Ken Souza gave the field a not-so-gentle reminder of just how much faster it needs to get to catch him.
Souza, a former San Diego-based biathlete now of Boulder, Colo., didn't simply win the San Diego Coors Light Biathlon on Sunday at Sabre Springs Business Park. He owned it. Souza covered a 5-kilometer run, 30K bike ride and another 5K run in 1 hour 9 minutes 51 seconds.
Illness kept points leader Madeline "Maddy" Tormoen of Colorado Springs, Colo., off her training schedule for four days last week, but she felt good enough to deflate the elite women's field with a 1:16:59 victory, four minutes faster than her time here last year on the same course. Liz Downing, the two-time defending Grand Prix winner, took a brief lead coming off the bike segment, but her slow transition and slower second running leg gave Tormoen, a strong runner, the edge.
Men's Grand Prix Series points leader Michael Tobin of Seattle, who finished in 1:10:21, came the closest to making a race of it, but never seriously challenged Souza after he passed Tobin early in the bike stage. And as if to show how easy it really was, Souza never bothered with the traditional lunge at the finish line. He cruised in.
"This was what I'd call a hard training day," said Souza, whose sixth victory in seven races moved him to third on the points ladder with only one series race left--the championship, Nov. 3 in Santa Fe, N.M. "I wanted to come to San Diego and have a good race, and try to win, to use as a base for the next couple of weeks, where I have some important races coming up."
So Souza used the race as a training base while the other competitors based what they did against Souza's performance.
"Kenny is the measuring stick," said Tobin, who has beaten the 1989 Grand Prix winner only once this season, when Souza suffered from severe cramps in the Chicago event. "I was just happy to keep him in sight."
Souza's dominance in this sport is reflected by his consistent winning performances in the Coors Light Series. Since its inception four seasons ago, Souza has won all but two events he has entered.
"In this sport, experience means a lot and he has more of it than any of us," Tobin said. "He has exceptional talent, but he works real hard, too. How he's in top form all the time, I don't know. Kenny's off days are still ahead of us."
Tobin has competed in three more races than Souza, which helped earn him the series lead, and his second here helped him retain it. But Souza's victory moved him from fourth to third in the standings, past Christopher Willis of St. Helena, Calif., who finished fifth.
Souza, 26, trailed Oceanside's John Groulx and Albuquerque's Richard Gee in the first run portion before Tobin took a brief lead early in the bike. But Souza caught Tobin about halfway through the bike segment. Groulx (1:10:28) and Mac Williamson of Del Mar (1:11:52) finished third and fourth.
Tormoen trailed Tucson's Joan Hansen, a former Olympic runner, in the first leg of the race, but led as soon as the bike segment began. Downing grabbed the lead briefly as she and Tormoen glided into the transition area for the final leg, but Tormoen drew from her strong running reserve and Downing faded to a 1:17:55 finish. Seattle's Donna Peters was third in 1:18:33.
"This was a very important race for me," said Tormoen, who is 68 points ahead of Downing in series points and has a good shot at her first Grand Prix title in her first full racing year. "If I have any chance at winning the series, I had to win here."