Sanders goes sub 8 in Arizona

Canadian Lionel Sanders grabbed the win at Ironman Arizona in 7:58:22 thanks to a 2:47:07 run, and defending champion Brent McMahon came in second just outside that magic 8:00 mark. American Meredith Kessler defended her title in a dominating fashion.

The men

Marko Albert led the pro men out of the water of the Tempe Town Lake in 47:06 and he was followed closely by defending champion Brent McMahon. Then there was a 2-minute gap to a group of seven that contained Joe Umphenour, Drew Scott, Andrew Starykowicz, TJ Tollakson, Kevin Colington, Miguel Angel Fidalgo, and Maik Twelsiek.

With Albert and McMahon up the road already Twelsiek hit the deck hard as he came out of the water, but the German quickly got on his bike while still bleeding from his elbow. Starykowicz meanwhile did not need much time to move in the limelight. By mile 9 of the bike he had erased the 2-minute swim disadvantage and was at the front of the race. Maik Twelsiek and TJ Tollakson also moved up and at mile 18.5 they were riding with McMahon and Albert, just about 1:30 behind the lone leader. Several minutes further behind, Lionel Sanders was serving notice and the hard riding Canadian was now only 4 minutes behind Albert after starting the bike segment about 7 minutes adrift. But McMahon started to drop away from the front with a flat tire, and Maik Twelsiek stopped to serve a penalty for drafting he received while fumbling with his bike shoes and bloody arm leaving T1. When Starykowicz reached 56 miles he was up 5:30 on Tollakson, 7:30 on Albert, and 8:00 on Sanders. But soon after, Sanders moved past Albert into third place and the Estonian seemed to be paying for that early hard effort. Twelsiek and Jordan Rapp were then riding in fourth and fifth position, but up front Starykowicz pulled even further away. At mile 93 he was 9:35 ahead of Tollakson and 10:56 in front of Sanders, and Twelsiek and Rapp were riding at 13:01 and 13:29 at that point. To no one’s surprise, Starky -with a race best 4:03:36 bike split - pulled into the bike-run transition 12:47 ahead of Tollakson and with 14:43 on Sanders and 14:48 on Twelsiek. Rapp reached T2 around a minute later and now the race for the title was on.

Rain started to fall and Sanders moved into second place early on, and behind him Jordan Rapp moved past Twelsiek into the fourth position. By mile 5 the lead over Sanders was still over 10 minutes, but if both athletes sustained their current pace a catch was inevitable. At mile 10 the lead was down to 7 minutes and at the halfway point of the run only 5:11. Tollakson was hanging on to third place 7:57 back and Rapp was next at 9:19, but he had a seemingly rejuvenated McMahon breathing down his neck. Starykowicz slowed down more and was seen walking, and at mile 18 Sanders became the new leader. McMahon meanwhile was running in 4th position in pursuit of Tollakson. Tollakson was soon behind the defending champion and with 3 miles to go McMahon had also passed Starykowicz. Fellow Canadian Sanders was still 3:35 ahead. Sanders did not falter and won the race in 7:58:22, thanks in part to an impressive closing 2:47:07 run. After a brave effort McMahon finished second in 8:00:57 with a race best 2:46:25 run, and Tollakson rounded out the podium in 8:04:17.

The women

Similar to the men’s race, the swim was dominated by two athletes. Meredith Kessler emerged first from the water in 48:25 and Sarah Haskins was next in 48:29, and that meant the 3rd and 4th best pro swim times overall. Julia Gajer then led Amanda Stevens and Christina Jackson onto dry land in a time of 51:05, and the rest of the field that included Kona 4th place Kona finisher Michelle Vesterby was nicely spread out coming into T1. Vesterby, still near the front, was looking at a 4:28 disadvantage.

Kessler pulled away from Haskins on the bike and by mile 10 she was up 75 seconds on Haskins, and riders behind her were falling even further behind. By the halfway point of the bike Kessler was in her own time zone. Her lead over Gajer was 9:50, Stevens and Jackson were riding at 11:34 and 11:52 respectively, and Vesterby by that time was 15:18 behind. Sarah Haskins meanwhile was now just under 20 minutes behind after starting the day on such a fine note. The gap opened wider and wider, and at mile 84 Kessler was almost 12 minutes ahead of Gajer and everyone else lost at least 2 more minutes. As the bike segment came to a close, Stevens started to gain time back on the leader and moved into second place past Gajer. Kessler however had a race best bike split of 4:42:13 and reached T2 with a 10:50 lead over Stevens. The rain coming down at that time was likely not welcomed by the spectators but appreciated by the athletes. Gajer reached T2 with a 12:22 disadvantage.

The two women in front were running stride for stride the same pace, but just about 11 minutes apart and it stayed like that throughout the first half of the run. The athletes behind them started to fall further away. In the second half of the run Stevens started to inch closer, but barely. It was still 10 minutes at 18 miles, and every one else was now 19 minutes or worse behind. Onlookers described Kessler as running completely in control, and she defended her title and took the win in 8:44:00. Stevens reached the finish in second place and Gajer came home in third.

To be updated…..

2015 Ironman Arizona
Tempe, AZ / November 15, 2015
2.4m swim / 112m bike / 26.2m run

Top men

1. Lionel Sanders (CAN) 7:58:22 (54:05 / 4:13:38 / 2:47:07)
2. Brent McMahon (CAN) 8:00:57 (47:08 / 4:23:32 / 2:46:25)
3. TJ Tollakson (USA) 8:04:07 (49:14 / 4:16:23 / 2:54:45)
4. Andrew Starykowicz (USA) 8:05:56 (49:12 / 4:03:35 / 3:09:04)
5. Jordan Rapp (USA) 8:08:05 (52:34 / 4:15:49 / 2:55:28)

Top women

1. Meredith Kessler (USA) 8:44:00 (48:25 / 4:42:13 / 3:08:58)
2. Amanda Stevens (USA) 8:52:31 (51:07 / 4:50:10 / 3:06:39)
3. Julia Gajer (GER) 9:03:15 (51:05 / 4:52:06 / 3:15:06)
4. Darbi Roberts (USA) 9:05:10 (51:41 / 4:56:59 / 3:12:00)
5. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 9:11:31 (52:52 / 4:54:34 / 3:19:45)