This report filed – June 5, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, California –
On a day in which Olympic champions and medalists, and World champions and number ones vainly chased them, Americans Matt Reed and Becky Lavelle used dominating bikes to join the honor roll of winners of the unique and prestigious Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.
Boulder Colorado’s Matt Reed, who at 6-feet 4-inches shares the title of tallest man in the sport with Ironman specialist Ain-Alar Juhanson, rode to a 1:45 lead off the bike, then withstood the charge of the fastest runners in triathlon to take 32-second margin of victory over fellow American and ITU star Andy Potts. “It was tough to catch him, but once I took the lead from Andy I really put the hammer down and took some risks on the downhills and opened up a big gap,” said Reed, a New Zealand who started racing for the red white and blue in 2004, after his marriage to Kelly Rees, a U.S. citizen.. “This means a lot,” added Reed, who said that beating the likes of Olympic champions Simon Whitfield and Hamish Carter, five-time ITU World titlist and three-time Escape From Alcatraz champ Simon Lessing and ITU stars like Hunter Kemper, Potts and Bevan Docherty “shows I can beat the big boys in the sport.”
Reprising her recent dominating win at St. Anthony’s, Becky Lavelle used a smashing 51:56 bike split – two minutes 42 seconds faster than her closest pursuer – over the hilly and technically precarious San Francisco course, to carve out a 66-second margin over runner-up Laura Bennett. Lavelle, a resident of nearby Los Gatos, credited home town fans with inspiring her to win this crown jewel of the non-drafting universe in her fifth try. “I had tons of people cheering for me , calling my name,” said the 32-year-old star who recovered from career-threatening leg and back injuries early last year. “That goes a long way and really kept me going.”
Lavelle and Reed both shadowed faster swimmers in calm but 55-degree cold waters of San Francisco Bay, blazed to the lead with bold rides that circumnavigated landmarks like the Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, The Legion of Honor Palace, the Cliff House and Golden Gate Park, then defended their margins on the ultimate strength run that takes competitors out to Baker Beach and back over the infamous sand ladder climb.
In Lavelle’s wake were three-time ITU World Championship medalist and current ITU World Number one Bennett in second, 2000 Olympian Joanna Zeiger in fifth and red-hot half Iron star and Canadian Olympian Samantha McGlone in sixth. In the breakthrough performance of the day, new U.S. under 23 star Sara McLarty, a top NCAA swimmer from Florida, finally mastered her run to take third place on the podium. “I’m over the moon,” said McLarty, who ran an honorable seventh best 53:52 over the tough 8-mile course – just 28 seconds slower than Lavelle, and 2:22 slower than McGlone’s day’s best. “Thanks to my coach Cliff English and the rest of the staff at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, it was a different story today on the run.”
Perhaps the most disappointed star in Reed’s wake was last year’s Life Time Fitness winner and current St. Croix 70.3 champion Craig Alexander, who was disqualified in a heat of the moment dispute with a race marshal over a drafting (or position) foul on the bike. While some observers said that Alexander had been following in race leader Reed’s drafting zone for over a minute before the call, but some competitors disputed the ruling, and Alexander took offense. “I was in front of a group of chasers with Simon (Whitfield) and Bevan (Docherty) when this guy just turns up and duns me for drafting,” recalled Alexander. “He tried to stop me to stand down and I said “No” and kept going. In a race like this, your day is done if you get a drafting call.” Alexander crossed the finish line in fourth place, temporarily satisfied to discover where he stood on the day.
“I’d be disappointed if he weren’t penalized,” said defending champion Hunter Kemper, who finished fourth. “It confused matters to see him still racing, although I knew he was DQ’d and wasn’t officially in the race.”
Two-time Escape From Alcatraz and four-time World champion and Tri-California announcer Greg Welch had a talk with his fellow Aussie after the race. “Craig told me if you get a penalty, your race is over,” said Welch, who retired in 2000 with a heart condition. “I said, The race isn’t over. What if the people in front of you have a flat? The second thing is those marshals are highly trained. You must have been doing something wrong. When they ask you to stand down, you do it, even if you disagree. I said Craig, I’m talking to you as a friend. You need to admit you were wrong and apologize.”
Potts, coming off a World Cup podium finish this spring, emerged from the swim in 28:45, just ahead of four-time World Champion Simon Lessing (28:52), and well off the course record thanks to moderately tough currents. In the chase were Graham O’Grady (29:05), Simon Whitfield (29:06) Kemper, emerging U.S. star Matt Seymour and Kiwi Bryan Rhodes (29:11), Matt Reed (29:13) and Hamish Carter and Craig Alexander.
