Something didn't seem quite right at the finish of the 31st annual Donner Lake Triathlon on Sunday.
Aside from the finish line itself, which was moved from near the mouth of the Donner Creek inlet closer to the main strip of West End Beach, five-time defending champion and modern course record-holder Steven Sexton was nowhere in sight. The Team USA triathlete from Davis did not show, leaving the door wide open for a new champion.
Brandon Nied took full advantage.
The 21-year-old from Reno used a strong run around Donner Lake to capture the overall win in a time of 2 hours, 11 minutes. Multi-time champion Scott Young, 46, of Reno finished runner-up in a time of 2:12:58, while Finland native Sami Inkinen, 37, of San Francisco, who was second to Sexton last year, was third in 2:14:55.
“I was leading at the start of the run, but this guy who won, he was just amazing,” Inkinen said of Nied, who ran the 6.5 miles around the lake in 37:27, compared to Young's 39:31 and Inkinen's 42:11. “It looked like he had wings. He was just floating on the road.”
Nied, a former collegiate runner, said he was careful not to expend too much energy on the first two legs of the race — a 0.9-mile swim off of West End Beach and 24.8-mile bike up Old Highway 40 to Kingvale and back.
“I really had to try to gauge my effort, especially on the bike. It's one of those things where you really have to think about that run, because if you go into oxygen debt, you're done,” said Nied, a first-time participant of the event's International course.
As top athletes streamed in to the finish chute, something still didn't seem quite right.
Three-time defending women's champion Shannon Rahlves of Truckee was not celebrating a win.
She instead settled for second place behind Elizabeth Lyles of Reno, who returned to the race for the first time since 2007 after having two children. Lyles won it in 2007 and owns several of the top-10 fastest times.
“It was so awesome,” Lyles said of the race. “The water was amazing, so warm. And the bike was great. I trained a lot on the Mount Rose summit, so I was ready for it. And the run was good too; I love running.”
Lyles returned in impressive fashion. The 34-year-old set a new women's course record while finishing 10th overall in a time of 2:22:19, which bumped Holly Nybo's previous record of 2:24:51, set in 2000.
“I'm back,” Lyles said. “Every year. This is a great local, challenging race.”
Rahlves was not shabby herself. The 37-year-old sister of Olympic alpine skier Daron Rahlves posted a runner-up time of 2:29:40, which was good enough for 18th place overall.
The next woman finisher, Joanne Gilchrist of Chico, placed 41st overall in a time of 2:41:08. Heather Lyman of South Lake Tahoe was the fourth woman in 2:42:28, and Jami Min of Truckee rounded out the top five in 2:46:14.
Among the top men, Tim Sheeper of Menlo Park was fourth in 2:17:56 and was followed by Darren Baker (2:18:06) of Lafayette, Andrew Grant (2:18:20) of Folsom, Michael Ingardia (2:19:56) of San Jose, Eliot Drake (2:20:42) of Reno, and Thomas Taylor (2:20:55) of Brentwood.
Truckee's Chris Cloyd was the top local, finishing 12th in a time of 2:24:43.
“It was a great race — great support from the volunteers, and it's great to compete in a hometown race. It's a lot of fun,” said Cloyd, who helps coach Truckee's Wild Cherries Junior Triathlon Team, which was well represented in both the sprint and International fields Sunday.
Cloyd, a competitive cyclist and manager at Truckee's Performance Training Center by Julia Mancuso, posted the second-fastest bike leg behind Inkinen, in 1:09:50 to Inkinen's 1:08:40.
“I'm a competitive road cyclist, so the bike is my favorite because I actually feel like I'm an athlete out there. I just hold on on the swim and pray on the run, but if I can do well on the bike, it's a lot of fun,” said Cloyd, who said he reached a top speed of 57 mph coming down Old 40. “No brakes. That was only the second time ever done it with no breaks. The first time was last year's race.”
A total of 258 people participated in the International-distance triathlon.
Nothing was out of place atop the leaderboard of the sprint triathlon.
Michael Smith, 48, of Santa Barbara claimed the overall victory for the ninth consecutive year. Smith, who owns the top five fastest times in the sprint, took the win again with relative ease, posting a time of 39:25 to runner-up Jake Rollo's 41:37. Andrew Clusserath, 15, of Soda Springs took third in 42:04.
Another young local, 16-year-old Danielle Nivinski of Truckee, captured first place among women and was eighth overall in a time of 46:28. Eleanor Velez, 15, of El Dorado Hills was the second woman and ninth overall in 46:41, while Mirella Terada of Redwood City was third (18th overall) in 51:16.
Nivinski, a to-be junior at the Sugar Bowl Academy, said she felt like she held a slight advantage over much of the field based on her local status.
“Definitely,” she said, “with the elevation and just knowing the course.”
Truckee athletes Addison Dvoracek, 16, finished 12th in 47:42, Skyler Mullings, 14, was 17th in 50:53, and Hannah Halvorsen, 14, was the fourth woman and 20th overall in 51:50. Zachary Williams, 15, of Truckee was 30th in 52:44.
There were 236 finishers of the sprint triathlon, which consists of a 1/4-mile swim, a 6-mile bike and a 2-mile run.
To view a photo gallery from the race, go to www.sierrasun.com/2012DonnerTri. To find the complete results, go to www.bigblueadventure.com.