Luke Bell of Australia and Mary Beth Ellis of the United States took the Ironman Mt. Tremblant titles Sunday in Quebec.
Bell is a talented Australian who spent 10 years winning a record 20-plus Ironman 70.3 titles but who had been shut out in Ironman until he broke through two months ago at Ironman Australia. Today he was Cool Hand Luke as he carefully nursed cramping legs through the final hour to hold off rising U.S. star Brandon Marsh and Belgian Bert Jammaer for a prestigious win.
"There were frustrating moments when my body started to pack it in," said Bell after the race. Fans and Ironman.com commentators were on edge as Bell stopped repeatedly to massage his legs in the final hour, then, like Rocky shrugging off punches in the final rounds, kept going. "It was a tough, honest course which showed on the run as I battled those cramps," he said. "I didnít want to relent until I reached the top of the big hill and could run downhill to the finish."
The long day began with a crowded lead swim pack that included 9 men right around 48 minutes flat and included Bell, Daniel Halksworth, Marsh, Jammaer, defending champ Romain Guillaume of France, Canadaís Sean Bechtel, Paul Ambrose, Dominik Berger of Austria, and Bryan Rhodes of New Zealand. The race took shape on the bike as Guillaume, Ambrose, Berger and Bell rode to a short lead at 81 kilometers. As Berger dropped back, Ambrose, Guillaume and Bell took charge and carved out 1:53 lead on Berger, 4 minutes on Rhodes, Jammaer and Marsh at T2.
By 10k into the run, Ambrose clung to a 14 seconds lead on Guillaume and 25 seconds on Bell with Jammaer 4 minutes down and Marsh 6:25 in arrears. At 16 kilometers, Bell made his move, taking a 1:24 lead on Ambrose, 1:32 on Ambrose, 3:37 on a charging Jammaer, 6:04 on Halksworth and 7:06 on Marsh.
At 30k, Bell led by 4:12 over Jammaer, 4:22 on Marsh, 6:58 on Guillaume and 7:22 on Halksworth while Ambrose was retreating into survival mode 11:28 back. With 5k to go the race settled into its final form, absent a catastrophic cramp as Bell held 4:54 on Marsh, 5:26 on Jammaer, 8:37 on Halksworth and 9:13 on Guillaume.
With all the drama that accompanied his late race stops to release the cramps, the sense of relief was palpable even though Bell crossed the finish line with a relatively secure 4:55 in hand over Marsh thanks to a well-managed, 4th-best 2:57:08 run. Marsh actually had a more nerve-wracking path to the runner-up slot, as his 2:56:24 run edged him past Bert Jammaer (2:58:08 run) with a few miles to go and gave him a 34-seconds margin on the Belgian at the line.
Not to be forgotten, Bell also won the 4,000 Kona Qualifying points for the win that vaulted him from 81st (well outside the Kona qualifying cutoff) to 11th in the KPR rankings Ė securing one of the 10 remaining places left in the starting menís pro field for the Ironman World Championship this October. Many others were pulling out their calculators, hoping that generous Kona qualifying points that went down to 15th place might bring them to the promised land.
Ellis maintained her 8-for-8 streak of wins at Ironman races outside of Kona by sticking to a plan devised by her famed coach Brett Sutton. The strategy was to focus on her bike split as a training day designed to toughen her up for the one Ironman race she has not yet won Ė Kona. "It was a tough day on a tough course," said Ellis, who began her non-Kona Ironman win streak two years ago with a record fast time for a women's first time Ironman at IM Austria. "My coach told me to go for it on the bike and then run to survive for the win," she said. "He wanted me to go hard on the bike here Ė this would be great practice in case I get isolated at Kona so Iíll be stronger and I can keep the gap to a minimum."
