Andreas Raelert, Nicola Spirig take Monaco 70.3 crowns, Macca 6th, Lebrun 8th against tough field

Nicola Spirig came off a 6th place finish at the Beijing Olympics and Andreas Raelert took solace at missing his third Olympic team with wins at the fourth annual Monaco Ironman 70.3 triathlon Sunday.

The men

Raelert, a 12-year veteran of the ITU World Cup circuit who scored a 12th place finish at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and a 6th place at the Athens Olympics, sealed his first major victory with a sizzling 1:09:00 run. Raelert overcame a 4-minute deficit at T2 to 2004 Olympic mountain biker and recent Xterra Austria winner Michael Weiss to hit the line in 4:10:10 with a 4-minute 2-second margin of victory.

Weiss, who finished 32nd in the 2004 Olympic cross country mountain bike, showed great road bike chops with his race-best 2:20:19 split on the hilly Monaco course which featured 5,000 feet of climbing. Weiss’s bike split was 6:26 better than Kienle, the next best rider, 11 minutes faster than Raelert, and 16 minutes faster than Zamora Perez.

The prestige of Raelert’s win was amplified by the depth and quality of the men behind him. While German pro Sebastian Kienle, who was 36 seconds back of Weiss in third place, is relatively little known, the rest of the top 10 was full of stars.

Monaco 70.3 defending champ Spain’s Marcel Zamora Perez, coming off three straight wins at Ironman France in nearby Nice -- highlighted by a 2:45 marathon in 2007 and a 2:48 this year, couldn’t overcome a mediocre 2:36:58 bike with the second-best 1:11:24 run and had to settle for 4th place in 4:19:20. Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack, looking for a speed workout for Kona, came 6th in 4:20:43. Xterra World Champion Nicolas Lebrun finished 8th in 4:21:51. And Swiss Olympian and two-time ITU World Championship medalist Reto Hug finished 9th in 4:22:40.

Still, McCormack’s day on the Riviera was better than two years ago when his bike was stolen from the transition compound the night before the race. Prince Albert of Monaco, living up to his title, then pledged the principality to make good on Macca’s bike and several others which totaled up to a $100,000 haul.

Bike security in 2008 was impeccable.

The women

Rising Olympic-distance Swiss star Spirig finished the bike with an 8-minute 5-second lead on two-time ITU long course duathlon world champion Catriona Morrison, then held off Morrison’s race-best 1:18:49 half marathon run to hit the line in 4:37:12 and take a 4-minute margin of victory. Multiple Ironman winner Virginia Berasategui of Spain overcame a mediocre bike with the second best-run of 1:20:27 to finish third in 4:44:45, three and a half minutes behind Morrison.

Spirig, who is one of Brett Sutton’s Team TBB athletes, arrived at Monaco with as a rising star with a 19th at the Athens Olympics and 6th at Beijing, wins at ITU World Cups at Eilat in 2007 and in Kitzbuhel in the final pre-Olympic race of 2008. At 26, she has World Cup speed and can also go long, with a win at Ironman 70.3 Switzerland in 2007 to prove it.

At Monaco, she emerged from the water second, 13 seconds behind Berasategui’s race-best 26:26. Trained half of the year in the mountains of Leysin, Switzerland, Spirig led the field with a race-best 2:42:02 split in the rugged bike course that ranges from La Turbie to Col de Nice, where His Royal Highness Prince Albert applauded the athletes. The rugged uphills were not quite as demanding as the super-steep, technical downhills made more precarious by overnight rains. Spirig’s split – two minutes faster than fourth place Christel Robin of France, 6 minutes faster than Morrison, and 9 minutes faster than Berasategui – put her in control.

On the run, Spirig’s very good 1:22:48 13.1-mile run was enough to easily fend off Morrison (1:18:49) and Berasategui (1:20:48) with room to spare. While Spirig didn’t run fast enough to earn household honors against boyfriend Reto Hug, her win certainly trumped Hug’s 9th place finish.

70.3 Monaco / September 7, 2008
1.2m swim / 56m bike / 13.1m run

Top 10 men

1. Andreas Raelert (GER) 4:10:10
2. Michi Weiss (AUT) 4:14:12
3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 4:14:48
4. Marcel Zamora Perez (ESP) 4:19:20
5. Mikel Elgezabal Fernandez (ESP) 4:20:11
6. Chris McCormack (AUS) 4:20:43
7. Andrea D'Aquino (ITA) 04:20:52
8. Nicolas Lebrun (FRA) 4:21:51
9. Reto Hug (SUI) 4:22:40
10. Massimo Cigana (ITA) 4:23:15

Top 10 women

1. Nicola Spirig (SUI) 4:37:12
2. Catriona Morrison (GBR) 4:41:12
3. Virginia Berasategui (ESP) 4:44:25
4. Christel Robin (FRA) 4:46:57
5. Alexandra Louison (FRA) 4:47:23
6. Kathrin Paetzold (GER) 4:51:04
7. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 4:52:41
8. Isabelle Ferrer (FRA) 4:54:25
9. Michelle Lee (GBR) 5:01:20
10. Melanie Hohenester (GER) 5:02:30 *

* = AG athlete