Wildflower Contenders to Watch

The classic Wildflower long course with its scenic hills covered in flowers and raucous campers filling the Monterey County park with cheers, provides one of the sternest tests in the sport. The classic long course is back again with one of the best fields in the sport, at least among the women.

Based on past performances and the fact that defending champ Michel Raelert is not on the start list, this prognosticator makes Jordan Rapp a slim favorite among the men. Defending champion Julie Dibens is late scratch due to flu-like symptoms she calls the "green goblins." So the deep and talented women's field is also wide open.

Here are the triathletes to watch on Saturday.

The Men

Jordan Rapp, 30, Thousand Oaks, California

This Princeton grad became one of the elite Ironman pros in 2009 with a 4th place at Wildflower and breakthrough wins at Ironman Canada and Ironman Arizona. After a 7th place at Abu Dhabi International early last year, he suffered near-fatal injuries when hit by a motorist on a training ride in California. After a miraculous recovery, he finished 4th at Ironman Arizona in November and looks forward to displaying his great cycling talent in 2011. On the rise after an 11th at Abu Dhabi.

James Cunnama, 28, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

This very fast South African just celebrated his 28th birthday, and a win at Wildflower would be a very fine birthday present. Cunnama doesn't need any gifts though, last year he won Austin 70.3, Ironman Florida and Rev3 Full and always seems to be dangerous.

Tim DeBoom, 40, Boulder CO

Timothy DeBoom brings one of the greatest resumes in the history of triathlon to his return to the Wildflower long course. DeBoom’s shining career is led by an incredible streak at Ironman Hawaii from 1999 through 2002 in which he finished 3rd, 2nd, 1st and 1st, joining just 8 other men to win more than once at Kona. Among many other Olympic distance and half Ironman victories, DeBoom won Wildflower on a rainy, muddy and cold day in 2003 in which he ran a blazing 1:10 closing half marathon on a rerouted course.

Bjorn Andersson, 31, Trollhattan, Sweden

The burly Andersson is not famed for his run, but this excellent swimmer and the man many credit as the fastest cyclist in the sport has a puncher’s chance to break away and hold on for a win – which he did at Wildflower in 2007. Recent evidence shows Andersson has a hard time finishing his brilliant starts – note DNFs at 2010 Wildflower after leading the bike into T2 and a similar DNF at Abu Dhabi this year two-thirds through the bike.

Clayton Fettell, 24, Australia

A superb swimmer who always emerges first from the water at ITU World Cup events, Fettel has built an ever-improving race resume since winning the Australian National Under 23 Olympic distance championship in 2008. That year Fettel also placed 4th elite at the Australian Triathlon Nationals Championships. In 2009, he won at Woolgoolga Australia and the Gold Coast half Ironman, took 2nd at Memphis in May, placed 4th at Noosa Australia, San Diego International, the San Jose Invitational, and was 6th at Escape From Alcatraz. Last year Fettel placed 5th at the Ishigaki ITU World Cup and at Geelong 70.3.

Joe Umphenour, 42, Colorado Springs CO

Umphenour, a long time ITU Olympic distance competitor whose career highlights include a 2nd place finish at the 2008 USA Triathlon Elite Nationals and a 5th place finish at the 2003 ITU World Cup in Gamagori, Japan, placed 7th last year at Wildflower long course in 4:09:22.

Pedro Gomes, 27, Portugal

Gomes is a rising Ironman talent who scored a 6th in his Iron distance debut last year at Challenge Barcelona and posted an outstanding 8:19:26 second place finish at Ironman Florida.

John Dahlz, 26, South San Francisco, California

Dahlz made his first big splash in the sport with am individual victory at the 2009 USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals competing for UC Berkeley, then underlined his potential with wins at the Santa Barbara Triathlon, Scott Tinley’s Adventures, and took a 4th at Vineman 70.3. Last year his 2nd to World Champion Michael Raelert at Scott Tinley’s Adventures Long Course and 4th at Pacific Grove showed Dahlz is on his way

Callum Millward, 28, Auckland, New Zealand

Millward made his first breakthrough with a win at the 2006 New Zealand National Under 23 Duathlon Championship, then underscored his potential this January with a close second place at the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman in 3:49:55, beating legendary fellow Kiwi Cam Brown.

Kenneth Rakestraw, 23, Newport Beach, California

Rakestraw, like John Dahlz a former member of the California Golden Bears Triathlon squad, moved up from 5th at the 2009 Collegiate Nationals in 2009 to 3rd last year, and moved from 2nd in 2009 to 1st at the Wildflower Olympic test.

Blake Becker, 29, Madison, Wisconsin

This rising pro started his long course career with a 10th at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2008, followed in 2009 with a win at the Spirit of Racine Half, and 15th pro at Ironman Wisconsin. In 2010, he continued to improve with 5th at Ironman Wisconsin and a 4th pro at Memphis in May.

Dustin McLarty, 24, Irvine, California

Used to be referenced as the brother of super swimmer, 2006 Escape From Alcatraz third place finisher and 2010 Toyota Cup Series champion Sara McLarty. But Dustin McLarty is carving out his own identity in the sport with performances like his 7th overall and Under 23 winner at the 2009 USAT Elite National Championship and 11th place at the 2010 USAT Elite Nationals at Tuscaloosa and a 2nd overall at the USAT Collegiate Nationals this spring. .

