VOLCANOES NATIONAL MONUMENT, Hawaii -- Defending champions Shanna Armstrong of Texas and Alexandre Ribeiro of Brazil took control of the 25th Ultraman World Championship Saturday with record and near-record times for the 171.4-mile bike leg.
Armstrong, the five-time Ultraman World champ and winner of the Race Across America, dueled with Swiss two time Gigathlon champion Trix Zgraggen all day and ended up with a record smashing women's second day bike split and a 16-minute 53 seconds lead over her Swiss rival going into Sunday's closing double marathon. Armstrong's 8:39:40 time for the 171.4-mile bike from Volcanoes Monument to Hawi broke Monica Fernandes' 2000 record for the day by 15 minutes and 49 seconds and topped co-conspirator Zgraggen's cooperative ride by 18 seconds.
"I did it for my favorite grandfather, Army Armstrong, who died this past summer," said Armstrong in an emotional moment after crossing the line. "Now if somebody had told me I was going that fast, I would have said 'Oh that's too fast! That's impossible!' and slowed down. I broke my PR for the day by 21 minutes." Armstrong thanked the 43-year-old Swiss newcomer for being good company and pushing her to new limits. "She was real sweet and stayed with me like a shadow with me all the way."
Armstrong also credited Fort Worth training partner Johnny Phillips for pushing her on several long training rides. "Johnny took me on all these century (100 mile) rides and he got me to focus on speed and power. In years past, I'd just put in the miles and today that work made the difference."
Armstrong's combined time for the first two days was 17 hours 39 minutes and 49 seconds. To break her 26:25:03 Ultraman Hawaii PR set last year, she only needs to run an 8:48 double marathon tomorrow - 31 minutes over her 2008 run split. In order to break Tina Bischoff's 1989 race record, however, Armstrong would need to run a breakthrough 8:06:01.
Ribeiro vaulted from third place after Day One's 10k swim and 90 mile bike to a 24-minute 44-seconds overall lead after Day Two over Ultraman rookie Michael LeRoux of Australia with a race-best 7:30:35 bike split. While Ribeiro's Day Two split was far from the record, his combined day one and day two bike time of 12:45:31 was just 2 minutes and 3 seconds from Uros Velepec's record set in 2000.
"It was a beautiful day today," said Ribeiro, the 2003, 2005 and 2008 champion who seems on the verge of a men's record fourth Ultraman title. "After 70km, I pushed a lot and after Hilo (halfway) nobody stayed with me. All the hard training I did in the hills around home near Rio de Janeiro -- nine hours some days -- paid off today."
Ribeiro's overall time of 15 hours 39 minutes 13 seconds puts him within in the feasible but unlikely range of Holger Spiegel's 1998 race record of 21:41:22. If Ribeiro can run 6:02:08 he will have the record - but that will be a lot to ask -- it's 14 minutes faster than his PR Ultraman run last year.
Armstrong's closest pursuer Zgraggen thanked the Texas endurance star for her friendship and advice freely offered throughout the ride. "Everyone in Ultraman is so nice and I really liked to ride with Shanna today," said the Swiss champion. "She helped me on the ride with information and we rode hard together."
So what are Zgraggen's chances of an upset win? The mother of three boys has never run a double, but her best Ironman marathon is 3:14 and her best pure marathon is 3:13. Given her experience winning the week long Swiss Gigathlon, Zgraggen has staying power and has a puncher's chance.
Fellow Ultraman rookie Kathy Winkler of Mill Valley, California said she was thrilled and surprised with her 9:04:14 bike split and third place standing with an aggregate time 39 minutes and 19 seconds back of Armstrong. "I'm shocked," said the former overall amateur women's champion of Escape From Alcatraz and Vineman. "The bike is not a strength of mine. What a nice surprise." Winkler does have a competitive 50-mile trail run race under her belt, so she does have a longshot chance.
Ultrarunning star Ann Heaslett, who finished second here two years ago with a second-best-ever Ultraman women's 7:58:55 run, seems to be out of realistic contention with her fourth place two day total of 19:19:38 -- 1:39:49 back of Armstrong. "I am really happy with my bike today," said Heaslett. "The (ride over the 3,700-foot high) Kohalas wasn't as scary as 2007. There wasn't as much of a side wind -- last time I had to grip the bars for dear life."
On the men's side, Michael LeRoux of Australia by way of South Africa second best 5:23:52 bike on Friday with a 5th-best 7:55:46 bike Saturday to maintain a good grip on second place in 16:02:57. LeRoux has a shot only if Ribeiro unravels, since Leroux's Ironman best of 9:29 is 50 minutes off Ribeiro's Ironman PR. He does have endurance, as proven by his strong finish at the 6-day Marathon des Sables and good performance at the Comrades Marathon. "I'll have a go tomorrow," said LeRoux, who looked undamaged after today's effort.
The intriguing longshot is 1997 Ultraman champion Peter Kotland, who stands third after a third-best 7:47:47 ride that left him 37 minutes and 54 seconds back of Ribeiro. While Kotland remains humble after his 4th place finish and 7:30-plus disastrous marathon at Ultraman last year, his training has been better than ever and he is eager to test his ace in the hole run. While he refuses to make predictions for his run, an acquaintance suggests that Kotland believes he is capable of running within seven minutes of his epochal 5:33 double marathon in his winning 1997 effort -- if everything is perfect. In private conversation, Kotland knows that another disaster may be lurking in any Ultraman. But he remains completely healthy and well trained with several swift 30-mile training runs under his belt.