Ellis swam 3rd-best 51:43, about 2 minutes back of Haley Chura and top contender Liz Blatchford. Obeying coachís orders, she unleashed a race-best 4:58:18 split on the tough, hilly Mt. Tremblant bike course, which put two more minutes on powerful German cyclist Anja Beranek and much more on everyone else. By the time she arrived in T2, Ellis had 4 minutes on Beranek, almost 12 on Blatchford and 12:45 on Rebekah Keat, who once held the third fastest womanís Ironman-distance time and was coming back into form after early season calf woes.
Somewhat tapped out by her surge on the bike, Ellis carefully doled out her energy on the run, posting a 3:12:47 marathon that never allowed any rival close enough to smell blood.
The drama was for the womenís second place. At the 40 kilometer mark of the run, Beranek led Keat by 20 seconds while Liz Blatchford was 1:22 back in 4th. At the end, Keat made the best play with a 3:08:32 marathon that brought her past Beranek (fading with a 3:18:14 run) to take 2nd place in the final miles, 8:59 behind Ellisís 9:07:56 time. Beranek held 3rd, just 31 seconds behind Keats and a slim 1 minute, 18 seconds ahead of Blatchford, who kept attacking until real estate ran out and she took 4th at the end.
Ellis, a highly ranked pro who already guaranteed herself a Kona start, vaulted from 4th to 1st in the KPR rankings, leapfrogging ahead of former leader Leanda Cave.
Winners in the Mt. Tremblant KPR points bonanza
While competing triathletes in other races will shake up the standings a bit, and some won't get full benefit of Sunday's points because their KPR totals before Sunday were already composed of the maximum 5 races, many finishers have a better idea of where they stand on their Kona qualifying quest. Also, the fact is there are 10 slots still open for men and 7 for women, making that final Kona qualifying points cutoff a moving target. But still many Mt. Tremblant contestants advanced big time in the Kona Pro Ranking standings.
Rebekah Keat, who was 37th on the KPR when the day began, ended up 6th. Blatchford advanced from 40th (out of the Kona start pro field) to 11th. (safe). Beranek charged from 64th to 23rd (probably OK).
Brandon Marsh advanced from 83rd to 16th. Romain Guillaume moved from 82nd to 30th. Halksworth leapfrogged from 94th to 28th. Jammaer advanced from 76th to 18th.
Some who had disappointing days still have a chance thanks to bountiful points that were available down to 15th place. Jozsef Majorís 14th place brought him about 1000 KPR points, which should serve him well as he stood just 20 points ahead of the cut before the weekend. Bree Wee need 626 minimum so she should have a chance with the 1,200-plus points she earned with her 12th place finish.
Ironman Mt. Tremblant
Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
August 18, 2013
S 2.4 mi. / B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.
1. Luke Bell (AUS) 8:26:06
2. Brandon Marsh (USA) 8:31:01
3. Bert Jammaer (BEL) 8:31:35
4. Daniel Halksworth (GBR) 8:34:58
5. Romain Guillaume (FRA) 8:35:59
6. Stefan Schmid (GER) 8:36:32
7. Paul Ambrose (AUS) 8:3:47
8. Dominik Berger (AUT 8:44:24
9. Bryan Rhodes (NZL) 8:46:13
10. Sean Bechtel (CAN) 8:47:24
11. Paul Amey (GBR) 8:51:31
12. Swen Sundberg (GER) 8:52:59
13. Mike Schifferle (SUI) 8:56:01
14. Jozsef Major (HUN) 8:59:14
1. Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 9:07:56
2. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 9:16:55
3. Anja Beranek (GER) 9:17:26
4. Liz Blatchford (GBR) 9:17:44
5. Kim Schwabenbauer (USA) 9:23:02
6. Jennie Hansen (USA) 9:24:46
7. Erika Csomor (HUN) 9:27:51
8. Haley Chura (USA) 9:30:06
9. Darbi Roberts (USA) 9:33:05
10. Jackie Arendt (USA) 9:38:09
11. Sarah Piampiano (USA) 9:41:58
12. Bree Wee (USA) 9:44:08