Josh Amberger led wire-to-wire to edge fellow Australian Brad Kahlefeldt and Aussie Annabel Luxford outran Radka Vodickova of the Czech Republic to win the elite titles at the inaugural Challenge Shepparton. Perhaps outshining the battles for the wins, Belinda Granger wrapped up a 20-year triathlon career which includes 15 Ironman distance wins with a 4th place finish.
Amberger built a large lead in the swim and bike, enough to withstand Kahlefeldt’s sizzling 1 hour 10 minute run split with a 3 minutes 20 seconds margin of victory.
Amberger got a minute plus lead after the swim on a pack of 7 that included Kahlefeldt, Leon Griffin, Ruedi Wild and 7th-place Ironman World championship finisher Tim Van Berkel.
“I went from the gun today,” said Amberger. “I knew I was the strongest swimmer in the field today, so I wanted to capitalize on that.”
Under rainy skies, Amberger really capitalized on two wheel prowess, unleashing a beast-mode bike split that brought him to T2 with a massive 9 minutes lead.
“I made some adjustments to my bike during the week and I saw the benefits of that today,” said Amberger, who did not add a motor to his steed. “It was probably my best ride of the year.”
Kahlefeldt’s race-best 1:10 run split shaved 6 minutes off that lead, but left the 2007 ITU World Championship bronze medalist and multiple Olympian 3:20 back at the line.
“It feels amazing to come back here and win,” said Amberger, who finished second at this venue last year when it was produced under the Ironman banner. “The conditions were really tough out there today,” said Amberger. “Everyone is struggling but I think that is when I thrive.”
Luxford and Vodickova battled dead even throughout the swim and the bike, occasionally swapping the lead but neither making a significant move.
“I didn’t really push the bike,” said Luxford. “Radka and I were pretty cold. To be honest we just wanted to get it done.” Granger, a strong cyclist for all her career, lost 5 minutes to the leaders, but was digging deep to try to maintain a podium spot and stave off Michelle Wu in what Granger declared would be her final professional race in Australia.
Luxford was first to make a break on the run and Vodickova had no answer. Luxford, who won a week ago at Mandurah, finished in 4:18:04 with an 8:28 margin of victory over Vodickova. Wu charged hard and passed for the final spot on the podium, 6:03 behind Vodickova and 1:23 ahead of Granger.
“She (Wu) went by me so quick I couldn’t go with her,” said Granger. “I’ve beaten her a few times this year but she got me back on the one that counted. The first two laps it was pretty tight but on the third, when I knew I couldn’t get 3rd, I just enjoyed it.”
Granger, who is 43 and won her greatest victory in 2005 at Challenge Roth and who was inducted into the Australian Ironman Hall of Fame in 2010, was a bit philosophical about what she claims is the end of her professional competitive road. “I’m fine with it, but I know when I’m driving back this afternoon in the car with my own thoughts, it will hit me,” she said. “I’ve got a party to go to tonight, so that’ll snap me out of it.”
November 16, 2014
S1.2 mi. / B 56 mi. / R 13.1 mi.
1. Josh Amberger (AUS) 3:45:16
2. Brad Kahlefeldt (AUS) 3:48:36
3. Ruedi Wild (SUI) 3:51:49
4. Nicholas Kastelein (AUS) 3:53:45
5. Leon Griffin (AUS) 3:58:46
1. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 4:18:04
2. Radka Vodickova (CZE) 4:26:32
3. Michelle Wu (AUS) 4:32:35
4. Belinda Granger (AUS) 4:33:58
5. Julia Grant (NZL) 4:37:31