Conrad Stoltz rides strong bike leg to victory at Mrs. T's

Conrad Stoltz is in the middle of what could be a remarkable accomplishment. The South African triathlete is doing what he calls "five for five."

That's five triathlons in successive weeks.

But what makes that feat all the more impressive is that he's won the first three in his "five for five quest." It started in Colorado and will conclude in Los Angeles in two weeks.

Sunday, in leg three of his pursuit, Stoltz went out and left no doubt from the opening horn as he ran away and won the Mrs. T's Chicago Triathlon billed as the world's largest. Stoltz won by nearly four minutes over second-place finisher Greg Bennett of Australia, and he was almost seven minutes ahead of third-place finisher Marc Lees. A strong swim leg and an even stronger bike leg did it for Stoltz.

"It's all about the bike," Stoltz said. "At the start of the race I had a great swim I have had great swims all season long. When I got to the bike, it started to get warm, and I train in Colorado so I am not used to weather like this. So I felt like I had to take it out on the bike knowing how strong the other competitors were."

One unusual quirk to the race for Stoltz was that his trainers and workers had to borrow his bike and gear to get him through the race.

"Last year I had a bad bike and bad wheels, and this year they got me a better bike with better wheels," he said.

Stoltz broke from the water fourth behind Matthew Clark, Bennett and Kerry Classen. But when the exchange from bike to run was made, the rest of the field was nowhere to be found.

Stoltz was well ahead of second-place American Ken Glah and the rest of the pack. The lead was plenty big enough that Stoltz cruised in the ever-increasing temperatures.

"It is really, really sweet," Stoltz said of winning this year after finishing second in 2000. "This is the beginning of five in five weeks for me. It started in Boulder and will conclude in L.A. It would be neat to win them all, but it will be tough."

Glah, a veteran of short- and Ironman-distance racing, was the top American finisher on the men's side, placing fourth.

"I was hoping to take something out of the rest of the pack on the bike, but it just didn't work out that way," the Pennsylvania native said. "Conrad got out on the run and wasn't going to be caught."

On the women's side, the winner had somewhat of a local flavor. Joanna Zeiger, the No. 6-rated female triathlete in the world, snapped Aussie Michellie Jones' two-year winning streak to end up in the winner's circle for the first time since last winning here in 1998.

"I came out of the water and had a real good sprint to the transition area and worked the bike very hard," Zeiger said. "Then I got off on the run and things worked out well."

Zeiger came out of the water among a pack of three swimmers, which included Becky Gibbs and Jones. But her sprint along the 500-yard path to the bike transition was a major difference in her getting a good start on the bike.

"She had her running shoes waiting for her as we came out of the water, and I was running and she just blew by me," Gibbs said.

It was then up to Zeiger to move ahead and away from the field. She was first into the bike-run transition, and Jones and the rest of the pack just weren't going to catch her on the run.

"I saw the pack a couple of times on the turns, and when I got to the last transition area I just tried to run like I had someone on my heels at all times," she said. "I think I rode really well and hard and it was my goal to build up a gap and not let anyone catch me."

The victory was made all the more sweet since Zeiger is somewhat of a hometown product. She did her graduate work at Northwestern University and lived in the area for several years.

"Every time I come back it is almost like a homecoming of sorts, and the crowds here are always amazing," Zeiger said.

In an unusual position was runner-up Jones. The two-time defending champion came out of the water near the front of the race but just didn't have the extra gear on the bike to stay with Zeiger.

"She ran a terrific race," the 2000 Olympic silver medallist said. "She just got out on the bike and I wouldn't say I was going 100 percent, but Joanna certainly was and she deserved to win."

The battle between Zeiger and Jones will take its next turn in two weeks at the Jamba Juice City of Los Angeles Triathlon.

"L.A. is what everyone is working for," Jones said.

World No. 14 Becky Gibbs of Hopkins, Minn., was third on the women's side.

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