Two first stars were thrown off their game by crashes on the southernmost loop near Pahoa.
Miro Kregar, the Slovenian who finished third last year and who stood fourth after day one, hit the deck and suffered big red rashes on his hip and elbow. "Just after we turned onto the Red Road, the road was wet and bumpy and my bike just slid out at 50 kilometers per hour. It hurts, but I hung on with Peter Kotland and Jochen Dembeck until 180 kilometers when they went a little faster and I stayed behind." Kregar finished with a 4th best 7:558 ride and stands 4th, 39 minutes and 49 seconds back of Ribeiro.
Day one hero Richard Roll suffered a worse crash, leaving the 43-year-old entertainment attorney with serious looking road rash on his hip, arm and leg and seriously impaired range of motion in his arm and leg. Still, he soldiered through to an 8:41:33 bike and stands 6th in 16:38:51. "I hit a super bumpy section of the Red Road, my front wheel went into a ditch, hit hard, and broke a pedal when I crashed," he said. "I honestly wasn't sure I could finish the day. I broke my helmet, so my head was OK. But my knee and shoulder weren't too well. So I went from the highest of highs on Friday (where he led the field) to the lowest of lows today. But I guess that's Ultraman. I had to dig deep to finish, but I trained too hard and I focused too much on the race to just blow it off."
Ultraman veteran Cory Foulk fought off a knee injury incurred on the bike on day one and pulled out after 50 miles on Saturday.
The Ultraman is a 320-mile, three-day stage triathlon which takes place on the weekend after Thanksgiving on the Big Island of Hawaii. Day 1 begins at 6:30 AM Friday with a 10 kilometer swim from Kailua Pier to Keauhou Beach and finishes with a 90-mile bike over 7,500 feet of climbing south to Volcanoes National Monument. On Saturday, the competitors face a 171.4-mile bike ride from Volcanoes National Monument to Hilo, north along the east coast, uphill to Waimea, up the spine of the 3,500-foot Kohala range and downhill to Hawi. Day three is a double marathon from Hawi, heading south along the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway and finishing at the old airport in Kona.
Ultraman 09 day 1
Ultraman 09 day 2
Ultraman World Championship
The Big Island of Hawaii
November 27-29, 2009
Day One: 10k S/ 90 mi. B
Day 2: 171 mi B
Day 3: 52.4 mi. R
Day Two Results
1. Alexandre Ribeiro, 44, BRA, Day 1 8:10:37 Day 2 bike 7:30:35 Total 15:39:13
2. Mike Le Roux, 33, AUS, Day 1 8:07:11 Day 2 bike 7:55L46 Total 16:02:57
3. Peter Kotland, 37, USA Day 1 8:29:20 Day 2 bike 7:47:47 Total 16:17:07
4. Miro Kregar, 47, SLO, Day 1 8:23:59 Day 2 bike 7:55:08 Total 16:19:02
5. Jochen Dembek, 42, GER Day 1 8:48:14 Day 2 bike 7:46:28 Total 16:34:42
6. Richard Roll, 43, USA, Day 1 7:57:18 Day 2 bike 8:41:33 Total 16:38:51
7. Rip Oldmeadow, 40, USA, Day 1 8:26:48 Day 2 bike 8:10:37 Total 16:39:25
8. Nino Cokan, 36, SLO, Day 1 8:53:08 Day 2 bike 8:10:48 Total 17:03:56
9. Mark Ford, 47, USA Day 1 8:57:26 Day 2 bike 8:46:52 Total 17:44:18
10. Gary Wang, 42, USA, Day 1 8:58:20 Day 2 bike 8:51:22 Total 17:49:42
1. Shanna Armstrong, 35, USA, Day 1 9:00:09 Day 2 bike 8:39:40 Total 17:39:49
2. Trix Zgraffen, 43, SUI, Day 1 9:16:44 ay 2 bike 8:39:58 Total 17:56:42
3. Kathy Winkler, 43, USA, Day 1 9:14:54 Day 2 bike 9:04:14 Total 18:19:08
4. Ann Heaslett, 46, USA, Day 1 10:12:12 Day 2 bike 9:07:26 Total 19:19:38
5. Kimmie Rouse, 54, USA, Day 1 10:36:38 Day 2 bike 9:24:02 Total 20:00:40
6. Sheena Miller, 26, CAN, Day 1 10:58:57 Day 2 bike 10:42:07 Total 21:41:04
7. Laurie Beers, 55, USA, Day 1 11:13:09 Day 2 bike 10:29:33 Total 21:42:42
8. Suzy Degazon, 45, USA, DSay 1 11:15:10 Day 2 bike 10:32:58 Total 21:48:08
9. Kathy Laska, 36, USA Day 1 11:25:15 Day 2 bike 10:41:50 Total 22:07:05
10. Toni Barstis, 43, USA, Day 1 11:59:50 Day 2 bike 10:45:57 Total 22:45:57
Team Night Train: Vito Bialla - swim; Linda Bialla - bike; Matt Davie - run
Day One 9:47:04 Day Two bike 10:11:24 Total 19:58:28