Belgium’s Marino Vanhoenacker had to unleash the speed that made him the fastest on the planet to win the revamped Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand in Taupo today.
The race was postponed from yesterday and reduced to a 70.3 (half Ironman distance) because of the storm that hit the region.
The 35 year old Vanhoenaker, who became the fastest Ironman in history last year, had to claw back a 50 second deficit late in the race to run down Australian Tim Reed, with 10 time Ironman New Zealand champion Cameron Brown close behind in third.
The men’s race proved a cracker with eight men, led by kiwi Terenzo Bozzone, heading out on to the run together, before Reed stretched the field with some withering speed to open up a 55 second advantage.
As the challengers fell away Vanhoenacker found his running legs over the final 5kms to earn the victory in 3:55.03. Reed, who has enjoyed most of his success over the 70.3 distance, was 48 seconds back in a terrific day while Brown, who fell back early, forced his way through the field to finish 90 seconds behind the winner.
“I knew I had to have a quick transition to be able to stick with the likes of Terenzo (Bozzone) on the run and so got into a rhythm straight away and although I was down I knew that I could close the gap. As soon as that gap became smaller and smaller I just never gave up and dropped the hammer to take first place,” said Vanhoenacker.
The Belgium, who set the world’s fastest Ironman time of 7hr 45min in winning Ironman Austria for a sixth time last year, had come to Taupo nearly a month ago to prepare.
“I just didn’t know what to do with myself with the bad weather. I had so many doubts in my mind because this isn’t what I’d come to do. Even as a pro with many years experience I just did not get my head around things well.
“Then today I had some problems with losing my goggles in the swim and not coping with the rough water.
“So to come back and win this is really great.”
Brown had tried to make his break on the bike but said it was difficult with such a talented group.
“Even in a full Ironman the field usually stays together for the first 100 to 120kms. So that was going to be hard today with so much talent. And when we went on to the run I did 3:14 for my first km which is my usual 10 km pace and they were going away from me.
“I just had to run my race and gradually got back into it.
“Naturally I’m disappointed not to do the full Ironman. It’s what we all came here to do. But we did get to race and really I am happy with today’s effort. It’s all I could do.
“I am racing Ironman Melbourne in three weeks so in that regard I know I am in great shape.”
This weekend fell in to Reed’s hands. After having a less than ideal lead up to this Ironman the 70.3 and non-drafting Olympic distance specialist would have been disappointed to not race his first Ironman but at the same time must have been pinching himself when it was changed to a 70.3. In saying this Reed was backing himself to be in the mix in the Ironman and was going to have a big crack at it if he was in the mix at 20kms in to the run.
Reed has had a great run recently with a win at the Canberra 70.3 in December, the Australian Long Course title at Falls Creek in February and now this 2nd place against a world class field. Tim Reed’s star will rise this year.
Another Australian, Aaron Farlow, was mulling over the lack of speed over the 21.1kms in the run. He had prepared for the Ironman and both mind and body must have been tuned in to this specifically. Farlow recently won Challenge Wanaka and was keen to back up again in New Zealand.
The women’s race proved one-way traffic for Californian Meredith Kessler in her first major international event outside of North America.
She was first out of the water before pushing hard with a strong 2:29.57 effort on the 90km bike to open up a 4min 30sec lead. Kessler was never threatened with the fastest run split to win in 4:22.46, with a remarkable eight minutes back to the chasers.
Western Australia’s Kate Bevilaqua managed to hold on to second place from the fast finishing seven time winner Joanna Lawn by just three seconds, while American Jessica Jacobs, a remarkable 11 minutes behind after the rough-water swim, climbed up to fourth place a minute behind Lawn.
“I was ready for anything they could throw at me, poor weather, an Ironman race, a duathlon you name I’d have done it,” said Kessler “But that wind last night didn’t help what is often a poor night’s sleep.
“I was just delighted to be able to race at all today so credit to the organisers for making that happen.
“I wanted to take advantage of my good swim and bike but today I was so happy with the run. The crowds were just fantastic and that really helped. This is the first time that I’ve raced outside of North America so it’s a real thrill.”
The strong winds left the lake still rough and lumpy for the swim but the day progressed into a warm and breezy afternoon.
Top 10 results from today’s Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Ironman New Zealand (1.9km swim, 90km bike 21km run):-
Men: Marino Vanhoenaker (Belgium) 3:55.03, 1; Tim Reed (Australia) 3:55.51, 2; Cameron Brown (New Zealand) 3:56.38, 3; Romain Guillaume (France) 3:58.03, 4; Aaron Farlow (Australia) 3:58.57, 5; Marko Albert (Estonia) 4:00.43, 6; Terenzo Bozzone (New Zealand) 4:01.51, 7; Guy Crawford (New Zealand) 4:03.29, 8; Jamie Whyte (New Zealand) 4:12.05, 9; Shanon Stallard (New Zealand) 4:14.46, 10.
Women: Meredith Kessler (USA) 4:22.46, 1; Kate Bevilaqua (Australia) 4:30.37, 2; Joanna Lawn (New Zealand) 4:30.40, 3; Jessica Jacobs (USA) 4:31.46, 4; Gina Crawford (New Zealand) 4:32.45, 5; Hilary Wicks (New Zealand) 4:32.51, 6; Belinda Harper (New Zealand) 4:37.49, 7; Anna Ross (New Zealand) 4:39.47, 8; Susie Wood (New Zealand) 4:41.33, 9; Candice Hammond (New Zealand) 4:43.25, 10.
Photo Credit: Daryl Carey