Kessler Tops Vineman Again, and Appleton Sets Course Record

The front men's group on the bike. (Bob Shebest)

Just north of San Francisco, Vineman 70.3 is a wildly popular race. I think it’s a word association thing: Vineman, vines, vineyards, wine. I’ll let you in on a local secret, though: we’d let you go wine tasting even if you didn’t do the half-Ironman. Also, it’s usually really hot.

But the weather this week has been overcast and moderately cool, making for a fast race with a whole lot of fast contenders. While the weather was course-record fast for the pros, the wind picks up later in the morning. That’s why they don’t give out overall age group awards, said Dave Latourette, who does the announcing for the race. So don’t feel too great about yourself for beating someone who started an hour after you.

Although just a P-750 point race in the WTC points chase, Vineman attracts a deep field—probably because of the timing. More than one Kona contender has found it to be an ideal end to the first half of the season, followed by a mini-break (in a picturesque location), and then a fall training ramp-up aimed perfectly for Oct. 10. It’s also one of the few Ironman races left that is run by a franchisee, instead of being run by the World Triathlon Corporation itself. And the Vineman crew is much beloved.

The prize money isn’t too terrible either. The winner will take home $10,000, with second-place losing out on $5,000 for being just a few minutes slower. Then the pay days go all the way down to 8th, cashing in at a whopping $500.

With nearly as many World Champions as the World Championship this year, the field was almost 30-deep on both sides, ready to hit the river this morning and then the rolling vineyards of Sonoma County.

Oh, and farther back you could keep your eyes peeled for semi-celebrities Sean Astin, of Lord of the Rings fame, and Katherine Kelly Lang, nearly as famous in triathlon circles for her role as one of the three Women for Tri poised to raise money for women by tackling the terribly-unpopular Kona Ironman as for her role on The Bold and the Beautiful. It also appears that the owner of the @CEOIronman twitter handle is racing under-the-radar, or else there’s an entirely different unfortunate Andrew Messick in the men’s 50-54 age group.

Apple-who? Apple-tons-of-course-records That’s Who

Despite the drought throughout California, the shallow river swim went off as usual. Or relatively usual. If you listened to the TRS Vineman preview, then none of the firsts out of the water should have surprised you. Right around 22:40, it was a big group of: Sam Appleton, Ben Collins, Tim O’Donnell, Mark Bowstead, Kevin Collington, Jake Montegomery — and less than ten seconds behind them, close enough to basically be the same group, were Craig Alexander, Luke Bell, TJ Tollakson, John Dahlz, and Matt Reed.

Yeah, that’s a lot of people together. Good thing they won’t draft.

The TRS preview squad also told you to keep your eye on Sam Appleton and they weren’t wrong. The Australian just won Cairns 70.3, beating his own coach, Tim Reed, in the process. And he was not going to be intimidated by the big names in this field either. As the group moved through the rolling vineyards and closer to the climb on Chalk Hill, Appleton took off and opened up a gap. By T2, that gap had widened to two minutes after he biked a 2:03:17. The whole rest of everyone—Collins, O’Donnell, Alexander, Bowstead, Tollakson, Bell, and Collington—rolled in right on schedule behind him, all after biking around 2:05:20.

Although it started and it ended as a big group, Latourette said it actually broke up in the middle and then came back together after a car pulled onto the course in front of the leaders, slowing them down slightly. And, he argued that if there had actually been lots of drafting, then Appleton wouldn’t have been able to put two minutes into everyone else by the end and the rest of the guys would have run faster with their well-preserved legs. But that’s not what happened.

“There are some guys in that group that are pretty ethical about the way they’re going to race,” said Latourette.

From that mess coming out of T2, it was Alexander who separated himself early to chase Appleton, with Collington and O’Donnell right behind. But none of them were closing on the leader. “It was two minutes at T2 and it was two minutes every split along the way,” said Latourette. In fact, for spectators the run was sort of boring.

Except for one big fact: Appleton was on his way to a new course record. And this isn’t a soft record. It took a 3:43:06 to add his name to the top of that history list. The often-promising-to-retire Craig Alexander crossed the line next, followed by Collington and then O’Donnell. Actually, pretty much the way they came out of T2 was how they came into the finish. We could have just ended the race earlier?

1. Sam Appleton: 3:43:06
2. Craig Alexander: 3:45:24
3. Kevin Collington: 3:47:18
4. Tim O’Donnell: 3:49:16
5. Ben Collins: 3:49:51

Kessler Wins the Women’s Race—Again

TRS’ Emily Cocks 100% accurately predicted the first woman out of the water. It was speedy swimmer, Lauren Brandon in 23:03, which is just 20 seconds slower than the fastest men…

She also accurately predicted that right behind Brandon would be three-time Vineman champ Meredith Kessler, 2012 winner Leanda Cave, and up-and-comer Holly Lawrence. Cocks just forgot to include herself in that group, about 50 seconds back of Brandon.

The other contenders had more of a gap to make up, with Magali Tisseyre out of the water almost two minutes behind the Kessler-Cave group and Mirinda Carfrae another minute-and-a-half behind that after a relatively slow 27:18 swim.

By halfway, Kessler and Lawrence had caught up to Brandon. And Tisseyre had plowed through everyone else to sit a bit under two minutes back of them. Cocks was less than a minute behind her, Cave behind Cocks, and Carfrae, with Laura Siddall, another two minutes behind that. Cave, however, was treated for a bad bee sting around mile 5 on the bike, according to her Facebook, and eventually dropped out after T2.

Kessler and Lawrence dropped Brandon before the end of the ride and came off the bike within seconds of each other, after biking around a 2:19:30. But Lawrence pulled out around mile two with an injury, leaving Kessler with an uninterrupted 13.1-mile run between her and another Vineman title.

After biking a 2:20, Tisseyre was next off the bike with Brandon about 20 seconds behind that. But no one got close to Kessler on the run—and the finish looked like a deja-vu of the last three years.

“The women’s race was pretty straight-forward,” said Latourette. While Tisseyre had a great race, she was never able to make up her deficit from the swim. That was the same problem the third place woman had.

Another deja-vu: Mirinda Carfrae made up for her not-so-great swim-bike by running the fastest half-marathon of the day (1:21:54) to blow through the field and end up in the last podium spot. Cocks and Siddall caught Brandon to round out the top five.

Meredith Kessler takes her fourth title.

Meredith Kessler takes her fourth title.

1. Meredith Kessler: 4:11:58
2. Magalie Tisseyre: 4:13:09
3. Mirinda Carfrae: 4:18:33
4. Emily Cocks: 4:23:53
5. Laura Siddall: 4:26:41

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly is a reporter and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She quit triathlon for a few years, because triathletes can be annoying, but now she's back into it and only hanging out with the non-annoying triathletes. She blogs about stuff at Sunny Running.