With each passing of the Wildflower Triathlon, the legend of Jesse Thomas grows with it, as he has become the winningest male competitor in the event’s history.
Thomas, 35, won his fifth straight men’s title in 4 hours, 10 minutes, 2 seconds Saturday at Lake San Antonio, while Elizabeth Lyles won the women’s race with a time of 4:32:07.
Despite being 11th out of the water in the 1.2-mile swim portion, Thomas was able to post the fastest time on the 56-mile bike ride before separating himself from second-place finisher Matt Lieto (4:12:21) on the half-marathon run.
Lieto, 37, bested Thomas on the swim and posted a nearly identical bike split but couldn’t run him down in the final leg, as Thomas was able to get the jump on him in both transitions.
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With the win, Thomas surpasses Chris McCormack’s four titles (’01, ’02, ’04, ’08) leaving only the course record of 3:53:43 left to conquer, set by Terrenzo Bozzone in 2006.
Thomas’ success at Wildflower had already reached unprecedented levels as the Bend, Ore., resident had cemented himself in Wildflower history last year, becoming the first competitor to win four in a row.
Heather Jackson, 31, couldn’t quite mirror Thomas’ success, finishing second (4:35:04), as she was looking to match his feat of four in a row on the women’s side.
When the fellow Bend, Ore., resident caught third-place finisher Rachel McBride (4:36:10) coming into the final transition, it appeared as she would be the sole challenger in Jackson’s attempt at history, not Lyles.
McBride, 37, was the first out of the water, a minute faster than Lyles and Jackson, before Jackson dropped Lyles to chase down McBride.
However, the two-time Ironman champion came out of nowhere, more than three minutes behind Jackson and McBride, to cover the half-marathon course in 1:24:57 and spoiling Jackson’s four-peat.
Thirty-seven year-old Lyles’ half-marathon time was only two minutes behind Thomas (1:22:31) and a minute off Lieto (1:23:49).
Jackson remains tied with Paula Newby-Fraser who won three consecutive women’s races from 1995-97, while Newby-Fraser holds the advantage in total titles with five.