By Timothy Carlson
Photo Credit: Timothy Carlson
The strong pro men’s field charges into the water at the ’07 St. Anthony’s Triathlon
St. Petersburg, Florida – On a mild sunny day with smooth water and a windless bike, America’s Matt Reed and Great Britain’s Michelle Dillon set course records in winning the 24th annual Olympic distance non-drafting classic St. Anthony’s Triathlon.
But while defending Escape From Alcatraz champion Reed used a killer bike split to tame a talented field that included former ITU number one Greg Bennett, Ironman 70.3 world champion Craig Alexander and Ironman star Chris McCormack, 2005 ITU Duathlon World Champion Dillon used a slashing come-from-behind run to take a nail bitingly close duel with rising American star Sarah Haskins.
Reed’s third-best 17:29 swim and monster 53:54 bike split gave the 6-foot 5-inch, New Zealand born U.S. star a 2:33 to 2:47 advantage on his six closest pursuers. Reed’s fourth-best 33:06 closing 10km run was just enough to hold off Bennett’s sizzling, race-best 30:58 run by 20 seconds at the finish.
Reed’s 1:46:10 finishing time just nipped the course record set by Denmark’s Rasmus Henning last year, and gave the tall Kiwi native a comfortable 1:57 margin over third place Alexander and 2:41 over fourth place Chris McCormack.
“This win means a lot to my confidence,” said Reed, who took home a $10,000 check and great sense of relief that a late season 2006 slump due to a three-month siege of the cytomegalo virus was over. “I needed a win and now I can focus on the American races and making the 2008 Olympic team.”
By contrast, Dillon emerged from the calm, 76-degree waters of Tampa Bay 2 minutes 8 seconds behind eventual runner-up Haskins and 1 minute 22 seconds behind eventual third place finisher and fellow Great Briton Julie Dibens. After a strong, second-best bike of 1:00:18, Dillon started the run 1:25 behind Dibens, 1 minute behind Haskins and 59 seconds behind defending St. Anthony’s champion Becky Lavelle.
Then the 34-year-old Dillon turned on her proven running jets, using a race-best 35:28 run to blast past an off-form Lavelle, rising American Margaret Shapiro, an ailing, off-form Lavelle and the stubborn excellence of Dibens to tuck in behind Haskins with a mile to go.
What followed was the highlight of the day, an old fashioned game of surges and counter surges that was decided by a fifth-gear sprint for the final 100 yards.
At the end, Dillon prevailed, hitting the line in 1:57:45 with an overmatched Haskins an exhausted but honorable 4 seconds back.
Super swimmer Sara McLarty led the swim with a 17:31, with Haskins out in 18:05, Dibens in 18:51, Lavelle in 18:55 and the ever-dangerous half-Ironman stars Mirinda Carfrae (19:26) and Samantha McGlone (20:15) starting the bike with duathlon star Dillon (20:13).
While McLarty, training through this race, quickly fell off her best form, Dibens (1:00:15 best bike split) and Dillon (1:00:18), Haskins (1:01:26), Margaret Shapiro 1:00:29) and Lavelle (1:01:30) charged while McGlone (1:01:55) and Carfrae (1:02:24) arrived in T2 with the second wave.
With Lavelle off last year’ winning form thanks to a lingering bronchitis that struck her while training in Australia last month for the Mooloolaba ITU World Cup, Dillon sliced from fourth at T2 to erasing Haskins’ 1:25 lead with one mile to go running along the elegant St. Petersburg residential waterfront.
“I know Michelle’s a very good runner and has a good sprint, so I tried to surge earlier,” said Haskins. “When I saw how close she had come by the run turnaround with 3 miles left, I thought ‘Oh, she’s flying!’‘”
Dillon said she was just able to see a tiny head far ahead at the beginning of the run. “I thought she was catchable,” said the hunter. “So I dug deep.”
When Dillon arrived at Haskins’ heels, she ticked in behind to rest and take the measure of her rival. “It had taken me so long to catch her, I thought I’d take a bit of a breather,” said Dillon. “I thought ‘I’m going to sit on her and wait to out sprint her at the end. But it wasn’t as simple as that.”
Dillon recalls: “A half mile out, I tried to break, but I was really fatiguing and she surged back. So I thought: ‘OK. Let her come back to me I’ll give it one more try at the end.”
Dillon edged ahead with 200 yards to go, but Haskins had a little more in the tank and evened the gap.
“I knew she had been sitting on me to kick at the end, but I wasn’t going to make it easy for her,” said Haskins. “Then, at 100 yards to go, she surged again and I just didn’t have any more.”
Dillon too was at the end of her rope. “I worked so hard to catch up, I was pretty much at my limits and out of speed at the end,” said Dillon, who also took home a $10,000 winner’s check. “Thankfully, today it was enough.’
Dillon, who has won three prestigious ITU World Cups in addition to her 2005 ITU Duathlon world title and a bronze medal at the 2002 ITU Triathlon World Championship, has decided to forgo a promising turn to the 70.3 distance. “I took second at the Monaco Ironman 70.3 last year, but I had so many back problems I decided it wasn’t worth it to go long and I’m sticking with the Olympic distance.”
Dibens, a two-time Olympic triathlete for Great Britain, is coming off a win at Xterra Guam and a second at XTerra Saipan and is planning to hit the ITU World Cup circuit to compete for a third Olympic berth.
