by Chris Legh, Professional Triathlete
|Photo by Nils Nilsen|
After kicking off my professional triathlon career way back in 1991, I ceased to call triathlon my career at the end of 2013...However, Wildflower still has a magnetic pull on me and I decided that I needed to come back here one last time.
Back in the day, the Wildflower festival was considered in the industry as the unofficial long course World Champs and the start of the Northern hemisphere triathlon season, it was the time when everyone came out of hibernation for the first major professional race for the year.
For years I had heard of this legendary race, but being based in Australia I was focused on events down under and it wasn’t until 2000 that I finally got myself together to have a crack at this iconic race.
The list of legends that held this title were endless, Paula Newby-Fraser, Peter Reid, Wolfgang Dittrich, Julie Moss, Scott Molina, Heather Fuhr, Paul Huddle to Cameron Widoff.
I can still remember making the trip with Paula, Huddle, Heather and Roch Frey in a big Ford Van, snacking on their TraderJoes goodies, as we cruised Hwy 5 from San Diego. The rest of the crew I was with knew what they were getting into, and I was just excited to finally get to this great event. But I was definitely intimidated by Huddle’s stories of hills, hills and more hills, so I just paid him back by nervously plowing through all of his snacks!
We arrived on Thursday afternoon, greeted by huge cut-outs of Tinley, Montgomery and Newby at the park entrance and a mountain lion majestically bounding across the road in front of the car.We drove down the hill to race central, but there was zero trace of the hoards of campers I had heard so much about, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t until Friday morning when I went for a ride that I saw the thousands of campers and tents that had arrived overnight and the 2 mile back up of cars waiting to get into the park. This was the Wildflower I had heard so much about and now I was beyond excited!!!
On race day I managed to get away on the bike with Jurgen Zach, finally being dropped about two-thirds of the way, just as his uber biking strengths took advantage of the hills. Hitting the run I kept reminding myself of what Huddle said, “The race doesn't start until the hill at mile 4". He was correct in the year 2000 and is still correct today, I don’t think I had ever walked up a hill in a race before, but I got damn close when I made that right turn up the hill!
I finally caught Jurgen with about two miles to go, so I knew this was going to be close. He took off on the final long down hill, but I was able to close the gap and take the win in my first attempt. This was likely the timeliest win of my career, in that I had guaranteed a coveted lakeside cabin stay at the event whenever I returned. It should be noted that the big room in cabin 10 is forever mine!!!!!
For years before 2000, Wildflower was the launching pad for many professional careers, and it was definitely what I needed to launch my international career in the USA. It is a race I always returned to as a priority for the many years to come. Since 2000 we have seen the likes of Chris McCormack, Barb Lindquist, Simon Lessing, Tim De Boom, Natascha Badmann, Sam McGlone, Andy Potts, Torenzo Bozzone, Julie Dibens, Heather Jackson and Jesse Thomas take out the Wildflower title. Sorry to drag on with this list, but is too hard not to. Wildflower has made so many athletes careers in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Please take the time to appreciate your experience of the entire Wildflower weekend, take a stroll up the stairs from the boat ramp and take a look at the past victors, it is always inspiring to me, and I’m sure it will be the same for you. This race is tough, tough, tough and that’s what makes it awesome. There is nowhere to hide but it is definitely one of the most rewarding races out there. Get down and dirty and hit it hard, I can’t wait to see you all here. I will be the one with the huge smile on my face, more than just happy to be back 14 years after my first attempt at iconic Wildflower!