It was a rainy, chilly day in Frankfurt, Germany (51 degrees) as dozens of top pros gathered for the Frankfurter Sparkasse Ironman European Championships Sunday morning, including 1997 Ironman World Champ, Thomas Hellriegel; 2005 Ironman World Champ Faris Al-Sultan; former Frankfurt champ and Cameron Brown (one of only two non-Germans to ever win the race). Al-Sultan made sure a German won again this year, dominating the men’s race, while Swiss-Italian Caroline Steffen, who was second at last year’s Ironman World Championship, took the women’s win.
Written by: Erin Beresini
Eyes were on Sylvain Sudrie, the reigning ITU long distance champ who was racing his first Ironman in Frankfurt today. Sudrie quickly established himself as a contender, leading the swim with Luke McKenzie on his heels. Also racing today was German Speedo aficionado Faris Al-Sultan who came out of the water just seconds behind Sudrie. By 30K into the bike, Al-Sultan, who told Ironman media that his fitness was “mediocre” coming into this race, had dropped everyone except Sudrie, who wouldn’t fade without a fight. Al-Sultan came off the bike first, running in his Speedo and trademark bandana and cracking a joke to TV crews before beginning his marathon. Almost nine minutes back, Sudrie arrived in T2, followed by George Potrebitsch and McKenzie. The run was all Al-Sultan’s. Despite the cold and the fact that the warm-weather lover was wearing a Speedo, he ran off to victory, finishing in 8:13:50 and taking the win for his country. Jan Raphael and Michael Gohner rounded out the podium in second and third, respectively. Luke McKenzie was the first non-German to finish, crossing the line in sixth place.
Lucie Zelenkova, a former ITU world cup racer, led the women in the water, with Swiss Simone Benz close behind, Caroline Steffen in third and former all-American US swimmer and two-time Ironman champ Dede Griesbauer in fourth. Also in the mix, coming out of the water in 10th place, was Yvonne Van Vlerken, who finished second at this race the past two years and holds the bike course record. By 24K into the bike, Steffen began to pull away, leading the women’s race and making spectators wonder if there would even be a race at all, or if Steffen would lead the race the whole time. Chasing her down were Zelenkova, Mirjam Weerd, Benz and Griesbauer. But Griesbauer crashed on the wet roads and had to pull out of the race with an injured elbow. Steffen started the run with a commanding lead of 13:40 over Zelenkova and over 15 minutes ahead of Samantha Warriner. Just when it looked like Steffen couldn’t be broken, she stopped several times during the run to stretch her back, walked through aid stations and tried to run on gravel surfaces. Would she crack? She slowly gave up her big lead to Zelenkova during the marathon. But Steffen held on for the win, crossing the finish line with a smile in 9:12:13. Zelenkova and Sonja Tajsich sprinted for second and third, respectively.
Frankfurter Sparkasse Ironman European Championships
Frankfurt, Germany – July 24, 2011
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 8:13:50
2. Jan Raphael (GER) 8:19:31
3. Michael Göhner (GER) 8:20:26
4. George Potrebitsch (GER) 8:22:29
5. Stephan Vuckovic (GER) 8:26:03
1. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:12:13
2. Lucie Zelenkova (RSA) 9:13:46
3. Sonja Tajsich (GER) 9:14:14
4. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 9:15:37
5. Samantha Warriner (NZL) 9:18:04