Marino Vanhoenacker and Belinda Granger dominated on the bike and hung on through the run in the sweltering conditions here in Malaysia today, adding another Ironman win to their already impressive resumes.
Granger’s win was especially rewarding, not only because it was her third win in a row, but also because it is sure sign that she’s overcome the challenges she faced over the 12 months since her win here a year ago.
After her win here in 200, Granger went in for surgery to repair an artery that feeds blood to her leg â€“ an operation that forced her to stop training for almost three months. Because she missed the Hawaii registration here in Langkawi last year and lost her qualifying spot for the Ford Ironman World Championship, Granger found herself needing to qualify for Kona at Subaru Ironman Canada. Then, in Kona, she had to drop out of the race because she was so sick.
â€œIt was definitely my intention to come back here and get three in a row,â€ she said after the race. â€œNow I can tick that off my list. The number one goal was to get to the finish line after being sick in Hawaii.â€
After trailing only super-swimmer Hillary Biscay out of the water, Granger quickly stamped her claim on the race with an incredible 4:53 bike split. While that bike time was about five minutes slower than a year ago, Granger was hardly disappointed.
â€œIt was different on the bike,â€ she said, â€œI found myself out there alone for a lot of the day. I’m still lacking a bit of strength on the bike compared to last year, but I think with a few more months of training I’ll get that back. I really shut down the last lap of the run, so to run faster than I did last year was a huge bonus.â€
The only woman with any hope of catching Granger starting the run was Edith Niederfriniger, who found herself about 17 minutes back after the bike ride. Once she saw that Granger wasn’t going to fold out on the run course, Niederfriniger decided not to push too hard and make sure she got to the finish line, which she did in 9:35:02, which was 11:02 behind Granger’s winning time of 8:22:31.
Third went to Hillary Biscay, who was sidelined for a while during the bike with saddle problems, but managed to hang on to a slim lead over Brazil’s Ariana Monticeli to the finish â€“ the Brazilian adds another fourth to her record along with a fourth at Ironman Wisconsin last year.
Passing the test
For Vanhoenacker, today’s race also served as a bit of redemption. After arriving
in Kona in what he felt was fantastic shape, Vanhoenacker was forced to pull out of the race because he couldn’t keep anything down. After some testing through the winter in Belgium, Vanhoenacker was here in Malaysia to test his new nutrition plan in the hottest and most humid race conditions in the sport. Whatever it was, it worked.
â€œI’m pretty happy with the food and the liquid â€“ everything stayed inside today,â€ Vanhoenacker said with a smile. â€œIn Kona everything I ate came right back out. Today I went hard on the bike and it all stayed in.
â€œI was a little bit scared coming into this race because we’ve had a really bad winter â€“ we could have held the Olympics in Belgium with all the snow we’ve had,â€ he laughed. â€œI had just one training camp for three weeks â€“ everything depended on that. I wasn’t sure if it was enough to win an Ironman, especially one this early in the year against guys who are coming out of their summer. I guess it works â€“ a windtrainer in a room in the house.â€
While his impressive win might have looked easy, Vanhoenacker was quick to point out that nothing could be further from the truth.
â€œIt was really hard. It went totally different from what I expected. I anticipated a lot of resistance from Luke. He just pulled away in the swim. Then we caught him fairly soon on the bike. But then (Romain) Guillaume, he was hurting me on the hills because he’s so small and light. I thought, â€˜I can try and stay and risk getting dropped on the hills, or I can try to drop him on the flat section.’ In the beginning it went slowly, just 30 seconds at a time, but in the end everyone else broke and I was able to open up a huge gap. Then, at the start of the run, I was able to gain some time, but then by about halfway it seemed like they gave up and I was able to cruise through the last lap, which was really good because I was suffering.
McKenzie would eventually pull out of the race because he â€œcouldn’t hold anything down,â€ which immediately ended his hopes of defending his title.
Off the bike, Guillaume was about eight minutes behind (he lost another minute in T2), but the Frenchman was the only one who was close. Olympic bronze medalist Jan Rehula, who is in the midst of a bit of an Ironman racing comeback after a win at Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya last year, was third off the bike, but was over 20 minutes back. Fellow Olympian Hiroyuki Nishiuchi was over 30 minutes behind the Belgian as he started the run, as was Justin Granger.
As the pros started the marathon the temperature started to rise, but what affected the athletes much more was a huge rise in humidity, which made it feel like it was over 40 degrees C (102 F) out on the run course.
Which contributed to the carnage we saw through the rest of the men’s race. In the end Nishiuchi managed to catch Guillaume for second, while Granger hung tough for fourth.
â€œFor a long time they said â€˜he could only win in Austria,’â€ Vanhoenacker said after his race. â€œNow I’ve won in South Africa and Malaysia, and I started with a win in Florida.â€
I’m not sure who would be saying such things â€“ but based on his race today and his ability to deal with the oppressive heat and humidity here in Langkawi, I’d be quite happy to say that Marino Vanhoenacker can win anywhere.