The city of Oceanside California nestles along the Pacific somewhere south of Los Angeles, but a bit closer to, and just north, of San Diego. At a tighter scale, we see that Oceanside lies south of Nixon’s San Clemente and shares its northern border with Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. And with a storied history of great triathlon battles, this year’s event promised nothing short of epic contests, for the men and women. Just a half hour down the coast, in Mission Bay at San Diego, modern triathlon was born in the early 70’s. The roads on today’s Oceanside 70.3 course were undoubtedly used frequently in those early days for training and racing by the sport’s legendary pioneers, and thus set an inspirational arena for today’s battles.
With starting temperatures in the low 60’s, with 67 degree water, and expected highs in the low 80’s it aspires to be a great day of triathlon here in sunny Oceanside.
With an early season date, not to mention the $60k USD prize purse at stake, many pros make this a start to their North American tour. Of course one of the expected heavy challengers would be Andy Potts (USA), here defending his record of 5 previous wins on this course. And as expected, the men’s field includes last year’s defending champ Jan Frodeno of Germany. Lining up with these two favorites are perennial workhorses Matty Reed, Lional Sanders, Jesse Thomas, Trevor Wurtele, and Christian Kemp.
The women’s pro field is equally impressive led by defending champion Heather Wurtle complimented by Angela Naeth, Mel McQuaid, Heather Jackson, Michelle Vesterby, and Emma-Kate Lidbury. This group of high-caliber professionals would lead the way for an additional 3,000 of the sport’s mainstays and the energy source that continues to create exponential growth in the arena of long-distance triathlon, the age groupers.
Soon after the deepwater start, and as often happens in the early morning in coastal communities, a thick fog starts to complicate the logistics of the swim; a potentially challenging, if not outright dangerous scenario. But, now looking back, having the swim course in a protected harbor was a good thing today; as fortunately no souls were lost. But no doubt frustration abounded as swimmers peered through the thick vapor trying to sight the buoys and the oh-so-important angled turns on this doglegged out and back course.
As the lead pros churn up the tranquil bay at Oceanside, the 21 waves of age groupers join them in 3-minute intervals. The trend toward rolling wave starts in the longer 140.6 races has not become widespread in the half distance races…yet.
Swimming phenom Andy Potts is of course first out of the water and onto the bike course, immediately followed mere seconds back by Frenchman Frederic Belaubre and then Jan Frodeno. Within the first minute we’d see a fast pack made up of Americans David Kahn, and Kevin Collington, as well as Canadian Brent McMahon, and Australian Paul Matthews.
American Jennifer Spiedenner would lead up the ramp in a tight pack with fellow countrywoman Alicia Kaye and Welshwoman Holly Lawrence. Within 60 seconds of Spiedenner’s lead we would see a total of 8 others emerge, lead by Frenchwoman Charlotte Morel and Canada’s Magali Tisseyre (fresh off her Monterrey 70.3 victory a couple of weeks ago).
Trailing, but still within the one minute group would be 4 American women, including the iconic Wassner Twins , Laurel and Rebeccah, along with Christina Jackson and Emily Cocks.
A lightning fast and technically smooth T-1 by all of the pros yields first riders Andy Potts and Holly Lawrence.
The bike course heads north out of town through the suburbs and beautiful vistas surrounding Oceanside, onto the Camp Pendleton properties. Today’s course is generally a clockwise loop, save for one brief out and back distance-adjuster loop just before the first aid station near the 15 mile mark.
Due to the heightened state of security at military installations around the world there will be no spectators allowed in the Camp Pendelton sections of the bike course today, making for a lonely ride. Also adding to the frustration of many of the first timers here, no pre-race practice rides were allowed on the majority of the course, thanks again to heightened security measures.
Interestingly, one potentially curious section 13 miles before the finish features a strictly enforced 25 MPH speed zone; strictly enforced even during this high-profile event, again in the name of security regulations at Camp Pendleton.
To justify this unusual scenario in a USAT race the organizers take a wild stab at the Article II Section 2.01(a) rule about athletes being responsible for “his/her own safety and the safety of others”. And to make sure no one violated this speed trap…use of special timing mats at the beginning and end of the speed zone.
Anyone who mathematically violated the formula for exceeding the 25 MPH ratio would be automatically DQ’d.
