Canadian Jeffrey Symonds ran to a superb win at the Ironman Asia Pacific Championships and Aussie Melissa Hauschildt also used a gutsy performance to take the women's title - her second Ironman win in as many attempts.
After a 7:20am race start Todd Skipworth lead the swim early on with Casey Munro, Brad Kahlefeldt, Marko Albert, Luke Bell and Peter Robertson not far behind. But after the 3.8km swim was in the books it was Estonian Marko Albert who climbed out of the water in swim record time of 45:18 and just ahead of Skipworth, Kahlefeldt, Bell and Nils Frommhold who had the heavy bib #1 on his back. The next group behind them about 1:30 adrift contained Germans Jan Raphael and Christian Kramer, Aussies Casey Munro and Peter Robertson, Swiss Jan Van Berkel, plus Kiwi Callum Millward. Aussie Timothy Van Berkel was another minute behind.
Albert, Skipworth, Bell and Frommhold were the early leaders on the bike, but Frommhold made a move and only Bell managed to stay with the fast riding German. Frommhold continued to ride in the lead with Bell staying with him, and slowly the two pulled away from all chasers. At 45k the two leaders had a bit more than 1 minute over Albert, Kahlefeldt and Skipworth, but after that the pace of Frommhold started to really make a difference. By 60k it was up to 2 minutes and after the first lap of 90k the lead had grown to over 4 minutes. But the 3 chasing groups behind them came together and just a few miles later had grown to 12 athletes. But more folks in a group is not always helpful, and as it was the case with the 12 chasers, they lost another 4 minutes in the next 45k to the 135k point. Jeff Symonds and Per Bittner were in that group that also contained Millward, Skipworth, Kramer, Kahlefeldt, Raphael, Van Berkel (Jan), Munro, Robertson, Van Berkel (Tim) and Albert. At the 150k point the lead was up to 9:20 and shortly after a surge by Frommhold made him the sole leader. Frommhold then reached the bike-run transition 1:33 ahead of Bell with a race best 4:19:08 bike split. Tim Van Berkel was next almost 11 minutes later and the other chasers were at least 11:30 minutes back.
Frommhold looked good as he started the run and his pace was about 30 seconds quicker than one of Bell, giving the German a 3 minute edge 5k into the marathon. Bell dropped back further and started walking, but Tim Van Berkel looked great and moved into second place. At the 20k mark Berkel was 7:05 behind the German, but he now had Jeff Symonds breathing down his neck. Over the next 10k however Frommhold slowed down and when he reached the 30k mark he had both Symonds and Van Berkel only 100 meters behind him - and soon after the pass was made, with no counter move by the German. Symonds then with his unusual head bobbing running style pulled away from Van Berkel and became the new leader. He looked to be struggling the final few kilometers but Symonds hung tough and with a closing 2:44:14 run took the win in 8:04:29. Tim Van Berkel finished 2nd in 8:07:57 and Brad Kahlefeldt took the final podium spot in 8:09:21.
“When I run I don't really use a watch, I just try to hold perceived effort ... and so we got to this downhill section and I always kind of let it lose on the downhills, and I couldn't hear his foot steps. At the bottom of the downhill I kind of looked back and couldn't see him, and I was like - this is happening,” said a clearly happy Symonds post race about the winning move.
The female pros started 3 minutes after the males and 17 minutes before the age groupers and Annabel Luxford and Laura Bennett quickly moved into the lead. The two athletes extended their lead steadily but Bennett eventually fell off the pace and that left Luxford alone in the lead. When it was all said and done the clock showed 51:20 as Luxford came out of the water, with Caroline Steffen and Bree Wee next at 1:22. Laura Bennett struggled as she exited the water and a foot injury sustained during the run into the water (third metatarsal) forced her to drop out. Melissa Hauschildt and Mirinda Carfrae reached the shore 3:23 after the fast swimming Luxford. Cycling prodigy Emma Pooley who many folks watched was a staggering 18 minutes behind.
