Seven-time Tour de France Lance Armstrong, fresh off his first 70.3 win in Florida just two weeks ago, used Ironman 70.3 Hawaii as preparation for his first Ironman in France in just three weeks. But he put in an impressive performance over triathlon veterans Greg Bennett and Chris Lieto to take his second 70.3 win in 3:50:55 and break the course record (previously held by two-time Ironman world champion Chris McCormack, who set the record of 3:57:18 in 2007). Montana-based pro Linsey Corbin, who was the runner-up at the Wildflower Long Course triathlon in April and who’s gearing up for Ironman Austria at the beginning of July, used a solid bike and run to take the win and also set a course record of 4:26:09 (previously set at 4:28:16 by Michellie Jones in 2005). Despite some of the toughest conditions ever seen on this course, the deep pro fields led to some fast racing times.
The 1.2-mile swim started from Hapuna Beach State Park on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. In the men’s race, the lead pack out of the water contained all the pre-race favorites: American Tim Marr was first out of the water in 23:16, closely followed by former Olympian Greg Bennett in second, Lance Armstrong in third, Maik Twelsiek in fourth and Chris Lieto (last year’s runner-up at this race) in sixth, all within 16 seconds of each other.
Bennett used his ITU transition speed to be first onto the 56-mile bike course, which travels sections of the Queen K Highway, infamous for its brutal crosswinds, and today had some of the toughest conditions ever seen. By the first turnaround at the Mauna Lani Resort (less than 5 miles), Armstrong caught up to Bennett and the two were building the lead over Lieto (44 seconds back) and Twelsiek (56 seconds back). Before the race, Armstrong said he wasn’t going to wait to make his move—and he wasn’t kidding. By the turnaround point at Hawi, he had grown his lead to 1:56 over second-place Lieto; Bennett fell to third at 2:36 back; Twelsiek, who finished second at Ironman St. George last month, was 5:07 back. Armstrong finished the bike in 2:01:46, Lieto trailed by 3:39 into T2, and Bennett was almost 7 minutes down onto the run.
Bennett, 40 years old, still has some serious short-course run speed, and he gained 40 seconds on Armstrong in the first mile, passing Lieto, who was obviously not over his Achilles injury, losing about three minutes to Armstrong in the first mile of the run. Early on, it looked like it would shape up to be a close race to the finish as Bennett slowly reeled in Armstrong, but by 5 miles the gap was holding steady. By halfway through the run, Twelsiek pulled into third place. Bennett’s run just wasn’t strong enough today to catch Armstrong, who finished in 3:50:58, a new course record. Bennett finished in 3:53:40 (which also broke the previous course record), and Lieto was able to pull into third to take the final podium spot in 4:05:55.
In the women’s race, American Hillary Biscay had been swimming in the second men’s pack and was first out of the water in 25:21, establishing a strong early lead. The rest of the pre-race favorites were in the next swim pack: defending champion and Big Island local Bree Wee (second place and 1:40 back), New Zealander Julia Grant (fourth place), Aussie Kate Bevilaqua (fifth place), American Linsey Corbin (sixth place) and Canadian Melanie McQuaid (eighth place).
The pack, which included McQuaid, Wee, Grant and Corbin, quickly caught up to Biscay in the first five miles of the race. McQuaid took over the lead, and then Corbin was in the lead by the turnaround at Hawi. Corbin had a 33-second lead over McQuaid; Grant trailed 1:02 back, and Wee was 1:23 back. Corbin’s bike split was 2:52:02, Grant pulled into second (3:10 off the lead into T2), followed by McQuaid (3:32 back), Wee (3:38 back) and American first-year pro Beth Walsh (7:35 back).
Corbin maintained her lead throughout the run, so it looked to be a battle for the next four spots. Grant and Wee pulled into second and third, and a hard-charging Walsh passed McQuaid to get into fourth place. By mile 9, Corbin still had a lead of 4:45 over Grant; Wee was 5:45 off the lead and Walsh another minute back. No one came within striking distance of Corbin on the run, so she held onto her lead and finished in 4:26:09, a new course record. Grant held onto second place, finishing in 4:30:17, while Walsh blitzed the run course to pass Wee and round out the podium.
Rohto Ironman 70.3 Hawaii
Kohala Coast, Hawaii – June 2, 2012
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Lance Armstrong (USA) 3:50:55
2. Greg Bennett (USA) 3:53:41
3. Chris Lieto (USA) 4:05:55
4. Maik Twelsiek (GER) 4:06:16
5. Guy Crawford (NZL) 4:06:59
1. Linsey Corbin (USA) 4:26:09
2. Julia Grant (NZL) 4:30:17
3. Beth Walsh (USA) 4:31:47
4. Bree Wee (USA) 4:32:45
5. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 4:38:57
– Lance Armstrong: Back On Top
– Video: Lance Armstrong Talks 70.3 Race Tactics
– Pro Bike: Lance Armstrong’s Trek Speed Concept
– From the Inside Triathlon Archives: Being Bennett
– Linsey Corbin From San Diego
– Video: Melanie McQuaid’s Breakout Race