Matt Reed and Julie Ertel each used a strong run leg to pull away from the competition and win USA Triathlon Elite National titles on Saturday.
It was the second national title for each athlete. Reed won his first in 2004, while Ertel defended her 2007 crown. The wins also guaranteed Reed and Ertel the overall titles in the 2008 USAT Haul to the Great Elite Series.
The elites had a built-in crowd for their races, thanks to more than 1,000 age groupers who had competed on the 1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run course for their national championship earlier in the day. It’s the first time the age groupers and elites have raced for national titles at the same venue since 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Just 17 women were on the start list, but it was a star-studded field. Olympians Sarah Haskins and Ertel led the competitors out of the water, with current U.S. No. 1 Sarah Groff, and two-time U23 Worlds silver medalist Jasmine Oeinck close behind. Former junior national champion Jennifer Spieldenner was also in that front group, with Olympian Laura Bennett, Olympic team alternate Becky Lavelle, and Mary Beth Ellis forming the chase pack, 30 seconds behind.
By the time the first of eight bike loops was completed, the front pack was down to Haskins, Ertel, Groff and Oeinck, with Lavelle, Bennett and Ellis chasing hard close to a minute back. That spread remained steady throughout the remaining bike laps, but once the run started, the two Olympians up front controlled the pace and steadily put distance between themselves and their competitors.
Haskins and Ertel had been in these head-to-head matchups with each other before, and Ertel always seemed to find the little bit extra that put her one top. This race was no different, as the 2007 champ began a strong push as the fourth lap began to pull away from Haskins and claimed the win.
“I really liked this course. I liked the rolling hills. There was really no flat section where anyone can rest. Everyone in the group was having to work,” Ertel said. “Sarah fell off on the third lap, so I went by her and realized at that point that I could go faster. So I took off, made a bit of a gap and put a little more time on the fourth lap.”
Haskins finished 10 seconds back, with Groff grabbing third another 30 seconds behind. Bennett made a hard charge for fourth and Lavelle was fifth, 2:30 back.
Oeinck finished sixth to grab her first U23 National title.
Ertel had taken more than two weeks off from training after Beijing and was even contemplating not competing at nationals, but once she got on the course, she knew she had made the right decision. “It was really hard for me to rally after the Olympics coming off that high,” said Ertel. “I just decided to go out and have fun. The thing that really fueled me today was having so many supportive spectators on the course. Every time we came around, there were at least four or five massive packs of people cheering us on. That was really special to all of us. We haven’t had that for the past couple of years at nationals. These guys [age groupers] are troopers out here. They race this morning and then stuck around to support us.
She was also impressed with the venue centered among the hills and trees of the Pacific Northwest. “It was absolutely gorgeous scenery. It was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever done,” she said.
Heading into the men’s race, Olympians Matt Reed and Jarrod Shoemaker had to be considered the favorites among the 39 racers, especially after Hunter Kemper (injury) and Andy Potts (training for Kona) pulled out late in the week. But when Shoemaker failed to make it out of T1 on Saturday, it set the stage for the powerful Reed to grab the title, and he didn’t disappoint.
The 2008 Olympic Trials champion was with a group of four, including Matt Chrabot, Joe Umphenour and Brian Fleischmann, early on the bike, but Reed and Chrabot pulled ahead and easily distanced themselves from the chasers for the remaining bike laps.
“I wanted to do the first part of the bike hard and see if we could break it up a bit. I saw Matt Chrabot, who’s probably the best biker in the field – apart from myself,” said Reed. “Once I saw him in there, I knew we were going to get away.”
Farther back, a large pack that included Tim O’Donnell, Brian Lavelle, John Dahlz, Matt Seymour, Dave Kuendig, Ethan Brown and Steve Sexton was in pursuit but couldn’t make up much time on the two leaders.
Out on the run, Reed made it clear that this was his race, putting more time onto Chrabot and the rest of the field each of the four laps. By the time the 6-foot-5 Reed neared the finish and grabbed the American flag, he had more than a minute on his nearest competitor. He took his time over the final few meters and savored the finish after a frustrating last month.
