Wednesday, July 1, 2009


(Photo: Tony Schiller can be expected to rewrite Minneman's masters record.)

Speculating on who will do what at the three-time Triathletes Choice Race of the Year.

Minneman's elite men's field will be deeper than ever, with at least nine men fighting over the three prize money positions. The women's field, on the other hand, is, forgive the expression, top-heavy. Two women should separate themselves from the pack. The chase group should include at least four women, one of whom will grab the 3rd podium spot.

Here are the top guys (in alpha order):

* Josh Blankenheim. If this talented Duluthian races like he did at Lake Minnetonka, where he placed 2nd, he might make the podium. He is one of the four fastest runners in the field. This will be Josh's Minneman debut.

* Dennis Dane. The former Rookie of the Year (2006) and Most Improved (2008) nominee needs a great effort here to turn around an uncharacteristically lackluster season. He'll need to be at least as strong as he was at Manitou, where he placed 5th among a Who's Who field. He finished 4th at Minneman last year.

* Eric Hendrickson. Eric was 2nd here in 2005 and 5th in 2008. His PR on this course is 57:52. He'll need to be at least a minute faster than that on Saturday if he hopes to pocket some prize money.

* Neil Miller. Neil was impressive--5th--against a great men's field at RochesterFest Olympic last weekend. If he duplicates that effort, will he land on the podium on Saturday? Probably not. The faster cyclists will be at least one mph faster over the 13 mile course, giving those riders a two minute advantage going into the run segment. Neil's a very fast runner, but he cannot make up that kind of deficit on a three mile course.

* Kevin O'Connor. MTN's June Athlete of the Month comes in as the amateur favorite, i.e. the man most likely to finish 2nd behind pro David Thompson. Curt Wood's amateur CR--56:31--is not soft but Kevin, who was victorious here in '05, is fit and fast enough to break it.

* Patrick Parish. Patrick, the runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting last year, has a bright future. He just missed (4th) the podium last month at Buffalo Olympic, Manitou and Waconia Elite. This could be the weekend he cracks the top 3.

* Matthew Payne. The frontrunner for the 2009 Most Improved award, Matt proved last weekend (3rd at Lake Waconia Elite) that he is on the verge of bridging the gap between the chase pack and our region's leaders. Right now, Kevin O'Connor, Brian Bich and Devon Palmer have gone off the front. Sam Hauck, Curt Wood, and now Matt Payne, are the guys who seem most capable of catching up. Sam and Curt aren't registered for this weekend's race. Matt is. Prediction: Matt rounds out the men's podium.

* Jeremy Sartain. Jeremy is still on the comeback trail following his devastating accident. A top 5 finish here would further illustrate his remarkable recuperative powers. He should win a race or two this season, but the first of those victories is probably 3-4 weeks off.

* Tony Schiller. At 51, Tony is a long shot to make the podium. But he was a long shot to win at Lake Minnetonka last year. He not only won, he set a course record. It is unlikely that Tony will make any money this weekend, but he will certainly crush the masters record, which is 1:03:27. Expect Tony to break one hour.

* David Thompson. A first-tier pro, David should win handily, as he did the last two years. His victory in Philadelphia last weekend--the 51st of his career--suggests that he's fit and capable of breaking his own course record (54:56).

On paper, these are the women to beat:

* Darcy Franklin vs. Heidi Keller-Miler. Darcy finished 2nd here in 2007. She was 36 seconds behind the winner, who just happened to be Heidi Keller-Miler. That year, she also finished one place behind Heidi at Buffalo Olympic, Manitou and Life Time Fitness Elite. A glance at their side-by-side resumes shows that Heidi has won every confrontation, although, usually by a slim margin. Is there any reason to think that Darcy can reverse this trend on Saturday? Sure, it's possible, but Heidi is coming into the event ticked-off. She's anxious to avenge the position penalty that dropped her from 1st to 3rd, and from $700 to $100, at RochesterFest Olympic last weekend. Advantage: Keller-Miler.

Who will earn the 3rd place paycheck?

Four names jump off the registration page: Laura Mills, Pam Nielsen, Abby Ruess and Sarah Viamonte.

* Laura Mills. She has one career win (Green Bay '08) and has finished in the top 5 on seven occasions since taking up the sport in 2007.

* Pam Nielsen. This is a short race for Pam, who seems to prefer halves and fulls.

* Abby Ruess. Abby has two career wins and has one podium finish in Midwest Multisport Series competition (3rd at Brewhouse '07).

* Sarah Viamonte. Sarah placed 4th at Rochester last weekend, in spite of a very conservative run split. (She's nursing a foot injury.) When healthy, few ladies can keep up with her in the final segment of a tri. If she can run hard, she should leave Minneman with a check in her pocket. If she can't, the money will go home with Ruess.