KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- Last year at Kona it seemed as if rising German Ironman star Timo Bracht was a petulant wild child, refusing to stop in the penalty box to serve his time for a bike split violation. The way he was going, Bracht seemed as if he could easily have made up the time and would have cashed a substantial check rather than end his day crossing the line 5th and receiving not a check but a DQ and puzzled stares.
What was Timo thinking?
This year Bracht came back to the sport with a purpose and scored the most impressive victory of the year - besides Kona. When the shouting had ended, Bracht took down a topflight field and the 8-hour barrier to win Ironman Frankfurt with a 7:59 clocking, finishing with a strong 4:26 bike split and a Kona-worthy 2:43 marathon.
If Ironman Hawaii weren't subject only to its own logic and demands, Bracht would be the favorite at Kona, But since Frankfurt has cooler temperatures, milder winds and no mysterious forces like Madame Pele to stir the pot, Bracht's race record is duly noted but taken with a grain of salt.
The is, his closest compadres on the Commerzbank Team think the 34-year old, far from being an impulsive wild child, is a quintessential calculating chess player of the Ironman and trust him to get the most out of his considerable talents Saturday.
Slowtwitch: What led you to raise your game and break 8-hours and the best men's field of the year at Frankfurt?
Timo Bracht My aim last year was to keep improving every year. I didn’t want to be a one-year triathlon star. My goal was to keep growing throughout my career. So Frankfurt this year was the perfect race for this stage in my career.
ST: What was the most important race for your career so far?
Timo: Frankfurt in 2009 was not the most important race for me. The big breakthrough was my first Ironman victory at Gerardmer in France in 2003. While my win at Frankfurt in 2007 was very good, this year at Frankfurt was my best race ever. I had a good swim. Not a perfect swim., I swam with Chris McCormack and had a really hard bike ride with him -- 4:26 -- six minutes faster than the year before. And then I started the run three minutes behind Eneko Llanos. It was not so easy to catch him. he ran the first half marathon really fast. I ran with Macca the first 20km, and then I made my own race. In the middle of the run, Chris was passing me and went chasing Eneko. At that moment, he was too fast and I thought: OK. You c an go. If you win the race you are better than me.
ST: You must have had a plan in mind?
Timo: The last few years, my best moments in the Ironman came in the last 10km of the run. I know this very well. That last 10km is mine. So I ran the last 10km very fast and in the end I passed Chris and Eneko.
ST: How fast did you run that last 10km?
Timo: I ran 37-38 minutes. Most pros are running 42 minutes at that point. If you run 38, you are very fast. So it is very important for me to focus on that last 10km. I was really strong at that point. Not so much fast as I felt very very strong. My shoulders and my face were very relaxed. I felt smooth.
ST: How did it feel to break 8 hours on a tough course?
Timo: I never expected to break 8 hours. I wanted to win but 8 hours was not on my mind. t the finish, I started to do a TV interview when Macca came up and said "Look at the time." I didn't expect it.
ST: Do you like racing with Macca?
Timo: We seem to spend some time together in these races,. At Quelle Challenge Roth we biked and ran together for 10 miles before he went on to win. I finished third in 8:08 and felt it was a breakthrough to race with the stars of the sport in my first year as a pro.
ST: So what WERE you thinking last year at Kona/
Timo: I thought the race marshal showed me a yellow card. That is not a drafting penalty and it would be a stop and go penalty - not four minutes. I did not think he showed me red card. We were in communication and he held the card in his hand and I did not see clearly what it was. That was the ;problem.
ST: Some observers said that you thought you could not win if you had a big penalty, so you kept going to see what it was like to race to the end against men like Craig Alexander?
Timo: No. That was not what I was thinking because I was one minute ahead of Craig Alexander, I thought it was a yellow card, and I believed it would be a stop and go penalty. I thought I could easily make up that time
ST: So you lost a significant paycheck.
Timo: Not only the money. I think it is very important to follow the rules. I said that to German TV after the race. I got a lot of emails about how I dealt with the situation. After I told Jimmy Riccitello no matter what I did, I believe need to follow the rules.
ST: Afterwards, how would you evaluate that day?
Timo: I had a really great race. For me the racing itself was correct. To run so far with Craig Alexander while he was winning was to my mind a better experience for me than the disappointment of the yellow card and frustration of the DQ. If I had finished in 10th place, I would not have seen how he raced, So I had my freedom with the race.
ST: How did you take the defeat?
Timo: The next day my physical therapist and I went to the top of Mauna Kea and drank a few beers. It was a lot better than the awards ceremony that was rained out. It was a great race for me, a successful race. But at the end - no listing.