Spain’s Eneko Llanos thrives at Ironman Melbourne despite gruelling conditions to take the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship.
With wind lashing the Melbourne coast, sending waves careening into those athletes determined enough to brave the waters for a pre-race warm up, the swim leg at the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship was halved to 1.9km.
The distance alteration signalled that all bets were off for fast swimmers hoping to break away in the water and stay away on the bike. Instead, it seemed all the more likely that some of the sport’s biggest names would be the ones to claim victory.
The swim saw Australia’s Clayton Fettell and teammate Joe Lampe surge through the swells, the pair sticking to their game plan of swimming fast to get out on the bike with time in hand. They careened from the waves and stormed up the beach in 19:32, with fellow Aussie Luke Bell third in 20:16.
Llanos and Alexander left the water in 20:30 and 20:33 respectively while Vanhoenacker was off the pace despite the shortened swim in 16th place, more than two minutes behind. The USA’s Jordan Rapp, another athlete expected to benefit from the truncated swim was back in 29th place, with more than four minutes to make up.
A brief spell of Aussie dominance formed early on in the bike leg with Fettell, Lampe and Bell quickly being joined by Alexander, who took to the head of the race to put down some serious wattage, grimacing with effort as he worked with his countrymen to get away from the chasers.
Vanhoenacker’s determination-fuelled legs soon saw him begin to blitz through his deficit. Llanos followed, the pair bridging up to Alexander’s group by around 25km despite the brutally gusting headwinds that threatened to sap energy and speed before the turnaround point.
Dropping Lampe, the leading group was soon fixed to include Alexander, Fettell, Bell, Llanos, Vanhoenacker and another Aussie, Chris Legh. Entering the East Link tunnel leading up to the 45km turnaround point, the leaders’ speeds soared past 70kmph without the athlete-hungry winds to test them. Behind the front pack, Rapp was riding hard, but still 2mins 35secs behind.
The winds pushing the athletes back towards race HQ, Tyler Butterfield of Bermuda and Australia’s Tim Reed latched onto the front pack while Llanos soon decided the time was right to attempt an escape. The Spaniard managed a small gap of 20 seconds before the rest of the leaders rallied to reel him in. Next it was Vanhoenacker’s turn to try and break away. Gearing up, the Belgian slid away from the others with ease, his advantage blossoming to 3mins 30secs by the final turn back to T2 despite Alexander’s attempts to pull him back.
Vanhoenacker continued to pile on the speed, reaching T2 in 4:22:32, the day’s fastest bike split, to begin the run with an advantage of nearly five minutes on the chasers following a blistering transition. Meanwhile, Rapp came of the bike in seventh, 10:30 down.
Llanos and Alexander immediately set about chasing the Belgian down – running side by side and eating slowly into Vanhoenacker’s lead. By 10km, the pair had only managed to pull back five seconds for each kilometre run – not enough to ensure victory if the Belgian maintained his apparently inexorable pace.
By half way through the marathon, Llanos managed to pull away from Alexander – the defending champ beginning to struggle and lose time but continuing to run doggedly. Llanos on the other hand just seemed to be getting stronger. Determined to catch Vanhoenacker, he strode on to narrow the deficit, claiming back over two minutes in the next 10km.
By 35km, Llanos was less than a minute behind, with Alexander holding third 3mins 35secs back. 10 minutes of hard running later were all the Spaniard needed to make the catch as Vanhoenacker – visibly exhausted – was neither unable to maintain the pace he’d set at the marathon’s beginning or respond to being passed, an indication that his pacing – like in last year’s Ironman World Championship – was just a little off in Melbourne.
Llanos continued with his decisive move and with a smile on his face and time to high-five spectators in the final kilometre, pushed on to the finish line, confident of his advantage over Vanhoenacker and Alexander.
The Spaniard claimed victory in 7:36:08 to win the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship – and his fifth Ironman – with a 2:43:35 marathon despite the tough race conditions.
Vanhoenacker dug deep to hold onto second, crossing the line in 7:38:59. Alexander rounded out the podium in 7:39:37, just six days after the birth of his third child. Jordan Rapp continued his upward trajectory during the run to claim fourth place in 7:50:54 with Chris Legh completing the top five in 7:52:29.
Top 10 Male Finishers
- Eneko Llanos (Spain) 7:36:08
- Marino Vanhoenacker (Belgium) 7:38:59
- Craig Alexander (Australia) 7:39:37
- Jordan Rapp (United States) 7:50:54
- Christopher Legh (Australia) 7:52:29
- Per Bittner (Germany) 7:58:28
- Jimmy Johnsen (Denmark) 7:59:37
- Jeremy Jurkiewicz (France) 8:00:50
- Petr Vabrousek (Czech Republic) 8:01:09
- Tyler Butterfield (United States) 8:02:06
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