Today in Port Macquarie, Patrick Vernay (New Caledonia) and Chrissie Wellington (UK) took the honours once again at the Country Energy Ironman Australia Triathlon. For Vernay, this marks a hat-trick of wins in Port Macquarie, while Wellington was able to successfully defend her inaugral 2008 title- and she keeps her perfect Ironman record six wins from six races intact.
After a week plagued with the worst imaginable weather conditions, athletes arrived this morning to a transition area which can only be described as a mud bath. However in true Ironman spirit, there was a terrific atmosphere in the race village as athletes made their final preparations for race start.
Just before the professional field set off on their 3.8km swim, it was announced that the highly anticipated showdown between Michellie Jones and Chrissie Wellington would not come to fruition, as Jones had been struck with a virus which had forced her to make the last minute decision to withdraw.
A disappointed Jones said, “This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make. I discussed it with my coach, but it was ultimately my decision.” Jones said that she is still determined to complete an Ironman in Australia before she retires from the sport.
In spite of the severe weather and torrential rain which had been experienced in race week, conditions for the two-lap Hastings River swim were surprisingly good.
In a first for Ironman Australia, the professional field were given a 35 minute ‘head start’ over the 1,400-strong age group contingent. This initiative proved to be a huge success, providing the professionals with clear water and road for the majority of the day.
As expected, Pete Jacobs immediately set to work, establishing an early lead on the 3.8km swim. By the mid-point turnaround, he had a clear 10 metre lead over a group which included Cam Watt, Mathias Hecht, Tim DeBoom, Rene Goehler and Simon Thompson. They were closely followed by another group which included the three lead women – Chrissie Wellington, Rebekah Keat and Sarah Pollett.
Jacobs exited the water in the super-fast time of 47:51. About 20 seconds behind came Goehler, Hecht, Thompson, Watt and DeBoom, and it was then a further couple of minutes to the main chase group which included defending champion Patrick Vernay, Tim Berkel, Josh Rix and Jimmy Johnsen. Mitch Anderson and Jason Shortis both emerged several minutes behind the leaders, setting themselves a massive challenge on the bike course.
Wellington just led the women out of the swim, however she had Pollett and Keat hot on her heels. Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen was just under two minutes further back.
Once on the bike course, the men’s race really started to take shape. The original lead group from the swim maintained their lead in the early stages, however by the 50km mark they had been joined by the chase group which included Vernay, Berkel, Johnson and DeBoom. Anderson loomed some seven minutes back.
About a quarter of the way in to the ride, Cameron Watt (winner of the 2008 Scody Port Macquarie Half Ironman) set his intentions by riding away from the group. He was able to extend his lead to as much as two minutes by the 90km mark, however in the final stages of the ride he was joined by local Port Macquarie athlete Adam Holborow. Watt responded by making a final surge as he approached the Ironman Village for the final time on the bike, and he was able to lead the charge in to the ride-run transition.
A tiring Holborow closely followed Watt into the run, however right behind him was a group of some ten athletes, including pre-race favourites Vernay, Berkel, DeBoom, Jacobs and Hecht.
Incredibly, Wellington had been able to ride right up with some of the leading men, and by the time she completed the 180km bike course, she had established a lead of over ten minutes on her closest rival, Rebekah Keat.
By the time the athletes headed back past the race village (approximately 7km into the run), the race had really started heating up. Vernay was running side-by-side with Berkel, setting the Port Macquarie “Team Berkel” support squad wild with excitement.
Approaching the half way mark, Vernay finally surged and was able to shake off Berkel. However he was still not to have the race all his own way, as meanwhile Jacobs had been steaming his way through the race leaders. He took the lead at the 35km mark, and for a while it appeared that an Aussie would finally reclaim the Ironman Australia title.
Ultimately, however, Vernay’s experience paid off and he was able to surge back past Jacobs in the closing lap of the run to take his third consecutive win here in Port Macquarie. Jacobs held on for second place, with Berkel rounding out the podium in a personal best time on the Port Macquarie course.
For Vernay, today’s victory was particularly special given that he was able to fend off challenge after challenge from the likes of Berkel and Jacobs. “It was a strange race today”, he said. “Finally, I got out of the swim with some strong bikers. We were able to catch the main group, but then we rode quite slowly. I was able to keep fresh on the bike, so I knew I would have a good marathon. But I did not think that Tim Berkel would run so fast.”
Vernay commented on how mentally challenging it was to run alongside Berkel, as the home-town athlete was receiving so much support from the crowds lining the run course.
When asked how he felt about being first Australian and second overall finisher today, a typically understated Jacobs simply said “pretty good”. His goal today was to secure his spot for Hawaii, so mission was well and truly accomplished.
For Berkel, third place continues his progression at this race each year, and it seems only a matter of time before the 24 year old is able to capture his firsts home-town win; a sentiment echoed later by both Vernay and Jacobs.
While the men’s race was punctuated with many lead changes throughout the day, the women’s race was all about Chrissie Wellington. In spite of Keat being able to stay with her until the end of the swim, as soon as they hit the bike it was a one-woman show. Unbelievably, Wellington was the 11th professional to finish, completing the course in under nine hours – a first for any woman over the Port Macquarie Ironman course.
“I am so immensely proud of my race today. It is such a vindication of all the hard work and my desire and passion I have for this sport.” When asked if she had been concerned about the extreme weather leading in to the race, Wellington simply said “You deal with it. We’re Ironman athletes. You deal with what you’re given.” She then credited race organisers and volunteers on delivering such a successful event in such difficult circumstances.
TOP THREE PROFESSIONAL RESULTS
Position Overall Swim Bike Run
1. Patrick Vernay (New Caledonia) 8:24:53 50:51 4:46:27 2:47:35
2. Pete Jacobs (NSW) 8:29:03 47:51 4:49:23 2:51:49
3. Tim Berkel (NSW) 8:31:43 50:50 4:47:16 2:54:37
1. Chrissie Wellington (UK) 8:57:10 50:48 5:05:02 3:01:20
2. Rebekah Keat (Qld) 9:21:33 50:55 5:16:03 3:14:35
3. Caroline Steffen (Switzerland) 9:38:44 52:28 5:14:32 3:31:43
BLK1 Article: IRONMAN AUSTRALIA BLK1 Photographer: DELLY CARR
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