The United States’ Sara McLarty and the Czech Republic’s Filip Ospaly, both fresh off of their 2010 Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Series victories, won today’s Super Sprint Grand Prix event in Oceanside, Calif.
The Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix is perhaps the most spectator-friendly and exciting form of triathlon. Today’s race was a double triathlon; S B R S B R. The athletes went twice through 300m swim, 8 mile bike, 1.5 mile run next to the Oceanside Pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Instead of relying on participation to sustain the event, which is the traditional race approach, the SSTGP is designed specifically for spectators. It is an invitation-only event and today’s race was filled with the cream of the crop from every distance. ITU standouts such as Jarrod Shoemaker and Sara McLarty faced off against long coursers and Ironman athletes such as Matt Reed, Kate Major and newly-crowed Ironman world champ Chris McCormack.
Sara McLarty entered this uniquely formatted race as the heavy favorite and she did not disappoint. She is one of the fastest swimmers in the sport and she used her skills in the water to open up a gap of 40 seconds after merely 300 meters in the choppy waters of Oceanside.
A large pack including Misato Takagi, Charlotte McShane and Tenille Hoogland chased her onto the bike. Iron-distance studs Michellie Jones and Kate Major followed next. McLarty held her substantial lead through the 5-mile long, criterium-style bike course and conceded only 10 seconds on the first run. She leapt back into the Pacific with a 30 second lead and emerged with 50 seconds on Hoogland who, despite wearing a grimace through the entire first run, established herself as a threat to draw McLarty back in. She and Alicia Kaye worked together on the bike but were unable to gain substantial time on McLarty, who cruised to an uncontested win. After the race, McLarty admitted that the second swim of the SSTGP was the hardest swim she has ever experienced in a triathlon.
The real race was for second. Hoogland and Takagi rounded the last corner separated by only a seconds, with Kate Major another couple strides back. Takagi entered the final stretch with a lead and Hoogland appeared to be struggling. Just when it appeared like Takagi had second place locked up, Hoogland found another gear and sprinted around Takagi to take second place with Takagi in third. After the race, an elated McLarty gushed about how this was her first win as a professional triathlete.
The surf was high when the men entered the water and the entire field was pushed off course by a series of strong waves. Cameron Dye and Ben Collins were among the first few athletes out of the water. Chris McCormack was in the middle of the pack and Matt Reed was one of the last athletes out of the water. He came out about 30 seconds behind the first swimmers and “stayed there the whole ride.” He had work to do after the first ride but wasn’t out of the race. Dye and Collins were out front of the pack early and were joined at the front by Brendon Sexton and Filip Ospaly. McCormack worked up through the group to join the leaders half way through the bike ride.
The first run shook up the field and a group of five entered the second swim together. Cameron Dye, a former DI swimmer, was shocked by the difficulty of the second swim. “I’ve been swimming a long time and I’ve never felt something like it. I took three steps into the water, tried to dive and just flopped.” Macca lost some time in the second swim.
They went back on to the bike with small gaps but eventually grouped up. The second ride was chaotic, as lapped riders jumped onto the leaders and the athletes attempted to establish their positions. Shoemaker entered the bike-to-run transition a few seconds behind the group.
Ospaly, Dye, Collins and Sexton left the fifth and final transition with Jarrod Shoemaker steps behind. Ospaly quickly charged out of transition first and Shoemaker took a steady pace, about six seconds back. The pair eventually separated from the rest of the lead group and Ospaly opened a ten second lead going into the final 800 meters. Shoemaker was clearly the fastest runner in the final half mile, but he ran out of room and Ospaly crossed the line first. Shoemaker crossed next and Sexton rounded out the podium.
The buzz traveling through the crowd after Filip Ospaly sprinted away from a world class field to win the first Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix was unlike anything in the sport of triathlon. It wasn’t a feeling of inspiration like midnight at an Ironman, it was more like the environment at an NBA arena after a last-second shot. The entire crowd was exhilarated. Triathlon isn’t typically spectator friendly, but the Super Sprint Triathlon Grand Prix is worthy of network television coverage.