Diego Rosero after crossing the finish line.
Photo: Darlene Prois
Diego Rosero suffered deep disappointment last month when a serious heart infection prevented him from competing in the World Championship in his hometown of Cali, Colombia.
But on Saturday, the 27-year-old skater was smiling again after scoring an impressive win in the 12th annual Northshore Inline Marathon in Duluth, MN.
Rosero was one of three skaters, including Luigino's Joey Mantia, who broke away from the hard-charging lead pack five miles into the race. Two miles later, he stepped on the gas and Mantia and Tru-Rev's Julian Rivera were unable to follow. Eventually, he finished the race nearly five minutes ahead of the next skater.
"Diego's an animal," said Mantia, who finished second.
The women's race was almost a mirror image of the men's.
Colombia's Brigyte Mendez (Tru-Rev) broke away from the lead pack 10 miles from the starting line in Two Harbors.
Bont North America's Jilleanne Rookard and MPC's Sara Sayasane went with her. But Mendez pushed the pace and soon dropped Sayasane and Rookard.
She skated the second half of the race alone and finished nearly three minutes ahead of Rookard, who was second.
No New Record
It was clear from the start of the race that the Luigino Racing team of Mantia, Michael Cheek and Josh Wood was trying to break the 9-year-old Northshore course record and collect the $10,000 bounty offered by K2 Skates.
Joey Mantia, who won seven gold medals at last month's World Championships, shot to the lead at the start of the race and — with the help of Cheek and Wood — established a record-setting pace.
A large pack of about 40 skaters formed behind the Luigino team. But the furious pace quickly winnowed it down to a group of 16 elite racers. One of the early contenders was Dane Lewis, a former World Team member who won this summer's San Francisco Inline Marathon. For a while, he held second place and appeared to be comfortable matching strokes with Mantia.
But a few miles later, a strong headwind started blowing. That slowed the Luigino charge, and eventually, Mantia pulled off to the side of the pack and stood up, hoping another racer would take over the pull.
For a moment, no one did. But then, Diego Rosero came around the side of the pack and attacked.
Mantia and Tru-Rev's Julian Rivera, another Colombian, went with him. And together, the threesome quickly developed a lead of 70 meters. They took turns at the front. But after two miles of skating together, Rosero took off again.
"I just went to the front and started pulling my lead, and then I looked back and they [Mantia and Rivera] weren't there so I just kept going," he said. He built a huge lead and skated the next 20 miles alone, pushing hard and only occasionally straightening up to stretch his back.
He finished four minutes and 55 seconds ahead of Mantia. His time was 1 hour, 4 minutes and 46.9 seconds, seven minutes behind the course record.
The win represents a remarkable turnaround for Rosero.
Two months ago, he was diagnosed with a leptospirocis infection of the heart. The infection sapped his strength and left him exhausted. Given a pre-existing heart condition, doctors said they were not sure whether he would be able to skate competitively again.
The timing couldn't have been worse. He had trained all year for the World Championships, but was forced to withdraw.
Today's marathon marked his return to racing.
"It is just like a fairy tale," he said after the race. "I can't believe it."
Despite the win, he said he is still considering retiring from racing after he finishes the World Inline Cup season. "I have to think about the future," he said.
Today's Northshore was the coldest on record. The temperature was below freezing as skaters were boarding buses to take them to the starting line in Two Harbors. At the start of the race, the temperature was a chilly 34 degrees.
Mantia said the cold and wind proved a challenge.
"If I had known about the wind, I don't think we would have tried for the record," he said. After the fast pace he set at the start of the race, his body began to cramp when the headwind developed, he said.
Brigyte Mendez at the finish line.
Photo: Darlene Prois
A $10,000 bounty was also offered on the women's course record of 1 hour, 13 minutes and 48 seconds. But the women didn't seem to be trying to break it.
"We didn't start out too fast and no one wanted to lead," said Jilleanne Rookard.
The women's pack stayed together until Mile 10. "Then I heard 'Break! Break!' and Brigyte went by me," Rookard said.
Rookard and Sara Sayasane went with Mendez. But first Sayasane and then Rookard fell back, leaving the diminutive Colombian to skate the final half of the 26.2-mile marathon alone.
She said she broke away to make sure the U.S. women wouldn't have a chance to catch her in a field sprint. "I felt intimidated by the Americans."
Mendez, who won the 15K elimination at the World Championships this year, is not known for her sprinting ability and was skating without teammates.
She finished with a time of 1 hour, 24 minutes and 37.7 seconds, about 11 minutes behind the course record.
Three minutes later, the women's lead pack arrived at the finish line in front of the Duluth convention center. The Bont North American team executed another of its textbook perfect leadouts. Rookard won the field sprint to claim second place.
Sayasane hawked at the line to take third, narrowly edging out Luigino's Julie Glass, who was competing in her first race since giving birth to twins in April.
The bounties on the course records provided some extra excitement this year.
K2's Mike Powell said the company will offer the bounty again next year.
Rosero said he was confident he could have broken the course record without a headwind and with the help of teammates. Chad Hedrick set the mark with a strong tailwind and the help of teammates Derrick Downing and Keith Turner in 1998.
"We have bigger wheels now so we can go faster," he said. "If I was just seven minutes behind [the record] skating by myself, I think that with three or five guys skating together that it would be a different story."
The Duluth event is the largest skate marathon in North America. This year, 3710 skaters registered for the full and half marathon. That's a small increase over last year when 3682 registered.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Burnson