Vanhoenacker and Zelenkova on top in South Africa

Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) put on a very strong performance at the 2009 Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa and won in course record time. Lucie Zelenkova (CZE) also broke the course record as she cruised to victory in the women's race.

Several Ironman champions were at the start in Nelson Mandela Bay despite another Ironman event taking place in Australia, and two 70.3 races being contested in New Orleans and California this weekend.

Defending Ironman South Africa champion Stephen Bayliss, 2008 Ironman Austria champion Marino Vanhoenacker and 2007 Ironman Korea champion and local favorite Raynard Tissink were just a few of the big names at the start. The swim though was all about the Storm brothers, and these 2 gifted swimmers from South Africa emerged from the waters in first and second position. Anton's time was 45:22 and Brad came out of the water in 46:46. Anton Storm lead early on during the bike, but a chasing group now containing Vanhoenacker, Bayliss, Tissink, Brad Storm and ITU triathlete Olivier Marceau was hot on his heels. But Vanhoenacker soon separated himself from the group, took the lead and slowly rode away from the competition. Stephen Bayliss had a bit of a rough patch as he started to drift away from the front group and by km 150 found himself sitting in about 10th place and 6:30 behind Vanhoenacker. By the time they hit T2 Vanhoenacker had a 4:42 lead on Brad Storm, a 5:57 lead on Marceau and 7:22 on Tissink.

The run then brought a reversal of fortunes. Stephen Bayliss came into T2 a staggering 23:42 behind Vanhoenacker but he slowly and methodically moved up places. Germany's Michael Goehner was another athlete who started to come into picture, and the Czech energizer bunny Petr Vabrousek also started to run past fading competitors. Raynard Tissink on the other hand wasn't having a good day or a chance for redemption. After moving past Marceau for 3rd place he stopped at an aid station and called it a day. Vanhoenacker though easily won in a course record time of 8:17:32 and showed that he can win Ironman races outside of Austria. Goehner managed to take second place and Vabrousek grabbed the final podium spot. Bayliss and relatively unknown German Andreas Venhorst rounded out the top 5.

"After Hawaii last year I altered some things during winter, so it felt like a new start. I didn't really know what to expect, so no plans before the race, but it all went pretty well like I would hope for," said Vanhoenacker after the race.

In the women's race, many onlookers were expecting a repeat of 2008, where Bella Bayliss (then Comerford) and Edith Niederfriniger chased down long time leader Lucie Zelenkova late during the run, and Bayliss outsprinted Niederfriniger at the very end for the victory. Zelenkova again put on a show in the water and emerged from the swim with a 4 minute lead over Rachel Joyce and an even bigger lead on Bayliss. Zelenkova then padded her lead during the bike and led Joyce by 9 minutes and Bayliss by 16 minutes by the time they got to T2. Making up 16 minutes certainly something the speedy runner Bayliss was capable of, but the defending champion didn't have the day she had hoped for and she dropped out 14km into the run. "I had spent too much effort during the bike." Bayliss later said.

Eventually Zelenkova cruised to victory in a course record time of 9:16:32. Joyce had a brilliant race too but could not hold on to second place in the end and had to settle for third. Sonja Tajsich from Germany managed to get past her late in the race for second place.

"It was tough. I don't think any Ironman is easy, but I am super happy now. I think the heat took a lot out of the people on the run. But I had good day," said Zelenkova.

Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa

April 5, 2009 / Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa
3.8km swim / 180km bike / 42.2 km run

Top 10 men

1. Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 8:17:33 *
2. Michael Goehner (GER) 8:32:02
3. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 8:36:08
4. Stephen Bayliss (GBR) 8:47:27
5. Andreas Venhorst (GER) 8:51:52
6. James Cunnama (RSA) 8:55:24
7. Raimo Raudsepp (EST) 8:57:19
8. Olivier Marceau (FRA) 8:59:09
9. Sebastian Pedraza (ITA) 9:03:19
10. Lawrence Van Lingen (RSA) 9:17:16

Top 10 women

1. Lucie Zelenkova (CZE) 9:16:32 *
2. Sonja Tajsich (GER) 9:27:59
3. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 9:37:00
4. Jacqui Gordon (USA) 9:46:26
5. Caroline Koll (RSA) 10:08:35
6. Anne-Marie Dupont (BEL) 10:13:40
7. Helen Buley (RSA) 10:21:37
8. Kathryn Cronje (RSA) 10:25:37
9. Celeste Swart (RSA) 10:31:03**
10. Marisa Ferraris (RSA) 10:39:0***

* = course record
** = age group F40-44
*** = age group F35-39