Marko Albert (EST) earned a breakthrough win against a tough Kiwi field, while Meredith Kessler (USA) claimed her third straight win at this race.
PHOTOS: 2014 Ironman New Zealand
As many speculated, a former Olympian took the victory at Ironman New Zealand. However, the victor was not 2013 champion Bevan Docherty, as many assumed it would be. Instead, the honor fell to Estonian Marko Albert, who made it clear from the very beginning the 2014 race would be his.
The former Olympian, known for his strengths on the swim and bike, showed his prowess right out of the water with a 46:10 swim split. A formidable chase pack was on his tail, however. Docherty, 70.3 star Terenzo Bozzone, 10-time Ironman New Zealand winner Cameron Brown, and two-time Ironman UK winner Dan Hawksworth nipped at Albert’s heels out of T1; within miles, a 10-person chase pack, including Romain Guillaume, Tim Van Berkel, and Tom Lowe, assembled behind Albert.
The pack did not break up until halfway through the bike leg, when Albert threw down the hammer and extended his lead from 10 seconds to six minutes going into T2. Guillaume worked with British triathlete Philip Graves to try to close the gap, but to no avail. There was simply no match for Alberts and his 4:36:32 bike split.
Albert’s strategy of building time against the strong runners of the men’s pro field worked—no one was able to touch him as he ran a 2:50:05 marathon to the finish. Brown, Bozzone and Docherty ran neck-and-neck in second place for much of the marathon, until Docherty dropped out from the race altogether. In an attempt to catch Alberts, 41 year-old Brown ran a 2:47:45 marathon, the best of the day. Bozzone could not sustain Brown’s pace and finished in third place.
“I’ve dreamed about this moment!” exclaimed Alberts, who made history as the first Estonian Ironman champion. “This is my first Ironman win, so this is a special victory. To beat a guy like Cameron, who is a total legend, and to beat a guy like Terenzo, who I really respect, is very special.”
Brown was a gracious runner-up. “It’s awesome,” he said after finishing, “I’ll be 42 in June, and I never thought I’d still be competing with these guys.”
Albert’s 8:17:32 is the second-fastest finishing time recorded in 30 years of Ironman New Zealand. The record still stands with Docherty, who set the mark with 8:15:34 in his debut at the distance last year.
Though she said she wouldn’t race another full until the 2014 Ironman World Championship, American Meredith Kessler couldn’t pass up an opportunity to race in Taupo. Kessler said the lure of a three-peat was simply too much.
“It’s such a special race for me, and I wanted to see if I could do a three-peat,” said Kessler, who not only secured her third Ironman New Zealand title, but also obliterated the long-standing course record by more than six minutes. “To put together this performance on the 30th anniversary of the race, I’m really grateful.”
Kessler set the tone for the race early on, when she exited the water in 46:47, 10 seconds ahead of former ITU star Anna Cleaver and five minutes ahead of the rest of the women’s field. Kessler quickly dropped Cleaver on the bike and spent the rest of the race in a comfortable lead. Even a two-minute stop for a mechanical fix, when a piece of gravel became lodged in her chain, could not snuff out Kessler’s fire. Her 5:08:30 bike split was enough to give her over six minutes on Gina Crawford.
Crawford worked hard to catch up to Kessler, but was only able to come within 4 minutes of Kessler partway through the marathon. Though the two ran identical 3:08:06 marathon splits, Kessler finished seven minutes ahead of second-place Crawford.
“I’m still pleased with it how today went. Sometimes, you do well, and it’s only good enough for second place,” mused Crawford. “Today was one of those days.”
Up-and-coming triathlon star Candice Hammond worked her way from 13th place exiting the swim to third place at the finish with a 5:15:01 bike split and 3:10:44 marathon.
Kessler’s finishing time of 9:08:45 is a new course record. Kessler says views her performance in Taupo as “a stepping stone for Kona.”
Ironman New Zealand
Taupo, New Zealand – March 1, 2014
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Marko Albert (EST) 8:17:33
2. Cameron Brown (NZL) 8:21:55
3. Terenzo Bozzone (NZL) 8:28:56
4. Tim Van Berkel (AUS) 8:29:53
5. Tom Lowe (GBR) 8:31:56
1. Meredith Kessler (USA) 9:08:46
2. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:15:53
3. Candice Hammond (NZL) 9:30:04
4. Bree Wee (USA) 9:39:15
5. Michelle Bremer (NZL) 9:45:34