Overall a great bike course with smooth rollers through beautiful scenery there is a slight but challenging 5+ mile climb at the 31 mile point. But with a total elevation gain of 2,720 feet over the 56 miles it is a fast course.
The ride was mostly uneventful in the early stages, excepting a heavy fog bank a few miles in. The pros, used to adversity, navigated the thick fog with no major losses; all the while with Potts, Frodeno, McMahon, and Belaubre in a lead grouping.
The ladies race has Holly Lawrence riding her own race a minute ahead of Tisseyre and Kaye, with Canadian Angela Naeth another minute back.
Around mile 10 the fog lifts, mercifully; yielding to bright California sunshine and much safer conditions.
And as always happens for some, bad luck besets race favorite Magali Tisseyre at around the 30 mile mark when she is forced to end her day with an un-repairable bike malfunction.
Moving on to the survivors, at the second timed bike split near 38 miles we see a new leader with German Maik Twelsiek having skillfully made his way up through the competitive pack, now leading Lionel Sanders and Andy Potts. On the women’s side Lawrence has around a 3 minute lead on Naeth and Jackson. With this kind of lead Holly Lawrence, known for her fast ITU trained running speed is a formidable foe.
Leaping ahead to the bike to run transition (T2), Sanders comes out on the road first running hard to get away from a tightly bunched chase group made up of Twelsiek, Frodeno, McMahon, Potts, and Jesse Thomas. All other men were 3 and half minutes back, making for an astoundingly competitive half marathon coming up.
The second transition for the women yields Heather Jackson and Heather Wurtele chasing the 3-minute leader Holly Lawrence.
Angela Naeth sits frustrated in the penalty tent counting her precious seconds as they slip by.
The run course is a double loop headed south with a short out and back on the Oceanside Pier with stunning views of The Strand as well as a first chance to evaluate one’s competition.
Completing the first lap we see new race leader Jan Frodeno a full half minute ahead of Sanders and 2 minutes ahead of 3rd and 4th runners McMahon and Potts.
At the same spot we see Lawrence’s lead being skillfully and patiently whittled away by a smoking fast Heather Jackson now down by less than 2 minutes. Conversely on the men’s front Frodeno has lengthened his lead to almost a full minute.
At the finish, in front of a huge crowd of onlookers Jan Frodeno takes the tape with a 3:47:08. A gutsy move by Andy Potts has placed him in 2nd place over Lionel Sanders.
In an exciting women’s contest Heather Jackson and Heather Wurtle played out to a final mirror image of their finishes last year, with Jackson taking the top podium step this time around. This was a sweet victory for her, effectively taking revenge on her 2nd place finish last year. The 2014 champ, Wurtele, took a proud 2nd this year – a minute and twenty seconds back, with day long leader Holly Lawrence coming in for bronze.
Today’s overall champ, Jan Frodeno, has shown the world just how tough he really is by taking this grueling event with such an impressive margin after a traumatic bike crash back in February.
As the pro’s celebrate and cool down on a hot day, the age groupers continue to stream in, lead by impressive performances by Australia’s Katie Kyme in 4:40:42 and Carl of the USA in 4:07:09.
Here’s a look at the Top 10 Pro Men
1 3:47:08 1 Jan Frodeno DEU
2 3:48:43 1:35 2 Andy Potts USA
3 3:49:19 2:11 7 Lionel Sanders CAN
4 3:51:07 4:00 4 Brent McMahon CAN
5 3:52:52 5:44 6 Jesse Thomas USA
And the Top 10 Pro Women
1 4:14:47 56 Heather Jackson USA
2 4:16:07 1:20 55 Heather Wurtele CAN
3 4:16:59 2:13 71 Holly Lawrence GBR
4 4:20:01 5:14 69 Alicia Kaye USA
5 4:21:33 6:47 58 Angela Naeth CAN
And for you statisticians and number geeks here’s the impressive breakout of Male and Female event splits:
- Swim: Andy Potts 22:44
- Bike: Lionel Sanders 2:04:46
- Run: Jan Frodeno 1:10:48
- Swim: Jennifer Spieldenner 24:51
- Bike: Holly Lawrence 2:19:58
- Run: Heather Jackson 1:22:22
Special thanks to Always Curious for all of the wonderful images. Follow him on twitter.