Matt Lieto, 32, Bend Oregon

Matt Lieto started his career with a win at the 20-24 age group at the 2002 Wildflower Olympic distance. In 2004, he placed 11th overall at the Wildflower long course and in 2005 he was 8th at Ralphs Ironman 70.3 California. In 2006 he was 9th at Vineman 70.3 and took 3rd at the Pacific Crest half Ironman. Last year, despite pulling out of two Ironman races with the effects of giardia, he won XTERRRA Lake Tahoe and took 3rd at Honu 70.3.

The Women

Virginia Berasategui, 35, Bilbao, Spain

Berasategui is one of the greatest long distance triathletes in the world and her resume shows it with wins at the 2003 ITU long course World Championship, the 2004 and 2005 editions of Ironman Lanzarote, 2008 Ironman 70.3 Germany – and of course at the classic test, the 2009 Wildflower long course. Besides her great wins, Berasategui also has fiercely contended at other major venues, including a 3rd at Ironman Hawaii in 2009 and a 4th in 2010. Not to forget her back-from-injury 3rd places in 2010 at Abu Dhabi, Wildflower and the 2010 ITU long course World Championship.

Jodie Swallow, 29, Great Britain

The defending 70.3 World Champion makes her debut at Wildflower after a year in which she was one of the most dominant performers at the distance, leading out of the water and never looking back at numerous races. She continues a legacy of Brett Sutton-coached dominance by female athletes on the bike. Look for this TBB athlete to lead from the gun and to leaving everyone else to play catch up.

Leanda Cave, 33, Great Britain

The 2009 place finisher at Wildflower will make this her return to competition after suffering a broken rib during a training camp in Borrego Springs six weeks ago. The 2002 ITU Olympic distance World Champion had a great 2010 season under the guidance of coach Siri Lindley, scoring wins at Miami and Florida 70.3 races, 2nd places at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Abu Dhabi International and at Vineman 70.3. Throw in an ever-improving Ironman capacity with a 10th at Ironman Hawaii and a 3rd at Ironman Arizona and you have one fast, tough cookie.

Samantha Warriner, 39, New Zealand

Warriner is coming off a smashing first Ironman victory at New Zealand in which she beat both reigning Ironman Hawaii champion Mirinda Carfrae and 7-time Ironman New Zealand champion Joanna Lawn. That win will hold a place of honor on her already excellent resume that includes 7 ITU World Cup victories, the gold medal for the 2008 ITU World Cup series points championship, a bronze medal at the 2008 ITU short course World Championship, a silver at the Commonwealth Games, two Olympics appearances and three Ironman 70.3 victories last year.

Magali Tisseyre, 30, Quebec, Canada,

Tisseyre became one of the world’s top Ironman 70.3 contenders in 2009. That year she scored her first Ironman 70.3 win with a blazing fast 4:12:29 finish at Boise, took second at Ironman 70.3 Calgary, third at Timberman 70.3 and topped off her year with a 3rd place podium at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater. In 2010, she scored 4th at Wildflower, 3rd at Ironman 70.3 Florida, and won 70.3 races at Mooseman, Buffalo Springs, and the Philippines before repeating her 3rd place at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Clearwater.

Alexis Smith, 35, Monterey CA

The Monterey, California native with the pink-dyed hair has a top-10 pro record at Wildflower long course going back to her 10th place finish in 2003 which includes 4th-place finishes in 2004 and 2007. She won the Tri-California series championship in 2004-2007-2008, won the 2009 San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island, took 1st at Scott Tinley’s Adventures in 2009 and scored a win (2004), two 2nd places (2005 and 2008) and a 3rd place finish (2009) at Pacific Grove.

Annie Warner, 31, Nine Mile Falls WA

Warner was sidetracked early in the 2010 season by an out of alignment pelvic bone. The rest of the year she made up for lost time with wins at the Triathlon at Pacific Grove and Scott Tinley’s Adventures elite long course, placed 8th at the PATCO Pan American Cup in Puerto Vallarta, and 12th at the USAT Elite Championship.

Amber Monforte, 32, Reno NV

As a full time registered nurse taking a few months off to pursue triathlon glory in Hawaii, Amber Monforte made quite a splash late last year. She started with a 10:50:00 finish at Ironman Hawaii, followed that with a 1st overall amateur female at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui, then capped off her own Hawaiian Triple Crown with a record-smashing performance winning Ultraman Hawaii – a three-day, 326-mile stage triathlon on the Big Island. The Ultraman win was the most notable, as her 24:07:11 broke Tina Bischoff’s 21-year-old Ultraman women’s race record by 1 hour 38 minutes and 40 seconds. Monforte also likes Wildflower – she took 2nd in the 30-34 age group last year.

Katya Meyers, 30, San Diego

Katya Meyers rowed crew for the Stanford varsity for three years before taking up triathlon. Her triathlon career highlights include a 2nd at 2009 Ironman Malaysia, a 4th (2006) and a 6th (2010) at Ironman France in Nice, and a PR of 9:35 at 2009 Ironman Florida.

Danelle Kabush, 35, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Kabush scored a 7th at XTERRA Worlds in 2009 and a 3rd at XTERRA Canada in 2010. She also showed she could contend on pavement with her 6th at the 2010 edition of Calgary 70.3 just a few months after the birth of her second child.