Photo Credit: Timothy Carlson
Matty Reed absolutely blazed the bike in order to secure his eventual win.
After Pittsburgh’s Erick Limkemann took the swim prime from Brian Fleischmann and Matty Reed emerged a few seconds back, the real race began.
“I ran hard to get ahead in the transition because my plan was to get ahead at the start,” said Reed. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Fleischmann, who was feeling good after an Australian training stint, tried to stay with Reed but found it impossible.
“When Matty’s on, he’s golden,” said Fleischmann. “So when he got going, there was no stopping him.”
When they heard Reed’s increasing margin, the chase pack which consisted of Craig Alexander, Chris McCormack, Greg Bennett, Fleischmann and Richie Cunningham (and Kevin Everett) wondered aloud what was happening.
“I don’t know how he got three minutes on us,” said Alexander. “I was in the groove with Greg Bennett and Macca and I’m thinking Matty must have ridden like Superman.”
“I did think that was the question – how did he get there,” said Bennett. “The thing is, Matty is a real strong rider and he did nothing wrong to get there. But when we saw how close the leader’s vehicle was, I thought it was too close. I do think the races need to make sure that car is way out in front. If I had my preference, the lead car would be a quarter mile in front.”
From this observer’s viewpoint, the lead car varied from 50 to 200 yards ahead of Reed most of the time.
. “The thing is, we’ve all been there,” said Bennett. “When I won New York last year, I had a lead car that was way too close. The way I look at it, it’s not Matt’s responsibility. He was very strong today and next time I’ll just have to beat him to the front.”
While one Hall of Fame observer noted that “it was impossible to put three minutes on men like Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander and Greg Bennett on a flat course without some help from the lead vehicle,’ some mitigating factors might contradict that theory.
Number one, 11th place finisher Andrew Starykowicz rode just 68 seconds slower than Reed on the bike.
Number two, none of the chase pack was at top form. Bennett had to stop to remove from tape from his disc wheel that got caught in his brakes; Alexander was still a bit tight coming off his first Ironman a month prior. And McCormack, focusing on Ironman training, was lacking any sprint speed whatsoever.
Photo Credit: Timothy Carlson
Greg Bennett used an equally impressive run to nearly reel in Reed.
For his part, Reed was indignant with in his typical understated dignity. “It does help to key off the lead car, but I never felt a draft off it,” said Reed. “Besides, when I saw them after the bike turnaround, it looked to me like there was a pack of 12 enjoying a draft. Half of them had fresh legs for the run because they were sitting in the pack.”
In fact, USA Triathlon pro rules prevailed, which meant that the pros had to abide by the so-called stagger rule, which meant that riders could ride nearly side by side as long as they kept more than 10 meters distance behind the rider directly in front. This means that a group of rider may appear to observers to be riding in a pack – albeit a group which is constantly shifting to avoid tracking in the path of the riders in front. For his part, McCormack said that situation provided no advantage.
“It’s a funny rule,” said Macca. “It’s not very effective and it doesn’t seem to work. Plus we are weaving around so much to avoid a penalty I think I rode 41 kilometers today!”
The field was thinned somewhat when top US star Hunter Kemper withdrew with a lingering injury, Andy Potts stayed home for the birth of a child, and defending champion Rasmus Henning was recovering from a long term injury.
Greg Roualt, 27, of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, demolished a good field with a near amateur overall record time of 1:52:57, 2 minutes 36 seconds ahead of runner-up Curt Wood of Chaska Minnesota and 3 minutes 30 seconds ahead of third place Eric Bell of Knoxville, Tennessee.
By contrast, Lotte Branigan of Vero Beach, Florida passed 43-year-old, perennial age group star Linda Robb of Juno Beach, Florida, with just a mile left on the run to seal a 10-second margin of victory in 2:03:15.
24th annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon
St. Petersburg, Florida
April 29, 2007
S 1.5 k/ B 40k/ R 10k
1. Matt Reed (Boulder, Co) 1:46:10 * course record
2 Greg Bennett (Aus) 1:46:30
3. Craig Alexander (Aus) 1:48:07
4. Chris McCormack (Aus) 1:48:51
5. Brian Fleischmann (Colorado Springs, Co) 1:49:28
6. Richie Cunningham (Aus) 1:49:39
7. Sean Bechtel (Can) 1:49:47
8. David Thompson (St. Paul Mn) 1:51:01
9. Eric Limkemann (Pittsburgh Pa) 1:51:40
10. Marcus Ornellas (Bra) 1:52:01
11. Andrew Starykowicz (Long Grove, IL) 1:53:09
12. Kevin Everett (Boise, ID) 1:53:46
22. Jimmy Archer (Boulder Co) 1:59:35
1. Michelle Dillon (Gbr) 1:57:45 * course record
2. Sarah Haskins (Colorado Springs CO) 1:57:49
3. Julie Dibens (Gbr) 1:59:06
4. Mirinda Carfrae (Aus) 2:00:18
5. Samantha McGlone (Can) 2:00:26
6. Becky Lavelle (Los Gatos Ca) 2:00:32
7. Margaret Shapiro (Herndon Va) 2:01:02
8. Justine Whipple (Annapolis Md) 2:02:56
9. Dede Griesbauer (Boston Va) 2:04:49
10. Magdalena Stoickova (Slovakia) 2:06:27
11. Sara McLarty (DeLand Fl) 2:06:42