Whitfield, the irrepressible Canadian and Olympic champion, whose slender whippet-like shoulders have never been renowned for swimming prowess, was elated to find himself out front for part of the swim. “I led the first third – I was Swimmer Boy! – and I was giggling like a school girl,” laughed the fun-loving Victoria, British Columbia athlete. “From now on, I want everyone to address me as ?Mr. Swimmer Boy!”
While Lessing, who has lost considerable training due to lingering back woes, hung on with the chase pack on the bike that included Whitfield, Kemper, Alexander, Docherty, Carter and the surprisingly strong David Thompson, Reed made a bold move from the start. “I hit second place by the first hill,” said Reed, who was previously known for his strong swim, fearsome bike and unpredictable, hot-and-cold run. “Andy looked like he was 30 seconds up the road and it was really hard to catch him.”
Once Reed caught Potts, he spent some energy trying to shake the 2004 Olympian. “I really put the hammer down through the technical sections and I took a few risks on the downhills and opened a big gap.”
Reed, who was out biked by Kemper and ultimate winner Rasmus Henning at St. Anthony’s five weeks prior, had been training hard and was nearing breakthrough peak form. “I gained a lot of confidence at St. Anthony’s because I rode really well without much training. Since then, I did a lot of work on my time trialing and on the hills in Boulder and it paid off today.”
In the scrum behind Reed, Hamish Carter fell off the pack when he got a drafting call and – as the sportsman he is – the Olympic champion accepted the stand down penalty.
At T2, Reed finished his wild ride in 45:35, with 1:45 in hand, with Potts, Whitfield, Kemper, Lessing Docherty and the ill-fated Alexander all finishing their rides in the mid-47 minute range.
Going into the final leg, Reed had to stare down an insecurity on his run that had haunted his career. “I was definitely scared the first half mile or so of the run” said Reed. “I heard the announcer say there were five guys and I looked over and saw Hunter (Kemper) and (Simon) Whitfield. These guys are the best runners in the sport. I just said to myself ?Just get to halfway and see what I had left.”
By the sand ladder at Mile 4.5, Reed looked strong and had plenty left and the drama was all behind him. Coming up the sand ladder, Potts looked weary and ready to surrender second place with Kemper and Whitfield charging on his heels. But looks can be deceiving. “The ladder can make or break you,” said Potts. “If you hit it too hard, you can’t crest the rest of the hill and hit the following descent hard. There’s a lot of running after that ladder.”
For Kemper, the ladder was his last hurrah. “At the top of the sand ladder I was right there, five seconds behind Andy Potts,” said Kemper. “But that was it. I struggled coming down and by the time I got to the flats, I was 20 seconds down and Simon was coming. It is frustrating, because my training isn’t going well and my run really wasn’t there.”
For Whitfield, who admits that he cannot sustain top form for an entire season and must peak for the big events, the sand ladder was fun. “My chance to win was gone after the bike,” said Whitfield. “Matt swam well, biked hard and ran like a man and deserved the win. For me, I was killing those stairs! I had Crowie (Alexander) at my back and was chasing Hunter so I wanted to get that fastest stairs split.”
At the finish, Reed’s 44:30 run split was enough to hold off Potts by 32 seconds. Whitfield’s day’s fastest run of 43:02 outpaced Kemper for third by 15 seconds. Showing just how strong he has become, Kemper’s deeply disappointing 43:23 run was second fastest on the day. “Matt is my best friend on the circuit and if I can’t win I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Kemper.
Following Kemper were 2004 ITU World champion and Olympic silver medalist Bevan Docherty in fifth and 2004 Olympic champion Hamish Carter in sixth.
Beaming for his career best effort, young pro David Thompson was thrilled with his 7th place finish, 29 seconds ahead of his hero, Simon Lessing, who had struggled against injury reduced fitness. “When I’m discouraged or retired and thinking back on it all, I’ll always remember I passed Simon Lessing. That’s one I can save for a rainy day.”
Sara McLarty, who beat Andy Potts and all the men in the swim at an ITU World Cup in Japan earlier this year, did not best the men in the mostly sunny Escape From Alcatraz swim. But McLarty’s 29:12 was better than all but seven men, 66 seconds better than next best woman, Joanna Zeiger, and 72 seconds faster than former NCAA star Becky Lavelle.
While McLarty could be expected to hold to a leading spot through the bike, the question remained – could the young swim star develop a run?
