Photo by Tuula Rodgers
You can say one thing about Buffalo Springs Lake Ironman 70.3 Triathlon without much argument: it’s the toughest triathlon course in Texas, indeed in the entire South-Midwest region, and perhaps the hardest Ironman 70.3 in all of North America. Year in and year out, the world’s best pros, elite age-groupers and some brave beginners travel hundreds (if not thousands) of miles to test themselves in this unique blend of heat, hills, and wind for 70.3 miles.
The long-awaited dual between Australia’s full Ironman and 70.3 world champion, Craig “Crowie” Alexander, and America’s “Great Bike Hope” Chris Lieto, did not materialize. Crowie choose to sit the race out due to illness and recovery issues after their last battle at the Boise 70.3 just three weeks prior. Still, Crowie managed to tame race directors Mike and Marti Greer, the fans, and the sponsors with a compelling stage appearance on Saturday, where he took questions from the audience, signed autographs, and posed for photos.
Unlike previous BSLT 70.3 events with Natascha Badmann or Miranda Carafe, there were no dominant women entered for 2010. Fans looked to traditional Texas stalwarts like Amanda Lavato and Andrea Fischer—and the X-factor of unknown speedsters crossing the Texas border to snatch away an unexpected victory.
The age-group ranks were also jammed full of Kona champions and podium finishers, like Herb Spicer (M55-59), former Texas resident Lauren Smith (F45-49 and former pro known as “Lauren Maule”), Missy LeStrange (F55-59), and many others.
And if that wasn’t enough competition, there was the handcycling. BSLT is the perennial Kona qualifier for hancycling athletes, and now the home of the US National Handcycling Championship. Krige Schabort led the men’s handcycling division from wire to wire with an amazing 4:55:07 finish, and female winner Tricia Downing bravely held on to finish in 7:31:26.
The pro swim wave went as expected with Stephen Hackett leading the men out of the water in 21:30, closely followed by Terenzo Bozzone, James Cotter, and Chris Lieto—all within eight seconds of each other. Lieto then passed another strong cyclist in the flats, T.J. Tollakson, who gritted and struggled to keep up using an unorthodox “hands-up” aero position. Lieto, however, displayed complete mastery of the classic tuck, relaxed and breathing easily as he pulled away.
Lieto extended his lead in the early hills, up the tough switch-back climbs, and then into strong winds as he returned to T2, averaging a speed of 26.24 miles per hour in 2:08. Tollakson also biked well in 2:10 and began his pursuit of Lieto on the run. Joining him in the hunt were Kiwi Torenzo Bozzone and American Ben Hoffman, both capable of outrunning the bike monster Lieto.
What makes BSLT tougher than other great 70.3 courses is the mixture of heat and steep grades on the run.
What makes BSLT tougher than other great 70.3 courses like Wildflower is the mixture of heat and steep grades on the run. As Crowie told us the day before the race, it’s very rare to be challenged by both a hilly bike and a hilly run on the same course. Would the larger Lieto crack on the run hills?
He played his hand conservatively and managed a respectable 1:23 run to ensure a comfortable cushion of victory over Bozzone in second and Hoffman in third. Some hard-charging pros like Texas resident Brent Poulsen turned in impressive run times of 1:20 or better, but none were fleet enough to catch Lieto, the wheel-wizard from California.
On the female side of the field, no one was surprised when Austin’s Andrea Fischer led the pro women out of the water in 23:49, like so many times before. She was followed by Rebecca Witinok-Huber (24:21), Marcela Miramontes (25:02), and a rising French Canadian racer named Magali Tisseyre, fresh off her victory at the Boise 70.3 race. All feared the looming shadow of another Canadian, Angela Naeth, the strongest cyclist in the woman’s field.
As expected, Naeth pedaled her way pass eight other women and into the lead with a blazing 2:22:41 (23.55 mph) bike split. Like her male counterpart Lieto, she appeared to be in a different league of aero positioning, generating tremendous power while still looking relaxed. Magali Tisseyre continued a spirited two-wheel chase, rocking a bit on the saddle as she tried to get extra watts out of her small frame.
That left wicked hills on the run, climbed swiftly by the lightweight Tisseyre. She passed Naeth to run a 1:27:38—by far the fastest female run of the day—and with a big finish-line smile, took the women’s championship. Naeth held on for second place, followed by Jacobs in third and Texas’ own Amanda Lavato in fourth.
As for your humble narrator? He struggled through cramping in the early run to hold on for first place in the men’s 50-54 age group, his best performance here, but paid for it with the most suffering he can recall since beginning triathlon here in 1998. But overcoming suffering is what Buffalo Springs Lake Ironman 70.3 is all about.