The pre-race prediction for Auckland’s ITU Grand Final was for a close battle between two Olympic medalists for the world title: Australia’s Erin Densham and Sweden’s Lisa Norden. But what would a world championship be without a few surprises?
Before the race started, sickness came into play for both Densham (the flu) and Norden (food poisoning). Unfortunately the flu forced Densham to pull out of the race early on the bike, but Norden pushed through, even after spending the morning in the emergency room the day of the race.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to start the race today,” Norden said after the race. “I dug the deepest I’ve ever dug in my life.”
Once Densham dropped out, all Norden needed to do was finish sixth or higher to take the world title.
First out of the water was Dutch competitor Rachel Klamer, with American Sarah Groff, Norden, Densham and New Zealand hometown favorite Andrea Hewitt all out in the top 20. Both Densham Hewitt were in the lead pack for the first lap but dropped back slightly and exited the water 10 seconds behind. German Anne Haug was more than a minute down from the leaders into T1.
Onto the bike, a pack of about 20 women stuck together for most of the ride, with Norden, Hewitt, Chilean Barbara Riveros Diaz and Groff in the mix. Haug worked early on the bike to bridge herself up to from the chase pack to lead pack within one lap. At halfway, the chase group—which included American Gwen Jorgensen—was 45 seconds down, after five laps that gap increased to 57 seconds, then 1:10 after six laps.
The course’s steep hills forced many lead riders out of the saddle, including New Zealand’s Kate McIlroy, who took a gamble and went for a solo breakaway up the hill after the fifth lap, hoping to put some time in on the girls behind her. She created an 11-second gap at best, but by the last lap she was taken back into the group.
With a quick 30-second transition, Haug was first of T2, leading a group of 11 women around the four-lap 10K course. Jorgensen left T2 1:15 back from the leaders. Although her deficit didn’t initially pose her as a threat to the group, she kept edging closer and closer to the pack with every lap. With one lap to go, she had joined the leaders.
Haug took the lead with 1K to go, and crossed the line first to win in 2:10:50. Jorgensen fought her way up to second with a 34:10 run, the fastest of the day, finishing 10 seconds behind Haug (2:11:00). She was closely followed by Riveros Diaz in third, who crossed the line one second later (2:11:01).
“I don’t think I had a great swim and I missed the front group on the bike, but I just tried to do my best with the pack I was in,” Jorgensen says. “I knew everyone had to suffer on this course … I think everyone goes for it—when you get off the bike you want to put together the best run you can, and I was feeling good thankfully and I kept moving up and tried to ran the fastest I could.”
Haug, who—along with Groff and Norden—is coached by Darren Smith, has taken a lot of top 10 places this year but is typically just outside the podium. “I’m like in a bubble and I hope I can believe it when everything settles down. It was a perfect race and unbelievable, ” she says.
Norden came in fourth, with Great Britain’s Jodie Stimpson rounding out the top five. Taking ninth was Jorgensen’s USA teammate Groff, who just missed medaling at the Olympic Games this summer. She rode most of the course 20 meters behind the group, slightly nervous about her loose handlebars and riding in a pack. She hung on to the main groups all day, but didn’t have the sprinting speed at the end to crack the podium.
To an outsider, Groff’s season looks solid, but the almost-medaling moment has stuck with her. “Nobody can prepare you for the build up and eventual let down after the Olympic Games,” she says. “You have to experience it for yourself and now I know what it’s like. There’s nothing bigger than both the high and low of almost getting a medal. I think it’s going to take me a while to catch momentum again. I’m looking forward to 2013 and stepping it up a level. I had one race this year and it was the Olympic Games. … There’s still a lot to be proud of, but to have a great race here today would’ve been the icing on the cake.”
The ITU World Champion title went to Norden, who also has sprint world championship and Under23 world championship titles to her name. Haug’s performance bumped her up to silver, and Hewitt, who placed seventh in the race, earned bronze overall. Because she led in the rankings going into Auckland, Densham had enough points to earn fifth after a DNF.
“It’s been an amazing year with lots of ups and downs but if you have enough downs at some stage you’re going to get the ups,” Norden says, calling 2012 “the best year I’ve ever had.”
2012 ITU World Triathlon Series Auckland – Grand Final
Oct. 20, 2012 – Auckland, New Zealand
1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run
1. Anne Haug GER 02:10:49
2. Gwen Jorgensen USA + 00:10
3. Barbara Riveros Diaz CHI + 00:11
4. Lisa Norden SWE + 00:14
5. Jodie Stimpson GBR + 00:15
6. Rachel Klamer NED + 00:19
7. Andrea Hewitt NZL + 00:20
8. Kate McIlroy NZL + 00:22
9. Sarah Groff USA + 00:31
10. Juri Ide JPN + 00:32