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American Andy Potts and Canadian Melanie McQuaid took the victories over a strong field at the Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside. The race started under cloudy and slightly misty conditions, with an air temperature in the mid-50s and a water temperature of about 58 degrees, which McQuaid said was an advantage for her since she trains in Canada. The temperature affected Potts’ T2 slightly, however: “It was really cold; I was really struggling in T2,” he said after the race. “I couldn’t open my socks and I was really struggling to unstrap my helmet. I could barely hold my bottle. Thank God for Di2 or else I would have been stuck in the same gear the entire ride.”
It was Potts’ fourth 70.3 California title, and it was McQuaid’s second Ironman 70.3 title (the first being 2010 Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens). The race course had some changes this year, including two transition areas, the run course included running on the Oceanside Pier and the finish line was moved to along the water in downtown Oceanside.
The pro men kicked off at 6:40 a.m. with an in-water start, with the pro women three minutes later. It was no surprise that reigning 70.3 California champion and former All-American swimmer Potts was first out of Oceanside Harbor in 22:48. American John Dahlz came out of the water only about 30 seconds behind him, with a pack of five men (including Aussie Richie Cunningham, American Matt Reed and Aussie Paul Ambrose) another minute behind Dahlz.
Over the bike course, Potts kept extending his lead over the chase pack of 10 men that included Reed, Cunningham, Ambrose, Leon Griffin, Matt Lieto, Dahlz and Jesse Thomas, with a 2:45 lead over the pack halfway through the 56-mile bike. Ambrose started to charge and narrow the gap to Potts in the second half of the bike, and only Cunningham and Griffin could match the pace.
Potts was first into T2 with a time of 2:13:08 and a two-minute lead over the chase group which now included not only Ambrose, Cunningham and Griffin but also Lieto and Thomas. The group made up only a few seconds on Potts in transition and was within 1:20 of Potts two miles into the run. Former NCAA Div. 1 steeplechaser Thomas stayed with Griffin ad Cunningham in the chase group on the run, Ambrose dropped to fifth, with Reed and Chris McDonald 4:15 behind Potts. The gap to Potts was never less than a minute over the course of the half-marathon, and Potts was able to lead from start to finish, using a 1:14:34 run to take his fourth title in Oceanside, in a total time of 3:54:03. Cunningham pulled ahead of Thomas to take second.
“There’s never too much secret to my race plan,” Potts said. “It’s push hard as soon as the gun goes off. Push, push, push, and try to take advantage of my strength and luckily I had something to back it up today. I’m used to keeping things honest keeping the pace is high; it’s how I train. My wife gave me an awesome love note because she couldn’t travel with me, but she said: ‘You train really aggressively, you train really hard. Don’t be afraid if that’s what happens in the race. Keep pushing and know that your training can back it up.’ Luckily I was able to back it up and have a little pop in my legs.”
In the women’s race, American Meredith Kessler was first out of the water in a time of 25:31, with former NCAA Div. 1 swimmer Kristen Peterson about a minute behind her. A little more than 2 minutes behind Kessler came a group of six women including Canadians Magali Tisseyre and Rachel McBride. The rest of the top women were spread out on the swim: three-time Xterra world champion McQuaid exited the water 2:40 behind Kessler, Linsey Corbin exited about three minutes down, last year’s runner-up Heather Jackson exited about four minutes down and reigning Xterra world champ Lesley Paterson exited about 5:30 off the lead.
“[The bike leg] was awesome, it was sweet,” said McQuaid after the race. “I’m so happy with that bike [a Trek Speed Concept] it’s not even funny. It’s like a game changer for me. … It fits. I have a funky body and I didn’t fit my other bikes; now I’m comfy and my strength on the time trial bike is getting close to what I can do on a mountain bike, which is such a difference. … [Now] I don’t come off the bike like an old lady, all bent over and screwed. And I do so much core stuff that I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t run after those bikes, and it’s just because I wasn’t comfortable. Now I’m comfy and faster and motivated, obviously.”
McQuaid, McBride and Corbin all powered on the bike to catch up to Kessler, and by the 25-mile point, McQuaid had taken the lead with McBride 20 seconds back, Kessler 30 seconds back and Corbin 2:45 behind. McQuaid came into T2 about posting a bike time of 2:22:45—an almost four-minute lead over McBride, who was closely followed by Kessler. Kessler passed McBride early on the run but couldn’t close the gap to McQuaid. Jackson came into T2 about 6:30 behind the leader; Corbin (partly due to a bike mechanical) entered T2 almost nine minutes down.
McQuaid had a strong run, and even through Jackson flew through the field, passing McBride and then Kessler, she couldn’t catch McQuaid, who never lost the lead. Kessler rounded out the podium in third place. “This is my favorite race,” said Jackson, who’s from Carlsbad, Calif. “It’s just a hometown race, but [it had] definitely a lot more pressure than last year. This was kind of my breakthrough last year, so then you have that pressure of, ‘Oh, you almost had Rinny [Mirinda Carfrae, the 2011 winner] last year; it’s your year this year.’ … Definitely a little more pressure, but I tried to stay calm.”
Ironman 70.3 California
Oceanside, Calif. – March 31, 2012
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Andy Potts (USA) 3:54:03
2. Richie Cunningham (AUS) 3:55:11
3. Jesse Thomas (USA) 3:55:22
1. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 4:19:13
2. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:21:57
3. Meredith Kessler (USA) 4:23:40