Britain’s Leanda cave takes the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
The women’s race in Kona saw the return of Caroline Steffen, who with a greatly improved run and in the absence of Chrissie Wellington, was one of the strong favourites to win, but with Britons Leanda Cave and Rachel Joyce in the mix, as well as Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae and the USA’s Mary Beth Ellis, the Swiss athlete would have her work cut out.
For the first time ever, the female race began five minutes after the men’s giving the pro women free reign over the glittering waters of Kailua Bay for what would prove to be one of the most exciting races ever in Kona.
With the speed that’s earned her the reputation of being one of triathlon’s fastest swimmers, the USA’s Amanda Stevens broke away from the rest of the field to secure the day’s fastest swim split of 55:09. The rest of the women started to stream in a minute later with Britain’s Leanda Cave, the USA’s Mary Beth Ellis, Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen and Britain’s Rachel Joyce all within two minutes of one another. Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae, perhaps Ironman’s fastest female runner and 2010 world champion, was another two and a half minutes down, five minutes off the lead and with work to do on the bike.
Cave and Ellis were the first to show their strength on two wheels, pulling away from the rest of the group while Steffen blitzed through her small swim deficit to join them, intent on controlling the race during her strongest discipline.
As well as searing heat and severe crosswinds to contend with, the women’s bike leg had additional drama as first Steffen, then Cave and finally Ellis were all handed four-minute penalties.
Steffen, riding hard in the leading pack early on, was first to receive time in the penalty box after which she charged onwards to return to the head of the race, catching Cave and teamTBB team mate Ellis by the half-way turn around point.
With a tailwind helping to push the leading ladies onwards in the direction of T2, Cave, still riding strongly, was forced to take a four-minute time-out as Steffen and Ellis surged onwards.
Unable to escape Ellis, Steffen pushed on and with around 15km to go, a drafting penalty for Ellis was meted out, which the American would take in T2.
Steffen was first off the bike with a 5:06:49 split – the second fastest of the day – while Ellis, nipping at her heels (in 5:08:06) zipped into the penalty box.
Cave was next to pull on her trainers, getting swiftly out onto the run around three minutes behind Ellis and six-minutes behind Steffen. Behind them all, Carfae’s improved 5:12:18 cycle time, which saw her come off the bike fourth, and the fact the others had each lost four minutes, left the Australian only seven minutes 30 seconds down on the lead.
As Steffen powered on, a picture of composed strength, Cave picked up Ellis, the American struggling to keep with the Brit as heat haze lifted from the asphalt.
Having burst onto the run course, Carfrae was bearing down on all the frontrunners with her ever-impressive speed and by the fabled Energy Lab section at around 16 miles in, the diminutive Aussie had already overhauled Ellis and had Cave ahead of her.
Further back, Germany’s Sonja Tajsich, who began the run nearly 15 minutes back was striding through the field at a pace quicker even than Carfrae.
As Carfrae paced up to Cave’s heels ready to overtake, it was the Brit who proved to be the stronger of the pair, not only holding the Australian off, but actually pulling away from her – and all without a hint of looking under pressure.
Despite improving markedly on her running in 2012, as the run wore on, Steffen seemed to be suffering in the heat, with no amount of ice and water from the aid stations stemming the fatigue that saw her stride noticeably shorten. By comparison, Cave seemed to be getting ever-stronger, the distance between the two ever-narrowing until, around two miles from the finish, Cave took the lead in the world championships.
In contrast to Jacobs, there was no elated mile of honour; Cave ran determinedly on, not grabbing a Union Jack flag until the final few metres of Ali’i Drive to cross the line as the first female – and second athlete ever – to claim the Ironman World Championship as reining 70.3 World Champion. Her 3:03:13 was third fastest on the day and first among the favourites, enough to claim victory in 9:15:54 and continue British dominance in the women’s race at Kona.
Steffen, showing true strength in spite of clear suffering, ran on to hold onto second in 9:16:58. Meanwhile, Carfrae, whose performance had begun to dip following dropping a drinks bottle on the bike course, had to maintain her focus to beat Tajsich, who ran the day’s fastest marathon in 2:59:26. Carfrae stayed strong and closed out the podium in 9:21:41, with Tajsich fourth (9:22:45), and Ellis fifth (9:22:57).
Top 5 Women
Leanda Cave (GBR) 9:15:54
Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:16:58
Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 9:21:41
Sonja Tajsich (GER) 9:22:45
Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 9:22:57
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