Llanos, Morrison top Ironman Texas

On a hot, humid day in East Texas, Spain's Eneko Llanos and Scotland's Catriona Morrison traded in their 2010 Ironman Lanzarote wins for victories at the inaugural Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas 2011 at The Woodlands.

For their wins, Llanos and Morrison took home $15,000 first place prizes and 4,000 precious Kona qualifying points offered by this first-year Ironman event.

While Ironman rookie Timothy O'Donnell of the US virtually matched Llanos' 49:28 swim and 2:49:04 marathon, Llanos earned most of his 90-seconds margin of victory with a 4:25:56 bike that was 2:08 faster than O'Donnell's two-wheel split.

Llanos posted an 8:08:20 for the win, with O'Donnell's 8:09:50 holding off Australian Luke Bell for the runner-up slot by a 2:32 margin.

All three men's podium finishers trailed Chris Lieto's 52:56 swim and sizzling 4:15:13 bike by 7 minutes at T2. But apparently exhausted by his bike and the heat, Lieto quit soon after surrendering his lead at the 9th mile of the run.

Morrison, who earned St. Croix 70.3 and Galveston 70.3 crowns earlier this year to go with her multiple ITU duathlon world titles and her 2010 Ironman Lanzarote win, overcame a 6-minute deficit after the bike to Belgium's Tine Deckers, and ran a 3:04:14 to take the win by 10:03 over fast-closing Kelly Williamson of the US, who ran a race-best 3:04:06 to advance from 9th at T2 to second place at the finish line.

Notably, Morrison broke the 9 hour barrier with an 8:57:51 on a hot, humid and mildly windy day -- her second sub-9 in an Ironman-distance event (she posted an 8:48 at Challenge Roth in 2009).

Belgium's Sofie Goos combined a second-best 55:19 swim and third-best but fast 4:55:19 bike with a 3rd-best 3:17:59 run for third - 4:t59 behind Williamson.

The women's race was also notable for many red-hot women's bike splits over the east Texas flatland plains. Tyler Stewart of the US posted a 4:42:40 bike on her way to a 4th place finish in 9:13:13. Tine Deckers of Belgium, who led by six minutes off her
58:38 swim and 4:44:46 bike, faded to 5th place at the line with a 3:32:02 marathon that brought her home in 9:19:27.

Other notables who broke the 5-hour mark on the bike included Desiree Ficker of Austin, Texas, who biked 4:51:39 on her way to a 7th place finish in 9:24:09. New Zealand's Joanna Lawn, coming off two Ironman 70.3 wins, biked 4:59:11 during her 9th place finish in a total time of 9:32:19.

The men

Just as predicted swim ace John Flanagan emerged from Lake Woodlands with a 2 minute-plus lead on a chase pack that was led by Rene Goehler, Timothy O'Donnell and Jan Raphael. Other contenders in the chase were Luke McKenzie, Luke Bell, Axel Zeebroek and Eneko Llanos.

Chris Lieto started the bike segment 3 minutes after the main bunch of contenders but it did not take very long for the Danville, CA resident to take back the time he had lost during the swim. Flanagan held on surprisingly long to the lead on the bike and it took the front bunch until mile 40 to catch the fast Hawaiian. But by the halfway point of the bike Lieto had taken over the lead and started to pull away, with Eneko Llanos also having a small gap. From there though Lieto really turned on the gas and recorded an amazing 4:15:13 bike split and reached T2 with a 7:30 lead over Luke Bell and Eneko Llanos.

The pursuers had a faster transition and starting the run Lieto's lead was down to 6:30. From there Bell and Llanos quickly took back even more time and O'Donnell was not far behind either, and Lieto most likely did not help his cause with a brief roadside stop a few miles into the run to chat with his family. But it appeared that that the stop was a sign of things to come and by mile 8.65 the spotters no longer reported Lieto in the lead. Bell was now up front with Llanos in second and O'Donnell in third. When Bell fell back at the 28 kilometer mark, Llanos moved into the front. Soon, O'Donnell was in the second spot, with Bell about 40 second behind him, but O'Donnell started to come closer and closer -- coming within 10 seconds at the 30 kilometer mark of the run.

That, however was O'Donnell's high water mark and he fell inexorably back in the Texas heat. However, O'Donnell did set the fastest run with a notable 2:49:02 in the Texas heat, two seconds better than Llanos' marathon.

The women

Dede Griesbauer held the lead for a good part of the swim but it was Kelly Williamson who managed to be first out of the water with a small lead over Dede Griesbauer and a nice gap over a small group that included Maki Nishiuchi, Eva Dollinger, Catriona Morrison and Sofie Goos.

Sofie Goos though jumped into the lead early on in the bike and despite a tumble on the bike managed to set the pace. Tine Deckers was not far behind, thus making it a Belgian duo up front. Linsey Corbin also rode quite well and was sitting in third position at the halfway point of the bike but behind her Catriona Morrison looked like she was ready to pounce. Shortly after Deckers moved into the lead and from there really pulled away. By the time Deckers reached T2 she had a 5:47 lead over Morrison and the fast riding Tyler Stewart was 6:11 behind in third position with her superb 4:42:40 split. Morrison added to her deficit after the bike with a position foul that resulted in a stop and go penalty.

Deckers was speedy in transition too and added about 30 seconds to her advantage, but Morrison looked very fluid and fast on the run and moved closer and closer to the leader. Desiree Ficker also ran well and by mile 6 had moved into fourth place with Stewart not that far in front of her. Shortly after Morrison moved past Deckers and Ficker reeled in Stewart.

By the end, Morrison remained in control, finishing with second best marathon and a 10-minute lead. Ficker faded late to 7th place with a 3:26:46 marathon, but Kim Loeffler closed fast to 6th place with a 3:06:51 marathon.

Memorial Hermann Texas Ironman
The Woodlands, Texas
May 21, 2011
S 2.4 mi. / B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.


Elite Men

1. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 8:08:20
2. Timothy O'Donnell (USA) 8:09:50
3. Luke Bell (AUS) 8:12:22
4. Jan Raphael (GER) 8:20:41
5. Jozsef Major (HUN) 8:24:17
6. Axel Zeebroek (BEL) 8:28:07
7. Justin Daerr (USA) 8:29:44
8. Patrick Evoe (USA) 8:32:29
9. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 8:37:59
10. Torsten Abel (GER) 8:38:40

Elite Women

1. Catriona Morrison (GBR) 8:57:51
2, Kelly Williamson (USA) 9:07:54
3. Sofie Goos (BEL) 9:12:53
4. Tyler Stewart (USA) 9:13:13
5. Tine Deckers (BEL) 9:19:27
6. Kim Loeffler (USA) 9:20:04
7. Desiree Ficker (USA) 9:24:09
8. Jacqui Gordon (USA) 9:27:20
9. Joanna Lawn (NZL) 9:32:19
10. Lauren Harrison (USA) 9:46:22