Despite a heavy race weekend around the world, the 2012 Wildflower Long Course Triathlon welcomed a top-notch pro field, highlighted by defending champions Jesse Thomas (USA) and Leanda Cave (GBR). In the end it was Americans Thomas and Heather Jackson who took the 2012 titles thanks to strong performances on the brutal run course.
Before the gun went off, Thomas walked around with his arms crossed with a nervous look on his face; the added pressure of defending his championship appeared to be weighing on him. When the gun went off, Clayton Fettell and newly crowned USAT Collegiate national champion Dustin McLarty, two of the fastest swimmers in the sport, pulled off the front of the group and worked together to gap the rest of the field. They dominated the second half of the swim and came into T1 with a two-minute lead on their closest chasers. They both transitioned cleanly and quickly, then left T1 within meters of each other. Next came a group of three containing Paul Matthews, then the rest of the contenders including defending champ Jesse Thomas. With many strong cyclists within a few seconds of each other, the group had a ton of horsepower, but catching Clayton Fettell on the bike is no small task.
Paul Matthews chased early. He closed on Fettell, but the Aussie held on to his lead for the first 40 miles of the hilly course. By the end of the course’s longest, hardest climb known simply as “Nasty Grade” Matthews had joined Fettell at the front. Jordan Rapp also moved up on the bike and closed on the two leaders. Thomas appeared to be loosing ground in the middle of the ride, but stuck to his pre-race plan and waited for the late section of the bike to make his move. His patience paid off. Thomas joined Rapp and came into T2 just seconds behind Matthews and Fettell. James Cunnama also waited until the final miles of the ride to bridge the gap. He had knee surgery in the fall and the old injury flared up this spring, so his training had been less than ideal going into the race. As a result, he planned to race conservatively and see what he had in the tank rather than match pace with the other athletes. His timing was perfect and he started the run in sight of Thomas.
Last year, Thomas started the run minutes behind the leaders and relied on the speed he honed as a collegiate All-American runner to chase everyone down. This year was different. Thomas’ newfound bike strength changed his race. He started the run in shouting distance of the lead and bided his time early in the run along Lake San Antonio. He took the lead by the 10K mark and never looked back. Instead of chasing to the 12th mile, Thomas simply set his pace and left everyone behind. He came down Lynch hill with a two-minute advantage over Jordan Rapp and crossed the line in 3:58:59, the third fastest performance in the 30-year history of the Avia Wildflower Long Course Triathlon. After the race, he credited his speed on two wheels to his new bike, wind tunnel-tested bike fit and the general strength as a cyclist he has developed from an additional year of miles. Thomas was once again in disbelief after crossing the line, but this time relief and excitement replaced last year’s pure shock. Rapp came across next. The long course specialist was beaming with pride over the race, saying this was about as fast as he can go on this course, noting that his time matched Chris McCormack’s best. Cunnama fought through the run for third. Instead of reacting to the other racers, Cunnama made the decision to let the competition go on the run and hold his own pace since he lacked the fitness needed to surge. He is leaving Wildflower optimistic that he will soon be ready for a huge result now that his knee is once again cooperating and allowing him to train how he wants. Paul Matthews finished next, with 2000 champion Chris Legh taking fifth.
Leanda Cave separated from the other contenders in the swim and came into T1 with a lead. Her transition took a little longer than some, but she still started the bike with a gap over the rest. Unfortunately for her, the other strong cyclists all came into T1 together. Two minutes later Melanie McQuaid, fresh off a win at Ironman California 70.3, Linsey Corbin, Magali Tisseyre, Heather Jackson and others all started the bike in close proximity.
McQuaid showed that her incredible bike split at California 70.3 was no fluke. She ripped off the front of the chase group and closed on Cave in the first few miles. By the 20-mile mark, she had established second place, with Corbin in third, Rachel Challis fourth and the fleet-footed Magali Tisseyre lurking in fourth. Despite McQuaid’s early effort, Corbin was able to bridge up to her and took the lead by mile 50. McQuaid hung on and started the run in second. Corbin pushed through the other women and took the lead from Cave in the final miles of the bike. Heather Jackson made her first move on the bike and came into T2 close to McQuaid and Corbin. She spent this off-season developing her run speed, and she was well positioned to run to the lead. She said after the race that her new run speed changed her strategy on the bike. Instead of feeling she had to charge hard to the front on the bike to win a race, Jackson now has confidence that she can wait for the run and dose her effort on the bike. It didn’t take the California resident long to run through the other women. She caught Corbin after a steep hill section at mile five and never looked back. She crossed the line in 4:26:29, a new course record, in complete shock. She was genuinely overjoyed and needed minutes to collect herself and her emotions for the post-race interviews. Despite racing toward the front of many 70.3-distance races, this was her first win. Spectators and media alike were shocked to see how aggressively she charged the run course. The former cycling specialist finally nailed her transformation to a well-rounded triathlete and broke the Avia Wildflower Long Course Triathlon record. Corbin held on to second place and Tisseyre caught Cave to earn third place. Cave held on to fourth and Charisa Wernick used a 1:25:22 run split to move into fifth.
Avia Wildflower Long Course Triathlon
Lake San Antonio, Calif. – May 5, 2012
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Jesse Thomas (USA) 3:58:59
2. Jordan Rapp (USA) 4:00:22
3. James Cunnama (RSA) 4:02:01
4. Paul Matthews (AUS) 4:03:20
5. Christopher Legh (AUS) 4:04:56
1. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:26:29
2. Linsey Corbin (USA) 4:32:09
3. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 4:34:30
4. Leanda Cave (GBR) 4:36:24
5. Charisa Wernick (USA) 4:38:42