Although the elite field for the 27th Wildflower long course triathlon was missing the defending champions Chris McCormack and Samantha McGlone, the pre race estimate was that this was the deepest quality men's field and another typically strong women's field should provide fireworks. And, given the cooling overnight rains, low winds and a late morning cloud cover, record speeds seemed in the offing.
In the end, the crowds at Lake San Antonio were treated to two great and surprisingly dominant performances. Andy Potts, who now must be considered a man for all distances, ran away from the best field without Macca and Craig Alexander a half Ironman could offer, closing with a 3:59:41, the third best time ever at Wildflower behind 21-year-old Terenzo Bozzone's otherworldly 3:53:53 in 2006 and Simon Lessing's 3:59:33 in 2005. While Spain's Eneko Llanos dueled Macca to the bitter end last year, this time out Potts left the Spaniard a definitive 3:23 in his dust.
In the women's race, Virginia Berasategui of Spain, virtually unknown in the USA despite her 2003 ITU long course World Championship win in Ibiza, her 2004 and 2005 wins at Ironman Lanzarote, her two wins at Ironman Germany 70.3 in 2007 and 2008, and her 6th place at Kona last year, cleaned the table with the 5th fastest time in Wildflower history 4:35:00, which left repeat runner-up (just like Llanos) Leanda Cave 5 minutes and 13 second back at the line.
While the two victors richly deserved their wins thanks to great, well balanced races, there were no smoking hot splits like Chris Lieto's 2:14:00 bike last year nor Bozzone's white hot 1:11:57 run in 2006. In fact, Potts' closing 1:14:38 run was three minutes better than Llanos' and third place Reinaldo Colucci's efforts and well off not only Bozzone's Beamonesque mark, but also Cam Widoff's old longstanding record and Simon Lessing's 1:13 record breaking effort in 2005.
On the bike, Bjorn Andersson led the field with a 2:17:08 mark, just under three minutes off his last two efforts. Only Clayton Fettell's race best 22:06 swim came close to the race record of 21:49 set by Craig Alexander back in 2001.
For the women, Berasategui's 4:35:00 trails Sam McGlone's 4:31:08 in 2006, McGlones's 4:31:38 last year, Donna Peters' 4:32:04 in 1992, and McGlone's 4;32:59 in 2005. It is still better than five time Wildflower winner Paul Newby-Fraser could muster, and same for Becky Lavelle, Barb Lindquist and Natascha Badmann. Berasategui's 2:39:01 bike tied her with Erika Csomor but was behind Haley Cooper's race-best 2:38:23 and out of sight of Donna Peters' still-standing 2:30:51 set in 1992. On the run, Berasategui's race-best 1:26:44 was not equal to McGlone's top runs and far back of Heather Fuhr's course record 1:22:58 set in 1999.
While Leanda Cave and Erika Csomor gave valiant efforts despite annoying mechanical problems on the bike, and Cave was still fighting a flu that forced her to stop training for a week in April, few other women in the promising field were up for battle. McGlone, Julie Dibens, Linsey Corbin, Teresa Macel and Becky Lavelle were relatively late scratches - not ready to compete. Angela Naeth had a stress fracture and Pip Taylor had a very off the back day.
Among the men, Llanos fought hard for second, Reinaldo Colucci fought well for third, and Jordan Rapp had a fast, breakthrough 4th in 4:04:15 and Joe Gambles a stellar 5th in 4:05:09. After that, Luke Bell had a comeback 6th, and Lieto burned out in 7th and Bozzone simply blew up from 2nd to 8th. Other big names whose hopes ended up a handful of Wildflower dust were Andersson's and Torbjorn Sindballe's and Rutger Beke's DNFs after the bike.
All of these failures may simply prove the glory of Potts' and Berasategui's well done days in the face of the perennial challenge of Wildflower's steep hills and twisting trails.