Wire-to-wire race-leading efforts netted American Tim O’Donnell and Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae victories at the inaugural Viterra Ironman 70.3 Calgary Sunday.
The race and course was developed with Ironman veteran Canadian Lisa Bentley’s input (who also raced to an 11th place finish on the day in addition to her organizing duties), and earned accolades from athletes for it’s charming natural beauty as the bike wound through rolling prarieland on its way from the silt-rich, glacier-fed blue waters of Ghost Lake at the foot of the Canadian Rockies south toward Calgary.
But the placid wheat fields and ponds dotted by grazing cattle and horses on quiet country roads belied a challenging parcours—one much more challenging than initially anticipated. “The bike wasn’t as fast as I thought it was gonna be,” said Carfrae following the race. “It was a strength course, but definitely had some fun fast sections.” Men’s runner-up Ben Hoffman echoed the sentiment. “It was hard,” he said flatly. “It’s a strong man’s course, and especially with the run with the hills.” At the end of the day, it was O’Donnell and Carfrae who put their stamp of authority on the race with dominant victories—and applied a series of course records to the debut event.
In the mens race, it was all O’Donnell, all day. The Naval Academy graduate has his eye on the 2012 Olympics and ITU World Cup racing, but with victories at Ironman 70.3 St. Croix and a runner-up finish at the Rev3 Triathlon, it’s apparent he has a calling in longer format events.
Displaying his short-course swim speed, O’Donnell was out of Ghost Lake in 24:34 with Australia’s Stephen Hackett on his feet—and no one else. With the cool early temps warming the air and two minutes on any chasers, the stage was set. Immediately, O’Donnell dispatched with Hackett. “I approached it as a 40k bike and pinned it,” O’Donnell said. “About 12k into it, I was able to pop him. That was a key part of the race right there.”
A solo pursuit two minutes arrears was led by Hackett throughout the rolling bike, with the duo of Ben Hoffman of Durango, Colo., and New Zealander Jamie Whyte a further minute back.
O’Donnell was untouchable throughout the bike, entering T2 in 2:10:03, with nearly three minutes of comfortable buffer on a fast-fading Hackett. Behind him, Hoffman and Whyte were setting up for the kill. Through transition and just three miles into the run, Hoffman, with Whyte in tow, passed Hackett and would duel the rest of the run for second.
Ahead, O’Donnell simply drove for home, clocking a 1:17 half marathon to win in 3:55:28—the only sub-four-hour race of the day. His second 70.3 win this season, a trend is emerging for O’Donnell, one he’s earned thanks to some coaching changes at the hands of his coach, Cliff English, and good ‘ol speedwork at the track in Boulder, Colo. with fellow American Matt Reed. “My focus this year really isn’t about racing; it’s about working on my running,” O’Donnell said. “If you look at the halfs I did last year, getting run down getting off the bike, now I’m starting to come off the bike behind people and running them down.”
The battle for second would be won by Hoffman, who’s runner-up finish ranks not only a one of the best results in his career but also serves as a bellwether; Hoffman scored top five finishes at 70.3 New Orleans and 70.3 Boise, and a top 10 at a stacked Wildflower Long Course Triathlon earlier this year. “I’ve always been steady, but to crack top five and have results against some really good fields, it’s been really good.”
The womens swim was a pack affair. Local pro Lisa Mensink of Timex/Trek Triathlon Team exited Ghost Lake first in 27:24, with Australians Carfrae and Amelia Pearson, as well as Canadians Jennifer Coombs, Ayesha Rollinson, Tara Ross and Sara Gross exiting the water within seconds of the leader.
Despite a minute deficit, it was Quebec’s Magali Tisseyre, recent winner of Ironman 70.3 Boise, who made up a minute deficit out of the water to pass the early bike leaders. After six miles of the bike, there was just one woman, a minute up the road, Tisseyre was chasing: Carfrae. “Even though my legs weren’t feeling very good, I really hammered the beginning of the bike,” Tisseyre said.
The swim did leave two early hopefuls, Catriona Morrison of Scotland, and Montana’s Linsey Corbin—each recording 29-and-change swims—playing catch-up throughout the bike.
Although Tisseyre was dropping the chasers, it was Carfrae dropping Tisseyre. While the gap between the two was a minute in the early miles of the bike, Carfrae’s steady tempo extended her lead after 56 miles to nearly four minutes. “I had a really good swim and that kicked it off nicely, “Carfrae said.
Corbin and Morrison cut through the field to ride within earshot of Mensink in third place late in the bike, but while Corbin’s Ironman legs failed her on the run, Morrison was able to pass Mensink for third, with Tisseyre in her crosshairs.
While Carfrae could fairly coast the run, which has always served as her ace-in-the-hole discipline, she was ensuring any victory would be a crushing one. Carfrae’s stunning 1:19:45 half marathon not only carried her to the win by 10 minutes, it also stood as the third-fastest run among the pro men and women. (Only O’Donnell’s 1:17:47 and Kirk Nelson’s 1:18:31 were faster). “It was pretty unique to lead the whole race,” Carfrae said. “I’m usually running someone down on the run.”
Just seven miles into the 13.1-mile run, Tisseyre was joined—then passed—by Morrison for second place. And a battle would ensue. “At Boise I ran alone, so this was a test for me,” said Tisseyre who managed to lock onto the Scot’s pace. “Then she was staying at the same distance, and at the last hill I saw she was tired.” Tisseyre re-assumed second place from Morrison, and finished second, just 25 seconds ahead of the Scot. Afterward, admitted she was curious how her legs would feel after her recent podium finish at Quelle Challenge Roth, her first Ironman-distance race. “Well, now I know how it feels!” Morrison said with a laugh. “I basically worked as hard as my body would let me, and on the bike I wasn’t able to push the watts I’d like to have. And that last two k of the run, that was it—my legs were totally gone, and Magali’s a class athlete—she fought hard.”
2009 Viterra Ironman 70.3 Calgary
August 2, 2009, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Tim O’Donnell (USA) 3:55:28
2. Ben Hoffmann (USA) 4:02:51
3. Jamie Whyte (NZL) 4:03:58
4. Kirk Nelson (USA) 4:04:14
5. James Hadley (GBR) 4:06:49
6. Brent Poulson (CAN) 4:09:29
7. James Cotter (USA) 4:10:03
8. Stephen Hackett (AUS) 4:10:21
9. Michael Simpson (USA) 4:11:17
10. Kyle Marcotte (USA) 4:13:36
1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 4:11:05
2. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 4:21:05
3. Catriona Morrison (SCO) 4:21:30
4. Lisa Mensick (CAN) 4:25:36
5. Linsey Corbin (USA) 4:26:15
6. Amelia Pearson (AUS) 4:30:59
7. Danelle Kabush (CAN) 4:33:26
8. Sara Gross (CAN) 4:35:14
9. Rosemarie Gerspacher (CAN) 4:35:45
10. Ayesha Rollinson (CAN) 4:36:23