Written by Craig Dean
The 9th Annual Portland Triathlon enjoyed clear skies and calm waters for the traditional end to the Pacifc NW triathlon season. Sprint and Olympic distance racers readied their transition area in the expanse of Cathedral Park and beneath the giant arches of the St. Johns Bridge. Competitors gathered in their wave assignments ahead of the 7:30 start to the Olympic race. Pre-race favorite, Matt Berg, led the elite wave into the water next to women’s local pro McKenzie Madison. Waves broken up by age-group and distance carried on until the 250 Olympic racers, 14 Olympic relay teams and 328 sprint racers all set out onto the course.
The swim began with a short traverse from the boat launch to the first buoy before turning left and against the rivers flow. A light current offered a fast start to the action as Matt Berg predictably led the action early. Local ITU triathlete Adam Goulet rallied his effort a few strokes behind Berg and alongside Daniel Hough and David Gettle. The opening wave slowly strung out along the line of buoys to our left and anchored boats to our right. The women’s favorite and accomplished professional triathlete, McKenzie Madison led the women from the start and swam ahead of the third pack of men in the water.
The swim splits were unusually fast, but the time gaps were predictably tight. Berg entered transition with less than a minute advantage on the cluster of Hough, Goulet and Gettle behind him. He transitioned quickly and pressed into his lead ahead of the steep climb out of the park. McKenzie hit the racks after posting the women’s top swim split at 16:50 and I exited the water 25 seconds later. I picked up my hustle to the racks after receiving a boisterous round of support from the awaiting sprint racers gathering at the water’s edge. In transition, race owner Gary Walleson offered time gaps on the leaders and encouragement to the chasers. Most of those racing are very familiar with Gary and his involvement in the triathlon scene as co-owner of Athlete’s Lounge, coach to those in training and competitor when it is time to prove that he’s “still got it”.
The aggressive ascent to start the ride is short and very manageable if properly geared down. The course winds through a few chaperoned intersections before opening up to the flat and fast streets of the northern industrial area. Around mile post 7 the course entered its first of three turn-arounds that allow competitors to see each other and assess their time gaps on key rivals. This initial turn-around offered my first view on the leaders and a brief glance at their form. Berg must have pushed his power meter to “eleven” crushing his pedals and spinning his yellow shoes in a cadence unmatched by his chasers. After the initial turn-around, his gap had widened noticeably on the trio that trailed him so narrowly out of the water. Gettle rode slightly ahead of Goulet and Hough in a chase pack that left me wantonly behind.
Madison bolted from transition with a near 3-minute lead on Anne Heiner and climbed aggressively to hold her advantage. Heiner, a frequent winner in local events played her hand aggressively on the ride to hold serve while navigating through town of St. John. By the turn-around, Heiner gained sight on the leader and pressed into additional power to begin chipping into the gap. The other woman from the elite wave, Annick Chalier, road third on the road and largely held pace with the women infront of her. In a later wave, Stephanie Bergh made a big move on the bike and posted the fastest women’s split (1:01:44) while moving up into the virtual 3rd position on the road.
Matt Berg rode with power and urgency throughout the second loop of the bike course. He pressed further into his lead with relentless speed that led him to the top bike split on the day (54:42). He threw an exclamation point on his ride with a thunderous approach into transition that bounced his carbon frame on the train tracks and cobbled streets before the dismounting stripe. He guided his bike into the grassy transition area nearly 4-minutes ahead of his closest chaser David Gettle. Gettle, a prominent swim/bike specialist, entered transition roughly 30 seconds ahead of the tightly matched duo of Goulet and Hough. I trailed another 3-minutes behind the chase pack.
Madison hung on to her early lead established on the swim and verified on the ride. Heiner trailed by roughly 2-minutes into transition and rallied into the run still hopeful for the overall win. In a trailing wave, Bergh continued to eat into the leading ladies gap by closing it down to 3-minutes ahead of the run. She exited transition fleet of feet and ready to roll. The growing crowd of supporters cheered each athlete’s arrival into the transition rallying valuable energy into limbs of those transitioning from bike to run.
Berg set pace on an aggressive run course that offered little certainty and plenty of challenge. The course winds around the transition area and away from the park before a challenging ascent up the hill to Willamette Boulevard. Those that complete the climb with air in their lungs are greeted with more manageable terrain heading toward the University of Portland’s campus. Moments after seeing the Chiles Center, a turn-around cone marks the return towards the St. Johns Bridge in the first of two switch backson the run. This provided the second to final view on the competition and my view was distinct. Berg was hammering home a victory well deserved after a summer of discontent. His focus race, Xterra Portland, was plagued by illness that clearly hindered his efforts to compete for the overall win on that day. On this day, he appeared fit and focused to bring home a title to cap his up and down season.
Four minutes behind the leader, Goulant strode evenly and with purpose. I winner in many local sprint races and fresh off of a notable result at the ITU championships in Chicago, Goulant was making an effective impression on the local Olympic distance field. Trailing nearly a minute behind Goulant, Hough pounded out a run that created distance from both Gettle and myself and a clear path to the final podium slot. I chased the pounding stride of Gettle after the initial turn-around and eclipsed his position, moving into 4th after entering the arched roadway of the giant bridge.
Madison had enjoyed 5-consecutive Pacific Crest Long Course wins and notable full Ironman results since turning professional. She coaches young athletes and inspires followers through her blog posts. All her stature and her talents were on test with Anne Heiner determined to challenge her lead on the run. They both received a solid view on the other during each of the two turn-arounds on the run. Their paces were nearly evenly matched as the gap held steady at a full minute. On the St. John’s Bridge there is no place to hide from your rivals. Competitors pass close enough to each other to trade low fives while brawning smiles that mask the want to grimace.
The men’s race took a turn for the worst as racers followed the errant advice of uninformed onlookers next to a corner. The leader and his chasers all veered right when the course remained forward on the closing descent to the park. Upon realizing his error, Berg simply channeled back to the course via the next intersection. Goulant and Hough managed to return to the course as well, although panic discarded their memory of their path back to the park. When I reached the errant turn, the course director ran with hands in the air pointing back to the course I had abandoned. For the remaining racers, calm and direction was restored.
When Berg pulled to the line he was physically alone but surrounded by accomplishment with his overall victory and 1:51:30 overall time. His wife, Kaytee, and young son were soon there to greet him. Goulant plowed through the final loop on the run before responding to the information and advice provided by those at the finish line to circle back and properly complete the final loop. His overall time was 1:54:02. Hough followed the same errant turn, but did not heed the similar advice offered by those at the finish line and continued through the tape in 1:55:50. His mistake would cost him the acknowledgment of third place during the award ceremony, but his effort was far clear of all chasers for that position. I pulled into the finishing chute roughly 4-minutes later (1:59:59) and good for a 4th place finish on the course. A couple of minutes later, a sprint finish saw Kevin Cashatt and Dave Gettle lunging to the line for 5th and 6th position overall.
On the women’s side, Madison completed her steady run by pacing evenly ahead of Heiner and clearing the tape with an overall time of 2:02:46. Heiner held strong on the run and completed an overall race that would have won many a Portland Triathlon in the past. She grabbed the second podium slot with an overall time of 2:03:42. Bergh completed her race by weaving past women and men from previous waves on route to the final podium slot with an overall time of 2:07:55.
In the end, we all found our challenge and our verdict in our effort. How we entered the competition and what we expected from our preparations are all individual assessments that we own to ourselves. How we relate to our rivals and re-purpose our future is what keeps us coming back for more. On with fall sports and winter training to those ready to toe the line with me in 2016!