Meredith Kessler can rightly be crowned ‘Queen of the Vineyards’ after her third successive victory at Ironman Vineman 70.3. Kessler established a lead on main contenders early in the swim and barely gave back a second back throughout the entirety of the race. The old adage that “you can’t win a triathlon in the swim” may have to be revoked, as the precious minutes accumulated by Kessler over her competition in the Russian River were the deciding factor by the time she hit the tape.

Kessler exited the water alongside two-time Olympian, Laura Bennett, in 24:46, having gapped the rest of the field early on. Former collegiate swimmer, Emily Cocks, was out in third in 25:57, Canadian athlete Rachel McBride was in fourth almost a minute later, along with Valentina Carvallo in fifth. A large majority of the women’s pro field exited the water in just over 27 minutes, 2:30 down to Kessler and Bennett. This pack included two-time 70.3 World Champion Melissa Hauschildt, former XTERRA World Champion, Melanie McQuaid and multiple Ironman 70.3 champion, Emma-Kate Lidbury.

Photo: Rich Blanco

Photo: Rich Blanco

This chase pack contained some powerhouse cyclists that immediately set about reeling in the faster swimmers. While they picked up Bennett, Cocks and Carvallo relatively quickly, the women were not able to put a dent in Kessler’s lead. In fact, Kessler went on to record the race-best bike split of 2:21:16, perhaps using her intimate knowledge of the challenging, rolling course to steel even more seconds over her pursuers.

Kessler entered T2 with a 2:30 lead over Canadians McBride and McQuaid, with Hauschildt a further 30 seconds back at three minutes down. Hauschildt was able to move into 2nd place during the opening stages of the run but just as on the bike portion of the race, the margin to Kessler was not budging.

Photo: Rich Blanco

Photo: Rich Blanco

Kessler crossed the line in first place after 4:11:43 and waited two and half minutes to congratulate Hauschildt for her second place finish. While Hauschildt did record the race best run of 1:21:31, it was just 18 seconds faster than Kessler and not nearly enough to unwind the deficit opened up in the water. Rounding out the podium was McBride in third place in a time of 4:17:23.

I was able to catch up with Meredith after the race and asked her to share a few thoughts:

Jordan Blacno: How was the swim? Felt a little long and slow to me!
Meredith Kessler: The swim, terrain wise, was near perfect and like Dave [Latourette – course director] said in the pro meeting – it was less shallow in pockets than it has been in several previous years. My finger-tips only touched the bottom of the Russian River for about 100 meters ish of the swim. I have a sloppy, scrappy and short stroke anyway so it was not a big deal to begin with as a result of my nonsense stroke! Like in any race where I have the pleasure of racing with Laura Bennett, we had such great swim etiquette, swimming together, side-by-side, a few feet apart. It was so nice to be swimming in the Russian River with someone of such greatness like Laura – no drama, no rough waters – just peaceful, professional, calm – I’ll call it “camaraderie swimming”.

JB: How did you feel on the bike? Is that your fastest split here? Nice to see they have repaved long sections?
MK: Biking through the heart of wine country never gets old – even when you are in race mode and can’t really relish in all the true beauty of it – yet just knowing that you are IN it is so satisfying! The roads are narrow, bumpy, wavy and a bit swervy at times. It was such a perk that some of the sections were repaved this year thus feeling like we were riding on glass.

We had a tad bit faster bike split in 2012 – perhaps it was the wind this year – or just being a bit slow at every turn and when taking off my shoes before dismounting into T2 – personally, I would rather be cautious and calm than crash.

JB: Does this win give you confidence for Mont Tremblant, having beaten reigning World Champion, Melissa Hauschildt?
MK: Any opportunity to race the current World Champion, Mel – is a real honour. Melissa obviously is beyond world class and athletes of her exceptional calibre are the ones that are going to make one really work for it to the highest degree. This was just ONE race – I will never under estimate Melissa’s talent, strength, toughness and tenacity – precisely why she IS world champion.

