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Whether it was intentional or not, the fact that Andy Potts exited the swim with athletes right on his heels proved to work to his advantage. Will we see him take a similar strategy to Kona?
Andy Potts was a swimmer before he was a triathlete. He was a very good swimmer. He was an Olympic alternate and NCAA All-American. While he figured out years ago how to ride and run with the best over the 70.3 distance, he always relied on his magnificent swim stroke to earn an early advantage
Taking the lead from the gun as Potts has historically done is a burden. He has more time to finish the bike, but also has a more difficult ride to complete. The bulk of the contenders get to key off each other and benefit from a small (and usually legal) draft, but Potts has typically been left to fend for himself—at least until the group reels him in. This race was different. He came out of the water first, but was followed immediately by a gang including Tim O’Donnell and several others. Potts had company from the start of the ride.
His incredible strength over the half-iron distance has been enough to earn many 70.3 titles, including five at Ironman 70.3 California, but he hasn’t been able to consistently beat the best at the Ironman distance. Some people, including two-time Kona winner Tim DeBoom, have speculated that Potts may benefit from hanging back early during the ride to save that juice for later in the race. His win at Ironman 70.3 California proved that, at least, this strategy isn’t a total disaster.
Potts said after the race that he didn’t wait for the others in the swim—he was quick to compliment his competition for improving their swim ability and said they simply swam faster. Whatever the reason, Potts was able to bide his time during the ride instead of gassing it from the first pedal stroke. He was extremely cautious to avoid drafting from what I saw and was never far from the front. But he still benefited from cycling with the lead group instead of in front of it.
Whether this scenario was by design or caused by a shift in the swim hierarchy isn’t really important. The outcome is the same. Potts rode the entire bike course surrounded by his competition and came away victorious. If Ironman races, specifically Kona, play out in this way, Potts is likely to be closer to the front than ever before. It looks like DeBoom might get an answer to his question this October.
Two stars in the making
Both talented latecomers to the sport have won major races in the past—namely Wildflower, and Heather Jackson won Escape from Alcatraz last month—but neither proved their ability to win against the very top competition in 2012’s biggest races. Their performances at Ironman 70.3 California demonstrated they have crossed the threshold into the sport’s elite.
Thomas is gradually learning how to best use his All-American running ability, while sharpening his swim and bike.
Jackson solved her own formula for a great race. She backed off the aggression on the bike and replaced it with new-found foot speed and confidence in her ability to close.
Look for both Jackson and Thomas to make the leap in 2013 and start contending for victory at the biggest races throughout the summer.