Australia’s Aaron Farlow of Team TBB and New Zealand’s Gina Crawford took the titles today at Challenge Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand. For Farlow, who’s a member of Team TBB, this was his second iron-distance win, having won Ironman UK last July. “I was lucky to have the running race to finish it off,” Farlow said after the race. “I’m pretty happy with that race. That was awesome.” This was Crawford’s ninth iron-distance win (four of which being Challenge Wanaka) but first iron-distance race since giving birth to her son six months ago, and she led the women from start to finish. “It’s like doing your first Ironman again,” she said after the race. “It was definitely hard with the conditions we were in.”
The pre-race buildup to Challenge Wanaka this week was capped off Friday night with a Contact Cup sprint race, featuring elite athletes in a criterium-style multi-lap race. New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt and France’s Laurent Vidal ended up taking the crowns among crowds of spectators lining the streets.
The exciting race paved the way for Saturday’s Challenge Wanaka Triathlon, dubbed “the most scenic iron-distance race in the world.” The course started out in the often chilly, glacier-fed waters of Lake Wanaka. This morning, there was quite a bit of wind coming off the lake, making the water choppy from the start. In the men’s race, Kiwi Kieran Doe was first out of the water with Kiwi Bryan Rhodes just steps behind him. About 2 minutes down was Aussie Aaron Farlow, and about 3:30 down were defending champion and New Zealander Jamie Whyte along with Aussie Courtney Ogden.
The 112-mile (180K) bike course started with a 21-mile out-and-back before passing back through town. At that point, Rhodes led the race with Doe following from a legal distance. About 2 minutes down was Farlow, who had neither lost nor gained ground on the Kiwi duo. Whyte was about 3:50 down from the leaders and had dropped Ogden. Several minutes behind the leaders were Kiwi Keegan Williams and Denmark’s Jimmy Johnsen. By the halfway mark, Doe was battling Farlow for the lead, Whyte was about 4 minutes back, and Rhodes had dropped to fourth due to mechanical issues. By 140K, Doe and Farlow remained in the lead, but Whyte had narrowed the gap to 3 minutes. Rhodes had another mechanical and was forced to drop out.
At the end of the bike, Farlow, with a 4:44:51 bike split, had pulled ahead of Doe and entered T2 1:20 ahead of the Kiwi, despite having broke off one of his aerobar extensions only 30K into the race. After the race, Doe remarked, “At about 160K [out of the 180K bike] I lost all my power. … That’s never happened to me before.” Defending champ Whyte entered T2 3:40 down but looked strong going into the marathon. The trio had pulled ahead on the bike from the other competitors—the fourth man into transition was Williams, 15:45 down on the leaders.
Early in the run, Whyte passed Doe, but Farlow still had almost 5 minutes on Whyte. At the start of the second lap of the two-lap run, Farlow still had a six-minute lead over Whyte and looked extremely strong. Doe was back about 8 minutes. Farlow was able to hold onto his lead all the way through the finish, with a time of 8:41:53, but collapsed at the finish line and was very slow to get up. Whyte finished as the runner-up and Doe rounded out the podium. “It was probably the first race where I was able to race the entire distance, so I’m very happy with that,” Farlow said after the race. “I won Ironman UK in July last year, but I still couldn’t race the whole race. I really hit a hard spot on the run and ended up walking for a little bit, whereas today I could race the whole race.”
In the women’s race, three-time Challenge Wanaka champion Gina Crawford was first out of the water in 54:21 with Aussie Nicole Ward just seconds behind her. Aussie Christie Sym was next out of the water, about a minute down, followed by New Zealander Julia Grant. At the 34K point in the bike leg, Crawford had pulled ahead to have about a four-minute lead over Grant and a 4:30 lead over Ward, and she was still alone 110K into the bike leg. Gusty winds started picking up on the second half of the bike course. At 110K, a chase pack that included Grant, Tamsyn Hayes and Candice Hammond was three minutes down on Crawford. Crawford was first into T2 with a 5:24:10 bike split, followed by Grant and Britta Martin, about 3 minutes down. Martin passed Grant early in the run but wasn’t able to close the gap to Crawford. Simone Maier, a local Wanaka athlete who finished second at this race last year, used her run speed to nab the final podium spot. “I did it under 10 hours and that was my biggest goal,” said an elated Maier at the finish line.
“I just missed training and racing when I was pregnant, and this is my favorite race,” Crawford said. “I have to prove myself to all my sponsors and everything that I’m still the athlete that I was, and that this is the first step on the ladder, and I can improve from here.”
Wanaka, New Zealand – Jan. 21, 2012
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Aaron Farlow (AUS) 8:41:53
2. Jamie Whyte (NZL) 8:51:53
3. Kieran Doe (NZL) 8:57:17
4. Courtney Ogden (AUS) 9:08:42
5. Jimmy Johnsen (DEN) 9:09:05
1. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:44:06
2. Britta Martin (NZL) 9:47:39
3. Simone Maier (NZL) 9:57:42
4. Candice Hammond (NZL) 9:58:39
5. Julia Grant (NZL) 10:01:49