For some, it was a chance to blow out the cobwebs. For others, it was a show of authority. North America’s race season kicked off with big fireworks at Accenture Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, as German Olympian Jan Frodeno laid claim to the 70.3 realm (and announced his focus on Kona) with the men’s victory in 3:49:25, while Canadian Heather Wurtele one-upped her runner-up finish from a year ago to take the women’s title in 4:13:12.
The day was idyllic Southern California; sunny and clear, going from cool in the morning to a comfortably warm temps in the lower 70s F as the day wore on, making for ideal racing conditions.
The men’s race saw the trio of American Andy Potts, Frodeno and Aussie Jimmy Seear blast out of Oceanside Harbor to a minute lead over a chase pack that included Americans Andy Starykowicz, Matt Reed and Kevin Collington, Canadian Brent McMahon, Spaniard Albert Moreno and Aussie Joe Gambles.
That put reigning Ironman 70.3 World Champ Sebastian Kienle on his back foot; out of the water over three minutes off the lead, he was put on the offensive early to chase a collection of able cyclists. He would push hard, ultimately riding toward the front of the race by the midway point on the north end of the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps installation.
Riding in the lead with the duo of Frodeno and Matt Chrabot several seconds back, Potts descended one section of course with a speed limit (an off-camber bending left), sat up and took a drink. As he rode on, he was later captured by Chrabot.
“Matt (Chrabot) came up to me and said they’d given me a penalty, and I asked him for what—I had no idea,” Potts said. “I’ve done this race many times before and they usually have a radar there with our speed, and I understand why they have a speed limit there.” When asked whether it was someone on the ground there that made the call, Potts said “I guess. But I was just surprised, because I was sitting up, one hand braking, the other drinking.”
Indeed, Potts received a penalty in a race—for speeding.
As Potts, Starykowicz (the day’s fastest bike at 2:10:22 despite having a flu so debilitating the last few days that he was vomiting blood late in bike), Frodeno and a tailing Kienle returned to T2 in Oceanside, anticipating the ensuing attacks on the run. But before that, Potts was made to serve his 30-second speeding infraction.
Seizing the moment, Frodeno surged ahead. Instantly, Chrabot fell away. And despite a game effort from Potts, nobody was going to catch the on-form Frodeno. His day-best 1:11:49 half marathon carried him further away from Potts and further minute from Kienle. Upon his finish with the win (and despite his recent win at Ironman 70.3 Auckland, Frodeno announced he would likely be passing up a spot at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships to focus this year on competing at the Hawaii Ironman, with the plan to qualify at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt, Germany.
“I got really good work in this winter in Noosa and started my year a bit earlier than I have in the past,” he said, “but Kona’s the granddaddy of them all… I really want to be a part of it this year.”
“For Kona, I’m not sure, but for 70.3, just look at the results. I already knew he’s the guy to beat in 70.3,” said reigning 70.3 World Champ Kienle. “We all have to up our game a little bit—which is cool. I’m really happy the best guys are in our sport, because it gives us a chance to step up and beat them. So early this season, apart from my swim, I’m happy with my race. Nonetheless Jan was doing a cooldown the last 5k. Today we probably saw 90 percent of what he’s capable of.”
The women’s race saw the return to racing of former Ironman 70.3 World Champ Julie Dibens. The Briton had been out of the sport for over two years due to a foot injury. She announced her return with authority, dashout out of Oceanside Harbor in 24 minutes, just off the feet of swim split winner Meredith Kessler, with American ITU pro Jen Spieldenner on Dibens feet. Right away, Dibens snatched the lead and rode away from Kessler.
The chasers included Wurtele a minute back, and American Heather Jackson another minute arrears. By the 20-mile mark of the bike, final formation that would constitute the balance of the race was set: Dibens out front, with the quartet of Wurtele, Jackson, American Rachel McBride and Kessler riding together in pursuit.
Surprisingly, noted cyclist Jackson was simply content to be part of the main chase of Dibens. “No excuses, but I’d been fighting a virus since (Ironman 70.3) Panama,” Jackson said. It was enough to take the pop off her ride, as she said her breathing was compromised. “I couple times I was popped off and had to fight to get back on with the group,” she said.
Still, Jackson finished with the fastest bike split of the day (2:25:07) as she, Kessler and Wurtele bore down on T2.
Dibens started the run with the lead at about a minute, but with her limited mileage, was captured by a determined Jackson and Wurtele at the four-mile mark.
And just as soon as Jackson passed Dibens to take the lead, Wurtele attacked Jackson. “I knew I had to really keep the pressure on her once I made the pass,” Wurtele said. “I’d been doing intervals with the ITU guys on our team, and it was really paying off; I just hoped the other girls didn’t feel as good on the run as I did.”
Clocking the day-best 1:17:57 half marathon, Wurtele proved to have the freshest legs of the day as she strode to the win, besting her runner-up finish here from a year ago. Jackson, last year’s winner, claimed second. Kessler’s steady effort netted her the final position.
And in fourth was Dibens. After crossing the finish, Dibens walked over to a quiet part of the finish chute, hung her arms across the rail, and sunk her head. It was a significant moment; for Dibens, it was as good as any victory she’s enjoyed.
“I’m really emotional right now,” she said, shaking her head incredulously, processing her first race finish after battling foot injuries that threatened to end her career. “It’s been a hard road, and it’s hard for me to believe I just did that. Lack of fitness, but that’ll come back. It was just a lot of fun, and I’ve got a lot of people to thank to help get me back here. “
Her competitors were thrilled to see her back in the game—somewhat.
“It’s really hard to be out of it for a couple years, so it was awesome to see her back,” Wurtele said. “I knew she was gonna haul ass in the swim and kill it on the bike, the only question was the run. And the run is going to come back and then we’re all gonna be like ‘uggh!’”
Accenture Ironman 70.3 Oceanside
March 29, 2012, Oceanside, Calif.
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Jan Frodeno (DEU) 3:49:25
2. Andy Potts (USA) 3:52:18
3. Sebastian Kienle (DEU) 3:53:21
4. Joe Gambles (AUS) 3:55:00
5. Brent McMahon (CAN) 3:55:46
6. Kevin Collington (USA) 3:56:11
7. Matt Chrabot (USA) 3:57:05
8. Trevor Wurtele (CAN) 3:58:48
9. Matt Reed (USA) 4:00:10
10. Albert Moreno (ESP) 4:01:57
1. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:13:12
2. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:14:15
3. Meredith Kessler (USA) 4:19:52
4. Julie Dibens (GBR) 4:24:54
5. Caitlin Snow (USA) 4:25:24
6. Jennifer Spieldennner (USA) 4:28:35
7. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 4:30:33
8. Liz Lyles (USA) 4:32:59
9. Emily Cocks (USA) 4:35:32
10. Charisa Wernick (USA)