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Vineman attracts pros, amateurs alike to push themselves to the limit

  • Mike Behler of Kenwood prepares to take a training swim in the Russian River on Friday. Behler will be competing in his ninth Vineman competition this Sunday. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

Bevan Docherty was in transit and apologized for the wind noise disrupting reception on his cellphone.

But Docherty wasn't in his car — he was fielding questions about the defense of his Vineman 70.3 triathlon title this Sunday while riding his bike.

Such is the life of a professional triathlete.

Docherty, a silver and bronze medal-winning Olympian and former world triathlon champ, was tuning up early this week for the 24th annual Vineman 70.3, a race that promises to bring some of the sport's brightest pro and amateur stars to Sonoma County.

“Vineman is gorgeous,” Docherty, 37, said of the course that takes athletes on a 1.2-mile swim in the Russian River, a 56-mile bike ride through vineyards in Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, and a 13.1-mile run to the finish line at Windsor High School.

About 2,300 athletes representing all 50 states are expected to line up Sunday morning at Johnson's Beach in Guerneville for the 70.3 —so named because it's part of a national series of races that require athletes to cover 70.3 miles in three disciplines. A sanctioned qualifying race for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Trembland, Canada, pro racers can accumulate key qualifying points for both that race and the full Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October. Amateurs will be vying for 40 qualifying spots in the 70.3 World Championship.

The total prize purse Sunday is $50,000.

“Our awards ceremony will (feature) the best in the country,” said race director Russ Pugh.

In addition to Docherty, who crushed the course record last year, top-flight racers expected to compete Sunday include fourth-ranked Tim Reed of Australia, and England's Tim Don, currently ranked seventh. The women's lineup includes defending champion Meredith Kessler of San Francisco and two-time world champ and course record-holder Melissa Hauschildt of Australia.

“This is a pretty deep field for a 70.3,” said Bethany Mavis, associate editor of Triathlete magazine. “It's kind of rare to get this many pro athletes in one race outside of the championship.”

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