Luxford in her first Ironman event continued to set the pace up front but Steffen rode very hard and slowly reeled in the Aussie. Around the 50k mark the catch was made but Steffen did not manage to drop Luxford. Luxford followed the 2-time Melbourne champion and the 2 of them duplicated what happened in the men’s race, and steadily pulled away. 60k into the race the Swiss-Aussie duo had 3 minutes of an advantage over Hauschildt, 6 minutes over Wee and Carfrae started to drift further back. Yvonne Van Vlerken meanwhile was on a move and started to catch some of the athletes ahead of her, but was not really cutting into the lead of the two frontrunners. At the 90k point of the race the lead was still around 3 minutes over Hauschildt, but now it was Van Vlerken riding in fourth position 6 minutes back. Wee had dropped to 8:16 and Carfrae to over 10 minutes. But over the next 30k Hauschildt gained a minute on the 2 up front and Van Vlerken also managed to come that much closer – now 5:15 adrift. Pooley was riding well too but she was still over 15:30 behind Steffen and Luxford, with Wee at 10:40, Asa Lundstrom and Mareen Hufe at 11:40, Carfrae at 13:45, Ashley Clifford at 15:00, and Beth Gerdes at 15:15. Hauschildt inched closer and closer and with 45 kilometers left to ride the 2-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion was 1:40 behind Steffen and Luxford. Steffen gained a few seconds over the last few miles and reached T2 17 seconds ahead of Luxford, but the Aussie looked very relaxed and smooth as she jumped off her bike. Hauschildt meanwhile lost time towards the end and handed her bike to a volunteer about 4 minutes after Luxford. Van Vlerken was next 5:51 adrift, but her 4:44:28 bike split proved fastest among the pro females. Mirinda Carfrae reached T2 over 17 minutes behind Steffen and had her work cut out for her.
Steffen then showed her experience and pulled away from Luxford and behind them Hauschildt looked the fastest. At the 14k mark Hauschildt moved past Luxford into 2nd place only 1:30 behind Steffen, and as expected Carfrae ran well too, but she was in 7th position about 15 minutes behind the Swiss Miss. At around 18k Hauschildt moved into the lead and at that time Steffen stopped quickly at a bathroom, and appeared to be struggling after that. But at 28k Hauschildt unexpectedly started to walk and looked like she was dealing with cramps. She then stopped and sat down to add Vaseline to the bottom of her feet, but it may as well have been magic potion, as Hauschild looked like a brand new person after that brief stop and ran smoothly onwards. Behind her Steffen was also hanging tough but not within reach of the Aussie. Hauschildt grabbed her second Ironman title in as many attempts.
“That was one tough race. I got blisters on my feet at 14km and by 30km I was walking and begging for medical. I got some medical help and rubbed on Vaseline that didn’t help at all. I was ready to pull out at 30kms with so much pain, but I knew I had to keep going. If I don't finish, I will have to do Taiwan in 3 weeks,” said Hauschildt post race.
Steffen reached the finish chute next, but right behind her Van Vlerken had more left and charged past the 2-time Melbourne champion to take second place. Asa Lundstrom finished fourth and Beth Gerdes with a race best 3:05:56 charged into 5th place. Luxford and Carfrae also came to the finish together, but Carfrae was encouraging the Ironman newbie who was struggling, and in the end let Luxford have the 6th spot.
Ironman Asia Pacific Championships
Melbourne, Australia / March 22, 2015
2.4m swim / 112m bike / 26.2m run
1. Jeffrey Symonds (CAN) 8:04:29
2. Tim Van Berkel (AUS) 8:07:57
3. Brad Kahlefeldt (AUS) 8:09:21
4. Christian Kramer (GER) 8:11:31
5. Nils Frommhold (GER) 8:12:58
6. Callum Millward (NZL) 8:14:16
7. Jan Van Berkel (SUI) 8:21:41
8. Marko Albert (EST) 8:21:49
9. Per Bittner (GER) 8:25:17
10. Jens Petersen-Bach (DEN) 8:26:41
1. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 8:52:51
2. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 8:58:58
3. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 8:59:08
4. Asa Lundstrom (SWE) 9:02:49
5. Beth Gerdes (USA) 9:05:08
6. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 9:08:35
7. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 9:08:39
8. Ashley Clifford (USA) 9:19:00
9. Emma Pooley (GBR) 9:20:29
10. Bree Wee (USA) 9:21:56