“I kind of lost motivation after the Olympics, but I’ve got a family to support. I love to race and I wasn’t going to stop after the Olympics,” said Reed, when asked if he considered not racing after a 32nd place finish in Beijing in August. “It’s the national championship and I’m not going to let a chance for a national title go to waste. I won the title in 2004 and I wanted another one. I wasn’t going to miss it for the world. In a way, it means you are the best in the U.S. It was important to have a solid race today and show everyone that the Olympics wasn’t normally how I race. I’ve had a great year, and I just want to continue it.”
In a great performance, 39-year-old Joe Umphenour made a phenomenal last-lap kick to earn second – his first national championship podium in his 12 years of elite competition.
“It’s nice to finally get on the podium at nationals. I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t go with the front pack on the bike,” said Umphenour. “But maybe sitting in that pack was what allowed me to catch up. I was redlining it the whole way, good in water, good on the bike, good on the run. Age-wise I’m 39, but I still feel like I’m 25.”
Ethan Brown also closed hard to finish third and capture his second straight U23 National title. Chrabot held on for fourth and Fleischmann finished fifth.
Complete Results will be posted here: http://www.pigmantri.com/jmsracing/results08/usatage08.html
Past U.S. Elite National Champions
2007 – Andy Potts & Julie Swail (Ertel)
2006 – Hunter Kemper & Sarah Haskins
2005 – Hunter Kemper & Becky Lavelle
2004 – Matt Reed & Courtney Bennigson
2003 – Hunter Kemper & Laura Reback (Bennett)
2002 – Seth Wealing & Barb Lindquist
2001 – Hunter Kemper & Karen Smyers
2000 – Marcel Vifian & Joanna Zeiger
1999 – Hunter Kemper & Barb Lindquist
1998 – Hunter Kemper & Siri Lindley
1997 – Cameron Widoff & Sian Welch
1996 – Jeff Devlin & Susan Latshaw
1995 – Jeff Devlin & Karen Smyers
1994 – Scott Molina & Karen Smyers
1993 – Bill Braun & Karen Smyers
1992 – Mike Pigg & Karen Smyers
1991 – Mike Pigg & Karen Smyers
1990 – Scott Molina & Karen Smyers
1989 – Ken Glah & Jan Ripple
1988 – Mike Pigg & Colleen Cannon Kaushansky
1987 – Mike Pigg & Kirsten Hanssen
1986 – Scott Molina & Kirsten Hanssen
1985 – Scott Molina & Linda Buchanan
1984 – Scott Molina & Beth Mitchell
1983 – Scott Molina & Sylviane Puntous
Haul to the Great Wall Elite Series
With the race worth double points in the Haul to the Great Wall Elite Series, the win locks up the overall titles for both Ertel and Reed. It is the second straight series title – and third overall – for Ertel, who has won three of the four races thus far in 2008. With just one race left on the schedule, her 100 points are too much for second-place Haskins to overcome. On the men’s side, Reed has won two of the four events for 75 points and Fleischmann has one win and 50 points.
The five-race, draft-legal Olympic distance series is giving triathlon fans a chance to see athletes who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team and those up-and-coming athletes who have their sights set on London in 2012. Each race also includes a stellar international field of competitors.
The series features more than $800,000 in prize money.
The schedule concludes with the Series Championship at The San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island on Nov. 8.
Athletes must compete in a minimum of three events to be eligible for the overall series title. If athletes compete in more than three events, the top-three results will be included in the points total. Overall Series Prize Purse $20,000: Three Deep – 1st $5,000, 2nd $3,000, 3rd $2,000.
Swimwear and sports apparel giant Speedo is also providing $5,000 in bonus money for each race on the five-city tour. American men and women who finish in the top three in their respective races are eligible for the bonuses, with $1,500 going to the top finisher, $750 to second, and $250 to third.
In addition to the individual race bonus pool, Speedo is providing a $15,000 end-of-the-season bonus to be split if U.S. athletes finish first or second in the series. First place will receive $5,000 and second place will take home $2,500 in both the men’s and women’s categories.