Llanos, Abraham take Melbourne

You have to have a good swim, bike and run to win an Ironman. You also have to have a lot of patience, and that might have been the difference for Eneko Llanos.

After a windswept weather-shortened swim, to 1.5k, a gaggle of Aussies led through the early stages of the 180k cycling leg of the Asia Pacific Championship event in Melbourne. The Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker quickly made up a roughly 2 minute swim disadvantage to join the Aussie party on the first of two laps of the bike course. Shortly after beginning the second lap Vanhoenacker employed the same strategy that seemed certain to work last year in Kona — until it didn’t — quickly putting space between himself and all followers. It looked as if the tall Belgian had figured out the pacing a little better this time, especially with the cooler temperatures that even featured an occasional drizzle.

"They stopped pedaling so I thought I would go to the front and next time I looked back I had 100 meters on them so I started riding my watts and the wind shifted that little bit which made it a little bit fast the second lap out, I did my thing and didn’t over do it. So it was good," said Vanhoenacker.

Speaking of cool, the Spaniard, not far removed from his impressive win at Abu Dhabi, kept his. Llanos did not panic when Vanhoenacker motored away, choosing to stay with a group that included Craig Alexander, Tim Reed and Clayton Fettell. Vanhoenacker crushed the bike leg with a 4:22:32 split, with Llanos posting the second fastest split of the day in 4:28:50. The Belgian looked as if he’d gauged it well, preserving his lead through 10 miles while holding a 2:45 marathon pace. Llanos and Alexander were together during the first half of the run, passing the 10-mile mark with still about 4 minutes worth of deficit to make up.

But then the Aussie superstar began to fade, and Llanos took up the pursuit in earnest, and alone. Vanhoenacker was not exactly folding, but the math was in the Spaniard’s favor. Finally, at mile-23, Llanos took up his spot behind the lead vehicle. Llanos coasted in with a time of 7:36:08, obviously not a record for the distance because of the shortened swim. He ran a 2:43:35.

"Honestly I felt terrible coming off the bike, I was really tired trying to stay with Clayton Fettell and Crowie (Alexander). But when I started running I felt really good," said Llanos.

There was no question, after the pass, who would win the race, rather whether Vanhoenacker would spectacularly hit the wall as he did in Kona or whether he’d marshaled his resources well enough to keep second. He held it together this time, turning in a very respectable 2:51:28 to finish in 7:38:59.

The classy Craig Alexander rounded out the podium with a 7:39:37, off a 2:46:44 run split.

Chris Legh, 41 years young, was the fastest runner in the early stages, rocketing through 10 miles in a pace well under 2:40 for the marathon, moving from 8th off the bike to, at one point, 4th place. American Jordan Rapp had a steady, quiet, almost invisible race all day long, exiting the water outside the top-25, finishing the bike in 7th place, with the day’s 6th fastest split, and then unobtrusively moving through the field to finish 4th on the day. Legh came back to earth after what seemed like a kamikaze pace, but he held it together and came home fifth, running a 2:51:44 marathon.

There is a bright new face in women’s racing, and she’s making up for lost time. Corinne Abraham is a 36 year old Welshwoman, who was an age group racer just 2 years ago, and has been a triathlete for all of 4 years. She exited the water in 15th place, almost 7 minutes behind Amanda Stevens. During the early stages of the ride it was a familiar face, 46 year old Natascha Badmann, rocketing to the lead. But Abraham, who has been hanging around the podium but has rarely if ever topped it, in any race, throttled the field with a 4:42:09 bike split. To put this in perspective, Per Bittner finished in 6th place... with a bike split 1 minute faster than Abraham’s. She only rode 11 minutes slower than Rapp, and 6 minutes slower than Legh. She beat Caroline Steffen’s bike split by 11 minutes, and “Xena” had the second fastest women’s split of the day.

While Abraham was a virtual unknown prior to the race, by the time she took the lead during the bike ride it was almost a fait accompli that she would win — she ran 3:01 at Ironman Texas last year. She did nothing but extend her lead as the race progressed. Dutchwoman Yvonne Van Vlerken —representing Austria, her recent place of residence — overtook Steffen for second, but second and thereafter were in another race altogether. Abraham’s was truly a Wellington-style performance, capping her Herculean bike ride with a 2:56:50 run.

"On the bike my legs felt good and then felt better and better the further I went. I just held it together and thought I just need to run my own race," said Abraham.

Urban Hotels Group Ironman Melbourne
Melbourne, Australia
March 24, 2013
S 2.4 mi. / B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.

1. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 7:36:08
2. Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 7:38:59
3. Craig Alexander (AUS) 7:39:37
4. Jordan Rapp (USA) 7:50:54
5. Chris Legh (AUS) 7:52:29
6. Per Bittner (GER) 7:58:28
7. Jimmy Johnsen (DEN) 7:59:37
8. Jeremy Jurkiewicz (FRA) 8:00:50
9. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 8:01:09
10. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 8:02:06

1. Corinne Abraham (GBR) 8:10:56
2. Yvonne Van Vlerken (AUT) 8:26:40
3. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 8:31:22
4. Natascha Badmann (SUI) 8:34:37
5. Gina Crawford (NZL) 8:37:23
6. Amanda Stevens (USA) 8:39:39
7. Anna Cleaver (AUS) 8:40:45
8. Carrie Lester (AUS) 8:41:22
9. Sarah Piampiano (USA) 8:44:52
10. Britta Martin (NZL) 8:45:50