Monday, July 13, 2009



HOLT artwork by

(Brian Bich will be going for his 7th win at HOLT this Sunday. Photo courtesy of

Who is the best amateur male triathlete in Minnesota this year?

Usually by mid-season, one or two guys have set themselves apart from their elite peers.

This year is different, and as a result, much more exciting and dramatic. There are four guys who appear to be a cut above the rest and it's virtually impossible to say at this point in time which is numero uno.

But this should change on Sunday.

For the first time this season, Brian Bich, Devon Palmer, Kevin O'Connor and Sam Hauck will meet on the same field of battle. That battlefield's venue will be Pleasant Lake City Park in the arcadian community of Annandale.

All but Hauck have raced against each other this year. Bich has faced Palmer once (Pigman Sprint) and come out on top. Bich has faced O'Connor twice. Kevin won the first meeting (Pigman Sprint), Brian the second (Lake Waconia). O'Connor has faced Palmer twice, winning once (Pigman Sprint), placing 2nd once (Manitou). Hauck has raced twice this season and been dominant on each occasion. His course-record-setting win against a stellar field and in spite of inhospitable conditions at RochesterFest was particularly notable.

Who, then, will win at Heart of the Lakes on Sunday?

Here are some arguments for and against each athlete.

Brian Bich.

For: The four-time Minnesota Triathlete of the Year has been HOLT's amateur champion for the last six years and outright winner on five of those occasions. He's fit and fast this year and his age--43--does not appear to be a factor. He is the reigning U.S. Master of the Year, after all.
Against: Devon Palmer, Sam Hauck and Kevin O'Connor. The 2009 versions of each of these athletes are stronger and faster than any versions he's faced in the past.

Kevin O'Connor.

For: Three wins and two 2nds in five starts, two course records and an intimidating balls-to-the-wall aggressiveness.
Against: Brian, Devon, Sam.

Sam Hauck.

For: The 2008 Most Improved award winner is faster this year. His cycling skills are much improved. He's hungry and his inner fire burns hot. Last year he went into races hoping to win. After his stunning victory at Turtleman last August, he now expects to win races. Fueling this attitude adjustment was his performance at the 2008 Dallas US Open, where he placed 4th behind the undisputed top 3 amateur men in the country (New York's David Kahn, Pennsylvanian Adam Webber, and Tennessee's Eric Bell) all of whom are now pros.
Against: Brian, Kevin, Devon.

Devon Palmer.

For: At Life Time Fitness last weekend, Devon convincingly beat the deepest amateur field of the season thus far. Not the deepest field assembled for a Minnesota race; nor the deepest field assembled for a race in our region. Nope. He beat the deepest field in the entire country. He out-raced Ohio's decorated Jared Woodford. He out-raced two-time U.S. Athlete of the Year nominee Mark Harms of Madison, WI. He out-raced HyVee champ Nathan White of Des Moines. He out-raced all (60+) of the elites.
Against: Consistency. He was in position to win at Pigman Sprint and HyVee, but didn't get it done. (After last Saturday, consistency may no longer be an issue for Devon. We'll see.) And Brian, Kevin and Sam.


On Sunday we'll see the most exciting men's race of the entire season. And the times will be very fast. There hasn't been a sub-1:30 on the HOLT course by an amateur since 2006 (Bich's 1:29:35 in very hot and humid conditions) and it has been eight years since more than one amateur--Rob Gilles and David Thompson--broke the elusive 90 minute mark. In '99, an unprecedented three triathletes--Tony Schiller, Doug Davis and Joe Fogarty--popped sub 1:30s. This year as many as eight men could accomplish this feat. In addition to the aforementioned four faves, let's toss veterans Curt Wood and Dan Cohen into the mix, as well as emerging stars Patrick Parish and Matthew Payne.

Who will win?

Brian or Devon or Kevin or Sam.

Clear women's favorite Cathy Yndestad will be going for her 3rd consecutive HOLT victory on Sunday. The amateur women's record--1:39:58--was set back in 1996 by Becky Lavelle. Cathy posted a 1:40:15, which is the 3rd fastest amateur women's time in the 23-year history of the race, last year. It's about time the record went down, and Cathy's just the girl to do it.

The women's elite roster is impressive, featuring the two fastest-rising new stars on the regional scene--Kortney Haag and Brook Mutzenberger--and three of the most talented 40-plussers in America--eight-time HOLT winner Jan Guenther, 50, '08 Minnesota Master of the Year Jeanne Fleck, 44, and winner of the Minneman two weeks ago Heidi Keller-Miler, 44. Others who can be expected to be competitive include Pam Nielsen and Shelley Nelson.

Some of the divisional records are in serious danger, especially the women's 50-54 and 55-59 categories. Jan Guenther, who already owns the 40-44W and 45-49W bests, WILL make mincemeat out of the 50-54 mark (1:55:39) that Pam Stevens has held since 2006. Expect it to be lowered by a full 8-10 minutes.

And Pam Stevens will bounce back by destroying her own 55-59W CR (2:00:10). Pam should knock it down by at least 2-3 minutes.

UPDATE: Two-time HOLT winner and pro CR holder (1:27:55) David Thompson has been added to the start list, as has elite amateur John Shelp.

Who are this year's short course favorites?

Veterans Tim Andrews and David Goldberg can be counted on to race at the front. Tim has won this event three of the last five years, and David is a perennial podium finisher. Let's also throw in talented teen Brandon Onopa, too. He was 5th last year.

The women's race promises to be exciting, with a half dozen women that can come out on top. Four girls to watch are Karen Bebchuk, April Morgan, Kelly McCann and Jody Quesnell. Quesnell has won the last two editions of HOLT SC. McCann was victorious here in 2006.