Europeans victorious in Arizona

Early this year, two-time Olympian Andreas Raelert was down in the dumps because he had failed to make the German team for the Beijing Olympics. Sunday at Tempe, Arizona, the 33-year-old from Hamburg was ecstatic about his born again career at the longer distances.

Just two months after his win at Ironman 70.3 at Monaco, and two weeks after his close second place finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Raelert smashed Michael Lovato’s course record with an impressive 8:14:16 clocking.

Overcoming an 8:41 deficit to leader Kieran Doe after the bike, Raelert’s race-best 2:46:37 marathon pace took the lead from Jordan Rapp and Chris Lieto at Mile 18, then gave him a final margin of victory of 5 minutes 9 seconds over 3-time Ironman winner Lieto at the line.

"I'm so happy right now," said Raelert to after the race. "Thanks so much. I already have my spot (for Hawaii) and that's my next great goal."

Rapp, who finished a close third in a sprint finish with Hungary’s Jozsef Major and TJ Tollakson last April in this race, led much of the day and closed with a 2:58:43 run which fell 20 seconds short of overtaking runner-up Lieto. Rapp could console himself with a new race-record 4:26:12 bike split.

Left out of contention for the win with an otherwise-respectable 52:46 swim and 4:30:50 bike, defending champion Major took 4th place with a 2:52:46 run – six minutes slower than his April Ironman Arizona marathon. Jan Raphael, a Dresdner Kleinwort teammate of Normann Stadler and the 2007 Ironman Florida champion, excelled with a 46:15 swim, dropped nearly out of sight with a mediocre-for-the-day 4:38:07 bike, and closed with a third-best 2:50:58 marathon to take 5th place. Great Britain’s three-time ITU duathlon world champion Paul Amey came back from a shockingly slow 4:46:16 bike with the second-best 2:46:52 run to take 7th place.

But with all due respect offered for Raelert's breakthrough first Ironman win, Kiwi Kieran Doe had the performance of the day - no matter his 22nd place finish. The recent Ironman Canada winner was in the lead on the bike, but was hit by excruciating pain from his plantar fasciitis starting the run. Rather than quit, he abandoned his shoes at the 8-mile mark and ran almost-Abebe Bikila-style to the finish in a pair of bloody, shredded socks.

The women

Equally thrilled as Raelert was 34-year-old rising Dutch star Heleen Bij de Vaate, who overcame a manatee-slow swim which left her 20 minutes back of race leader Joanna Zeiger, to ultimately take the win in 9:21:06, 4 minutes and 1 second ahead of runner-up Leanda Cave.

While Bij de Vaate’s come-from-behind victory was impressive, it was helped enormously when early leader Zeiger abandoned an 8-minute lead and the race when she started vomiting at the 6.5-mile mark of the run.

After her glacial 1:06:50 swim, Bij de Vaate blazed to a race-best 5:02:46 bike, which chipped two and a half minutes back from Zeiger’s lead but still left her 17:27 down. Zeiger, just two weeks after her record-setting Ironman 70.3 World Championship victory, blazed on the swim, the bike and the first 10km of the run, but did not have enough left in the tank to close the deal for what would have been her third Ironman victory.

After Zeiger succumbed to digestive issues, Bij de Vaate was running fifth in a pack with Italy’s Edith Niederfriniger and Australia’s Alison Fitch, 7 minutes back of race leader Cave and second place Tove Wiklund of Sweden at the 12-mile mark. On her way to a race-best 3:07:56 run, which broke April 2008 Ironman Arizona winner Erika Csomor’s run record by three seconds, Bij de Vaate sped away from Niederfriniger and Fitch, blazed past Wiklund and finally took the lead from a fading Leanda Cave at the 21-mile mark of the marathon.

At the finish, Bij de Vaate exulted at finally cracking into the Ironman winner’s circle after a third at Ironman Lanzarote in 2006, a second last year at Ironman Florida, and a second at Lanzarote this May. "My swim was really terrible," laughed Bij de Vaate at the finish. "I'm not a good swimmer, but this was really bad. (But) once I saw Leanda Cave on the last lap of the run, I thought I had it."

Coming off a flu-induced DNF at Kona and a still-under-the-weather 9th at Clearwater, Cave's hang-in-there second place at Tempe was brave and, all in all, a better performance against circumstances than her 8th place finish at Ironman Hawaii in 2007. While the 2002 ITU short course world champ and 2007 ITU long course world titlist can obviously run better than her 3:21:16 Sunday, it showed a lot of grit in her tapped out state.

Niederfriniger, coming into this race off a second place at Ironman South Africa and a sub-9 hour third place at Ironman Austria, closed with a second-best 3:14:48 marathon to take third, 3 minutes 2 seconds back of runner-up Cave. Vermont's Kim Loeffler could not fully overcome a 1:04:54 swim with a 5:08:58 bike and a third-best 3:15:04 run and took 4th place in 9:33:54.

Jordan Rapp focused enroute to a record 4:26:12 bike split

Ironman Arizona
Tempe, Arizona
November 23, 2008
S 2.4 mi/ B 112 mi/ R 26.2 mi.


Top 10 men

1. Andreas Raelert (GER) 8:14:16
2. Chris Lieto (USA) 8:19:25
3. Jordan Rapp (USA) 8:19:45
4. Jozsef Major (HUN) 8:21:34
5. Jan Raphael (GER) 8:23:03
6. Ben Hoffman (USA) 8:24:13
7. Paul Amey (AUS) 8:27:20
8. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 8:28:09
9. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 8:34:34
10. Chris Brown (CAN) 8:39:18

Top 10 women

1. Heleen Bij De Vaate (NED) 9:21:06
2. Leanda Cave (GBR) 9:25:07
3. Edith Niederfriniger (ITA) 9:28:09
4. Kim Loeffler (USA) 9:33:54
5. Tove Wiklund (SWE) 9:44:44
6. Haley Cooper (USA) 9:45:59
7. Ana Lidia Borba (BRA) 9:48:03
8. Camilla Lindholm (SWE) 9:50:23
9. Imke Schiersch (GER) 9:53:14
10. Meredith Brooke Keeran (USA) 9:56:41 *

* = AG F30-34