couch for the final podium placing.
2008 Wildflower Triathlons, Long Course
May 3, 2008, Lake San Antonio, Calif.
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Chris McCormack (AUS) 4:00:33
2. Eneko Llanos (SPA) 4:00:52
3. Chris Lieto (USA) 4:03:34
4. Chris Legh (AUS) 4:04:07
5. Fraser Cartmell (USA) 4:04:51
6. Terenzo Bozzone (NZL) 4:05:39
7. Bjorn Andersson (SWE) 4:05:50
8. Leon Griffin (AUS) 4:07:04
9. Joe Gambles (USA) 4:07:29
10. Kirk Nelson (USA) 4:09:48
1. Samantha McGlone (CAN) 4:31:38
2. Leanda Cave (GBR) 4:36:45
3. Pip Taylor (AUS) 4:39:25
4. Kelly Couch (USA) 4:45:30
5. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4;45:59
6. Sunny Gilbert (USA) 4:48:30
7. Angela Naeth (CAN) 4:50:00
8. Alexis Smith (USA) 4:51:26
9. Erin Ford (USA) 4:55:34
10. Katherine Baker (AUS) 4:55:37