For Lavelle, the question after her second straight dominating win at St. Anthony’s was; Could she maintain that form to contend at her prestigious home town race? “I had a little foot tendinitis after St. Anthony’s, so I couldn’t do Wildflower and I couldn’t run for a couple of weeks,” said Lavelle. “But my physiotherapist and I kept on top of it.”
Bursting with good energy, Lavelle passed McLarty at Mile 8 after a climb. “She got me back on the downhill after the Cliff House restaurant – she’s fearless,” said Lavelle of her young rival. “I took her back on the flats and kept the power on.” Lavelle had a lead of about 2:30 at T2 after her race best 51:56 ride, 2:44 better than Zeiger and 3:10 better than McLarty. McGlone, whose world class form was apparently tapped out after stunning, dominating wins at Wildflower and Florida Ironman 70.3, faded from contention with a dispirited 57:10 ride, while McLarty hung tough with a 55:06 mark.
Zeiger, still recovering from a bacterial stomach infection that hit her at St Croix and forced her to withdraw from a defense of her Ironman Brazil crown, stayed in the hunt with her 54:38 ride. But then the bottom fell out on the tough run, which will not forgive those who are not in top form and Zeiger fell to 5th place with a 55:37 run.
Bennett, who traded the lead` of the pack chasing McLarty on the swim, saw Lavelle ride into the distance, then caught a bad break when her chain became derailed and lost a spot to Zeiger. Bennett, who had been focusing on building a huge aerobic base rather than her old reliance on speed work, cut through the field on the run, passing Zeiger at Mile 1, then caught the stubbornly hard-charging McLarty at the sand ladder and cruised to second place finish 66 seconds back. “I like my fitness at this point,” said Bennett. “But Sara is doing fantastic. She has this big aerobic base and she’s working hard on her bike and run. Coming from a swimming background, she’s going to keep training and she’ll train weight off and adapt. It took me a few years, but I did it.”
Recently retired American triathlon legend Barb Lindquist, who has been acting as McLarty’s mentor in her work as a USAT Under 23 national coach, was equally enthusiastic. “Sara is over the moon and I am really excited for her,” said Lindquist. “She’s learning how to run. And as a mentor who faced some of the same challenges, we can really relate. I’m sharing my experiences and the thins I had to learn. I really believe it will happen for her. She works hard and she’s patient, too.”
At the finish, Lavelle ran a 6th best 53:24 – 1:54 slower than McGlone’s too little, too late race-best 51:30 run – plenty fast enough to secure the win and was thrilled. “It’s awesome,” said Lavelle. “I’ve always wanted to win this race.”
Lavelle gave her biggest thanks for her brother Brian Gibbs, her coach, who stood along the sand ladder this day shouting to his sister to remember to “Use your arms! Use your arms!”
Lavelle, too, was impressed with McLarty’s race. “Today she proved she is an all around triathlete. For sure. This is a strength course and she’s obviously very strong and she’s definitely coming on. ” .
Meanwhile, Minnesota native Lavelle, embracing her good health and great form, looks forward to a rendezvous with the likes of Emma Snowsill and the rest of a hungry crowd of contenders at the $500,000 purse at Life Time Fitness in Minneapolis in July.
Results: Accenture Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon. San Francisco California. June 4, 2006. S 1.5mi./ B 18 mi./ R 8 mi.
1. Matt Reed (Boulder. CO) 2:03:36;
2. Andy Potts (Colorado Springs CO) 2:04:08;
3. Simon Whitfield (Can) 2:04:32;
4. Hunter Kemper (Colorado Springs CO) 2:04:47;
5. Bevan Docherty (Nzl) 2:05:09;
6. Hamish Carter (Nzl) 2:06:14;
7. David Thompson (USA) 2:07:31;
8. Simon Lessing (Gbr) 2:08:00;
9. Simon Thompson (Aus) 2:08:23;
10. Graham O’Grady (NA) 2:09:19.
1. Becky Lavelle (Los Gatos CA) 2:21:05;
2. Laura Bennett (North Palm Beach FL) 2:22:11;
3. Sara McLarty (DeLand FL) 2:23:30;
4. Carolyn Murray (Can) 2:24:42;
5. Joanna Zeiger (Boulder CO) 2:26:10;
6. Samantha McGlone (Can) 2:28:01;
7. Pip Taylor (Aus) 2:29:20;
8. Alexis Waddell (Seaside CA) 2:29:47;
9. Kelly Couch (NA) 2:31:07;
10. Mary Beth Ellis (Calif) 2:31:21..