JB: The run felt hot and slow to me… Anything going through your head on the run?
MK: A first thought on the run was: “Oh dear, I forgot how tough this run course is – it’s similar to St. George with these hills – you better pull it together MBK – you’ve got an amazing, fast freight train coming!”

To be frank, coming off a recent shin injury leading up to Mont Tremblant 70.3 in June, I was absolutely delighted to be running pain-free, regardless of what the end result was. The focus was by the mile. Sure, I made some mistakes out there and thus suffered a bit in certain stretches of the run – yet it reminds me that we all can endure some adversity during the race and it is often what makes the finish line feel so rewarding.

This was a hometown race for a community of friends that I am fortunate to have been a part of for many years: PURPLEPATCH and our coach, Matt Dixon; TEAM EVERY MAN JACK and our training partners and friends; SAG MONKEY who takes great care of our bikes and SHIFT SF where we do a lot of our cycling training. As a result of this, it was so enriching to see the success of so many Purplepatch athletes not only on the professional podium and capturing both overall amateur wins but also individuals of all levels reaching their goals regardless of what the time on the clock said. It was also amazing to have my family, close friends and supportive sponsors (ROKA & KIT ORDER at this particular race) who genuinely fuel me to the finish – EVERY race.

JB: How long is it going to take you and AK (a.k.a. Aaron Kessler who is Meredith’s husband and business partner) to drink the winning double magnum of La Crema wine?
MK: This is NOT an issue. We’ll open it soon over dinner with pals – and enjoy every sip of it! It truly is once of THE best prizes we all could receive at a race – very appreciative of this luxury! AK – ABSOLUTELY – is too :)


Rank Athlete Swim Bike Run Finish
1 Meredith Kessler 24:46 2:21:16 1:21:49 4:11:43
2 Mel Hauschildt 27:24 2:21:37 1:21:31 4:14:13
3 Rachel McBride 26:41 2:21:51 1:25:20 4:17:23
4 Melanie McQuaid 27:23 2:21:35 1:28:50 4:21:02
5 Emma-Kate Lidbury 27:18 2:22:42 1:27:50 4:21:49
6 Valentina Carvallo 26:44 2:25:58 1:27:20 4:23:43
7 Laura Siddall 29:57 2:28:28 1:22:48 4:24:51
8 Emily Cocks 25:57 2:30:37 1:28:06 4:28:11
9 Laura Bennett 24:46 2:35:35 1:30:44 4:34:47
10 Sarah Graves 37:02 2:31:30 1:22:16 4:35:12
11 Caroline Gregory 27:19 2:38:26 1:27:33 4:36:53
12 Sara Gross 27:26 2:38:24 1:27:18 4:37:11
13 Adrienne Smith 31:02 2:33:16 1:32:59 4:40:53
14 Elizabeth Noey 31:00 2:38:25 1:28:59 4:42:46
15 Brittany Pierce 31:13 2:33:37 1:35:13 4:44:15
16 Trish Deim 32:18 2:32:18 1:36:54 4:45:41
17 Christina Jackson 27:22 2:38:33 1:35:51 4:45:56
18 Kara LaPoint 31:15 2:45:24 1:29:31 4:50:51
19 Hana Sykorova 33:24 2:38:16 1:35:16 4:51:21
DNF Erika Erickson 27:24 2:35:48 00:00:00 00:00:00
DNF Anna Russell 29:50 2:41:32 00:00:00 00:00:00

Text: Jordan Blanco
Photos: WITSUP (Feature) & Rich Blanco

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One Response

  1. Andres

    Super happy that MBK was able to take the win for the third time in a row! Great interview and write-up on how the race played out.

    This should be a huge confidence booster for Meredith as we start looking forward to the WC’s. The new venue for 70.3’s will make both the women’s and men’s races quite interesting so I’m looking forward to September.


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