Credit: Alex Felker

Nathan Killam. Credit: Alex Felker

Jesse Thomas and Liz Lyles both retained their elite titles at the Wildflower Triathlon at Lake San Antonio, Cali..

The 34th edition of the famous race took place under cloudless skies and experience told as Thomas, 36, of Bend, Ore., and Lyles, 38, from Reno, Nev., both held off stiff competition to win.

“Surreal would be the first word,” said Thomas of winning for the sixth year in a row. “Amazing. Exciting. It’s been a blast. This race means a whole bunch to me.

Jesse Thomas. Credit: Alex Felker

Jesse Thomas. Credit: Alex Felker

There was major Canadian interest in the men’s event, with Nathan Killam, 30, of Vancouver B.C., taking sixth, up two places from 2015. Shawn Wilyman and James Cook, both 27 and both from Victoria, B.C., were also competing, taking 19th and 22nd respectively.

“I came round for sixth, so I was super stoked with that. Two spots better than last year, went way faster, rode faster and everything was better I think.” said Killam.

Intense men’s race

Thomas was the five-time reigning champion coming into this year’s long course race at Wildflower. His biggest challenger was expected to be course record holder, Terenzo Bozzone, 31, of New Zealand. Bozzone set the record in 2006 and last raced Wildflower in 2008, but has since been Ironman 70.3 World Champion, alongside winning a host of Ironman 70.3 titles.

As predicted, the race eventually boiled down to a battle between these two.

Thomas was only two seconds behind Bozzone after the swim, and less than a minute behind the early leaders. They soon made this time up on the 3.5km transition run with Thomas leaving T1 in first, and Bozzone fourth.

“I had a remarkable swim for me. I came out with those guys (his main rivals) and I was really psyched with that.” said Thomas.

Wilyman and Cook came out of the swim in 11th and 12th, with Killam down in 18th.

Thomas and Bozzone took control of the race on the infamously difficult bike course. With testing winds and steep hills, they pulled clear of the field. Thomas made a move about 65 km into the bike, on the toughest climb, known as nasty grade. He gained a one minute one second advantage over Bozzone coming out of T2.

Killam had the sixth fastest bike split of the day, moving up the field significantly, but Cook and Wilyman both dropped off the pace slightly.

Cook said, “The bike was tough for sure. I didn’t really feel I got into a rhythm until about halfway through. By that point it was kind of too little too late.”

Coming out of T2, Thomas immediately attacked and Bozzone was unable to respond. Thomas opened up a lead of nearly three minutes by the final sprint down Lynch Hill to the finish, coming home in four hours, five minute and 32 seconds. Bozzone was second in 4:08:17 with Chris Leiferman, 30, of Longmont, Colo. third in 4:10:36.

“To be able to race a guy like Terenzo, who has thoroughly dominated this course, is a good thing.” said Thomas. “Every year is different. This year the main differences were facing Terenzo. The biggest difference though is I’m prepping for an Ironman in three weeks.

Killam was delighted with his sixth place finish, in 4:14:15 and is now looking forward to racing several time is Canada this season.

“Super, super happy. This was my first race of the season. It’s nice to be top ten and top Canadian.” said Killam.

Wilyman felt it wasn’t his day, after crossing the line in 4:32:48. Cook admits he now needs to go away and put in a solid block of bike training before Ironman 70.3 in Victoria in June, having finished in 4:36:10.

Lyles dominates

Liz Lyles. Credit: Alex Felker

Liz Lyles. Credit: Alex Felker

Lyles was widely tipped to retain her Wildflower title, with last years runner-up and third place finishers not racing, and she delivered in dominant fashion.

She was seventh after the swim, but made up a lot of time on the first run to leave T1 in third. Lyles then powered clear on the bike, with only Laurel Wassner, 41, of New Paltz, N.Y., able to get anywhere near her pace.

Lyles also had the fastest run of the day, to finish more than six minutes clear, in four hours, 42 minutes and 17 seconds.

“Today was awesome. It was windier than last year which made the bike out a little more challenging.” said Lyles. “I was running scared. I mean I didn’t know anything (about where her competitors were), but I just kept trucking. I always have this motto, ‘Do the best you can on this day.’”

Wassner finished second in 4:48:42, with Emily Cocks, 39, from Napa, Cali., third in 4:51:33.

There is Canadian interest on the second day of racing at the Wildflower Festival, with Madi Serpico, 24, from Calgary, Alba., racing in the Olympic distance race. She is currently racing on the ITU circuit, and hoping to qualify for the ITU World Championships later in the year.