Pros to Watch at the Avia Wildflower Triathlons on May 2
Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2009
Bob Babitt | Competitor Magazine
He thought the race was in the bag, that his fourth Avia Wildflower Triathlon title was a little more than a few victory laps away. He knew the drill. Smile for the camera, wave to the folks on the side of the road, straighten out the uniform and clean the spittle and road splatter from your face so that you look good on TV, and maybe joke around with the photographers a little bit. When you are used to winning races all over the world – like 2007 Ford Ironman champion Chris McCormack certainly is – you start to get a sense during the chaos that surrounds your race day when things are going your way, and when the victory arrow is pointing in someone else’s direction.
Some races are tight and you have to rely on tactics and making the right move at exactly the right time. Being a great mobile chess player is sometimes just as important as being the fastest guy or gal on the block.
The date was Saturday May 3, 2008 and the Aussie they call Macca had the whole race pretty much figured out. Or so he thought. Bjorn Anderson had blown away the field on the bike and came into transition with a 5:35 lead on McCormack. 50 seconds back of Anderson was another great cyclist and Ironman champion named Chris Lieto, who would certainly love to win the most important triathlon in his home state of California. Former Avia Wildflower champion Terenzo Bozzone from New Zealand and Eneko Llanos from Spain were up ahead as well, but not far.
As he ran out for the tough half-marathon main course after the brutal 56-mile Nasty Grade enhanced appetizer, his legs were responding right away and the Macca Express was rolling.
"Llanos was 20 seconds in front of me and I was with Fraser Cartmell from Scotland, who is pretty solid," remembers McCormack. "He's a swim/biker, but not a strong runner so I thought ‘Okay, I've got him covered.'"
Bozzone looked pretty cooked to Macca during the bike ride, so Macca felt it best to focus on the guys up ahead.
His thought was to try to bridge to Eneko Llanos, the 2003 ITU Long Distance Triathlon world champion and two-time Olympian, and hopefully they could feed off each other as they ran down Anderson and Lieto.
One problem. When McCormack caught Llanos about a mile and a half into the run, Llanos didn't go with him. "I thought that was a great sign," McCormack remembers. "Llanos is gone and this is getting better by the mile."
Just past mile seven, Macca caught Anderson, who had been passed by the new leader Chris Lieto. With four miles to go, McCormack came up on Lieto and took over. "I've won this," he said to himself. "I've got four miles to go, I'm feeling fantastic and I'm going to win my fourth Wildflower title."
Not so fast, Chris.
Eneko Llanos had been playing possum and was now back in the game, and only a few seconds off the pace.
"Someone yelled out 10 seconds," recalls McCormack. "I had no idea that he'd been making up ground behind me."
At the bottom of a long grade, at about mile 10, right at the point where the athletes take a 180-degree turn and head for home, Eneko Llanos and Chris McCormack became linked forever.
Feeling great, McCormack started to formulate a plan, to plot out the moves he needed to make. There is a gradual climb from miles 10 to 12, and then the athletes plummet the last mile to the finish. The key for him was to get Llanos to take the lead so that he could slingshot by him towards the end of the long downhill section.
"Let's run off this guy," McCormack thought to himself. "Let's let him do all the work."
But Llanos had caught up to him, and McCormack was leading with Llanos perched off his shoulder - forcing Macca to dictate the pace.
Two players, four miles, one winner. The game was on.
McCormack made a couple of surges and then pretended to fade a bit so that Llanos would be lured into a counter-attack.
Llanos took the bait and McCormack settled in behind him. "I followed Llanos for the last mile and a half, up until the drop-off down the hill," he says. "I knew by being behind him, I could watch everything he was doing, but he would have no idea when I was going to make my move. I thought to myself, ‘I'm putting you right where I want you to be, mate.' Every time Llanos would do a few surges, I would match them. And then I think he started to doubt himself a little bit. He had to be going, ‘Uh oh, he's feeling pretty good.'"
McCormack knew that the final move had to be decisive. At the bottom of the long downhill, the road flattens out to the finish, but if you don't have much left, that flat section can suck all of the energy out of your legs. "When I finally made my move I knew I'd have the element of surprise and the leg speed to create a gap," McCormack continues.
With about one kilometer to go, halfway down the grade, McCormack dropped back just a tad and then let it loose. He went by Llanos at full speed and had five meters, and the race, in the blink of an eye.
It's easy to doubt yourself when you think a race is in the bag and someone with a great running pedigree like Eneko Llanos catches you from behind. A lot of athletes would look at that reality and crumble.
But not Chris McCormack. He is the four-time Avia Wildflower champion and a chess master.
The first key was to constantly check the gauges on his personal dashboard and never, ever doubt himself or his ability.
Energy level: Great.
Confidence: Sky high.
The second key to his 19-second victory?
Making the right move at exactly the right time.
PROS TO WATCH AT THE AVIA WILDFLOWER ON MAY 2:
• 2008 Ironman world champion Craig Alexander in his first trip to Lake San Antonio.
• Last year's second-place finisher and two-time Olympian Eneko Llanos tries to move up a spot.
• Bjorn Anderson, the leader off the bike last year, is back once again.
• California boy Chris Lieto hopes to win the most important event in his state.
• 2000 Wildflower champion Chris Legh took second in 2007.
• 2004 Olympic triathlete and Escape From Alcatraz champion Andy Potts is an Avia Wildflower rookie.
• 2008 Escape From Alcatraz champion Leanda Cave took second at the Avia Wildflower last year.
• Becky Lavelle won the Avia Wildflower Triathlon in 2007 and was named the 2008 Triathlete Magazine Short Course Non Drafting Triathlete of the Year
• 2004 Olympian Samantha McGlone is the defending Avia Wildflower champion and has won the event three times.
• Julie Dibbens is the two-time XTERRA World Champion.