BRADLEY — Julie Dibens’ lead was so big, she had time to ponder a marriage proposal on the trails at the Avia Wildflower Triathlons on Saturday.
Though she eventually turned down the course volunteer’s joking hand in marriage, Dibens coasted to the finish line after a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run at Lake San Antonio in a course-record time of 4 hours, 27 minutes, 53 seconds.
“The volunteers were so great,” Dibens said. “They were constantly encouraging me at every step and making me push myself even harder.”
Dibens appeared to need little motivation early as she led by nearly a minute at the end of the swim portion over defending champion Virginia Berasategui and Amy Marsh.
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The lead only widened on the bike course, including Dibens’ first trip up a steep incline known to the racers as Nasty Grade.“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Dibens said. “You hear a lot of things about it, but it wasn’t too bad.”
Any hopes of a challenge were dashed on the bikes, where Dibens widened her lead by an additional eight minutes over Berasategui.
The defending champion settled for a third-place finish, more than 12 minutes behind Dibens, who broke the course record set by Samantha McGlone (4:31:01) in 2006.
Dibens, the reigning Ironman 70.3 World Champion, wasn’t the only first-time racer at Wildflower to come away with a victory.
Michael Raelert of Germany made his first trip to Lake San Antonio and came away with a resounding victory on the men’s side.
Like Dibens, Raelert is a defending Ironman 70.3 World Champion. At the urging of one of his teammates, Raelert made the trek to Wildflower for the first time.
“I’ve done Wildflower six times now,” Raelert teammate Joe Gambles said. “I don’t schedule any other races around this time because there’s nowhere else I’d want to be.”
Gambles, who has lived in Tasmania since the age of 3, said he comes to Wildflower every year because the atmosphere reminds him of life back home.
He may also come back because of his successes on the course. Gambles finished second, six minutes behind his teammate.“It says a lot about where (our team) is at an early point in the season,” Gambles said.
While Gambles was familiar with every turn on the course, his teammate had not seen any of it until the morning of the triathlon.
Raelert’s cavalier approach helped him in the end — albeit unintentionally.
“If I had taken a look at this course before the race, I would have been a little scared,” Raelert said. “I don’t think I would have attacked it so hard had I known how tough it would be.”
Raelert attacked Nasty Grade, finishing with easily the best bike time from any athlete on the day.
On a day that many athletes complained about problems with their bikes, Gambles said his team, Trek/K-Swiss, was the only one to bring out a full-time mechanic specifically to keep their bikes in top condition.
The move paid big dividends for both Raelert and Gambles.
Henning Rasmus took the early lead off the swim but ran into bike problems that saw him lose eight minutes to Raelert and four to Gambles before eventually settling for a fifth-place finish.
Enoko Llanos, who finished second the past two years, finished third, two minutes behind Gambles.