Spain’s Eneko Llanos earned the victory in the final miles of the race, while Great Britain’s Corinne Abraham surprised the women’s field at Ironman Melbourne.
The second running of Ironman Melbourne started with plenty of pre-race drama. On Saturday morning, race officials announced that the planned one-lap 2.4-mile swim would be turned into a two-lap affair due to anticipated windy and rough water conditions. Then on the morning of the event, officials made a decision to cut it down to a one-lap, 1.2-mile swim and delay the start. After a morning of change and uncertainty, the pro men kicked off Ironman Melbourne at 8:17 a.m., with the pro women following at 8:20 a.m. The winds that caused the change in plan on the swim also heavily affected the bike race. Ironman.com reported that it took the men approximately one hour and 17 minutes for the first 45K into the wind and just over 55 minutes back on that same stretch. For the women, the first 45K took 1:26, while the return happened in a mere 58 minutes. In the end, the athletes who overcame the tough conditions and posted the fastest run splits of the day took the victories and valuable Kona Pro Ranking points.
As expected Australia’s Clayton Fettell led the men out of the water. The shortened swim hurt Fettell (who was reportedly extremely frustrated by the swim news on race morning) and fellow strong swimmer Joseph Lampe (AUS) as the main pack exited within a minute of them. Adding to that disadvantage is the fact that the swim was likely even shorter than 1.2 miles as the main pack exited the choppy water in what would be a blazing time of 20 minutes. Last year’s winner, and three-time Ironman world champ, Craig Alexander (AUS) and Llanos were 30 seconds back of Fettell. Vanhoenacker came into T1 two minutes back and quickly went to work.
After a few different athletes took turns at the front, Vanhoenacker made his move and, in a tactic similar to what he showed at the 2012 Ironman World Championship, took the lead on his own on the windy Melbourne course. Aware that Vanhoenacker is the current Ironman world-record holder for a reason, Alexander urged his fellow competitors not to let the Belgian get too far away. He got little help and the lead of Vanhoenacker only expanded to T2.
Vanhoenacker started the marathon with a five-minute gap on Alexander, Fettell and Llanos. Vanhoenacker maintained his spot out front while Alexander and Llanos, who had dropped Fettell, ran side-by-side throughout the early miles of the run. Eventually Llanos broke away from Alexander and became the closest pursuer to Vanhoenacker. As the end of the race neared, Vanhoenacker started to struggle and opened the door for Llanos. Llanos passed a struggling Vanhoenacker with less than six km to go. Llanos’ 2:43:35 marathon was by far the fastest of the day, giving him the overall win in 7:36:08. Despite his dramatically slower pace, Vanhoenacker was able to narrowly hold off Alexander for second. He finished in 7:38:59, with Alexander rounding out the podium at 7:39:37.
As two of the fastest swimmers in women’s long-course triathlon, Americans Meredith Kessler and Amanda Stevens also faced a stark disadvantage with the shortened swim. The pair exited the water at just under 22 minutes, giving them just over a 90-second advantage over Australia’s Lisa Marangon and Canada’s Tenille Hoogland. Pre-race favorite Caroline Steffen (SUI) came into T1 less than three minutes back and quickly went to work on the bike. The three athletes who gained the most advantage from the shortened swim leg were slower swimmers Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED), six-time Ironman world champion Natascha Badmann (SUI) and Abraham. The change in the race distance immediately put them in the mix from the beginning of the bike.
At the end of the first of three laps on the bike, 46-year-old Badmann held the lead with Steffen, Van Vlerken and Kessler not far behind. Despite the strong bike efforts by several women, it was Abraham who dominated the 112-mile ride and came into T2 with a lead of five minutes over Badmann. Kessler and Steffen followed Badmann onto the run course. Abraham backed her field-leading bike split with an equally strong marathon. She closed out her race with a 2:56:50 run split to take the 8:10:56 victory, her first at an Ironman. Van Vleken ran the marathon in 3:00:45, propelling her from sixth off of the bike to second at the finish line. Steffen finished in third, with Badmann claiming fourth.
Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia – March 24, 2013
1.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 7:36:08
2. Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 7:38:59
3. Craig Alexander (AUS) 7:39:37
4. Jordan Rapp (AUS) 7:50:54
5. Christopher Legh (AUS) 7:52:29
1. Corinne Abraham (GBR) 8:10:56
2. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 8:26:40
3. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 8:31:22
4. Natascha Badman (SUI) 8:34:37
5. Gina Crawford (NZL) 8:37:23