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Until a year ago, Paula Newby Fraser’s Ironman-distance record time of eight hours, 50 minutes, 53 seconds was the stuff of lore, a record time. Then, last year on two separate weekends, three women beat the record, the best time earned by Dutch triathlete Yvonne Van Vlerken, who smashed the record with an 8:45:48 at the Quelle Roth Challenge.
That was before reigning two-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington showed up to this year’s Quelle Roth Challenge.
“I came into this race looking for victory, but I never expected to go that fast. Every day I have to pinch myself,” Wellington said. “I never set out with the intention of breaking world records or becoming a world champion.
Intended or not, Wellington simply destroyed the Van Vlerken’s one-year-old record. She blazed to not only the win on her debut effort at the Quelle Roth Challenge Sunday, but to a new Ironman-distance time. She combined a 50:28 swim, a course record 4:40:28 bike and a 2:57:32 marathon to crush the record in a time of 8:31:59.
After crossing to the cheering of the throngs assembled to watch history in the making and wearing her trademark smile, Wellington had a moment where her expression changed, as the gravity of the moment suddenly caught up with her, and she fought back tears. “I have take a step back every day and never take it for granted. I think being a world champion and now world record holder will take some time to sink in.”
The mens race had heavy drama as well. While heavy race favorite Normann Stadler looked to make the day his after tearing away to a six-minute lead off the bike, the run legs were not there. But for German countrymate Michael Gohner, the legs were, as a 2:41:17 run peeled him away from Aussie hopeful Pete Jacobs to take the win with the sole sub-eight-hour day in 7:55:53.
Among the women, Great Britain’s Leanda Cave was among the early leaders out of the water, but the main players on the day were forming behind her on the bike.
In the early miles of the bike, Keat stuck to Wellington, knowing that any chance of winning meant staying with the world champion, as the two made easy work of Gina Ferguson at the 15-mile mark. But Wellington put forth a surge up a short rise through the town of Heideck at the 18-mile mark that cemented the Briton’s day, as the effort popped Keat immediately off her wheel. “She took off and I couldn’t hold her.” The only mark left ahead was Wellington’s British countrymate, Cave.
But Cave was not relinquishing the lead so easily. She held fast to a precious 30-second lead for 20 miles before yielding the lead to Wellington at mile 38. But her effort cost her dearly; she immediately lost time once losing the lead. Through the first lap of the bike at mile 63, she was still in second place, but already over three minutes back, and Cave would continue to fade through the day. The inevitable was occurring; Wellington was truly running away with the race. “I just couldn’t believe my ride,” she said. “It was fast, it was clean, the weather was just perfect for going fast.” She rolled into T2 with a new Roth bike course record: 4:40:28. It was then that the record became something she accepted as a true possibility. “When I got off the bike I was like ‘oh, wow.” I was trying to do the math in my head, but math was never my strong point!”
The chase behind was a true scrap; Keat, Scotland’s Catriona Morrison and a resurgent Belinda Granger rode in close proximity in the closing miles, as Hungarian Erika Csomor scrambled alone just minutes back. Csomor’s effort to close on the trio ahead resulted in a slight bonk that forced her to back off and recover from through the rest of the ride.
By the time the three main chasers started the run, Wellington was well into the marathon—and actually experiencing some difficulties that slowed her progress a bit. “The first 10k I felt really good, the second 10k I felt shabby,” she said. “But the last half marathon was ok.”
Behind, Keat and Morrison peeled away from Granger (who was feeling the effects of being hit by a car while training earlier in the week) made the chase for second. And while Keat built her pace through the run, Morrison was forced to make several potty—and bush—stops “I sure was fertilizing a lot,” she said.
Ahead, the inevitable came to fruition. When Wellington crossed the finish, she was mobbed by family that surrounded her in an embrace. “It was great having them here to see me race,” she said. “This is the first time my brother had seen me race. Knowing they were on the sidelines gave me an extra kick.”
Keat’s 2:55:28 marathon netted her second “I was pretty shocked when I came across and started the 8:39 on the clock.”
Morrison, the former duathlon long distance world champion, was rapt to have even survived the day, let along finishing in under nine hours. “It was a massive learning experience,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting the mental torture. I learned that when you feel like stopping, you can keep going.”
When considering the many things that her victory meant, Wellington took a moment to collect her thoughts, and alluded to the fact that even in light of how impactful her time was perhaps the best is yet to come. “I’ve never lacked confidence. This sport for me is always about pushing myself as far as I can go and being as good as I can be,” she said. “This for me, actually leaves some questions. I know I can get faster, get stronger. This has given me great confidence.”
She also addressed her first Ironman-distance effort following her move late last year from TeamTBB and coach Brett Sutton to Simon Lessing, who has been coaching her in Boulder, Colorado. “I still race with the same heart and the same head and the same passion for triathlon, and I think that’s all that counts,” Wellington said. “Having said that, I give a lot of credit to Brett and the team for giving me that chance initially and teaching me the art of war—and of course to Simon and Boulder Coaching for topping it all off.”
In the mens race, Australia Pete Jacobs expectedly swam off the front of the swim pack and exited the water solo in 46:57, with a healthy two-plus minute lead. But just two minutes back, Stadler didn’t take long to join Jacobs at the front of the race. “It was my best bike of the year, by a mile,” Jacobs said. “I stayed with him through 90k and he put in a few surges, so I thought it would be better to stay steady, stretch a bit.” So Stadler rode off the front alone.
Behind Jacobs over a minute back was a solo-riding Raynard Tissink. A further minute-plus back was a mass of men including defending race champ Patrick Vernay of New Caledonia, Germans Gohner, Thomas Hellriegel and Olaf Sabatschus, New Zealander Richard Ussher, Canadian Luke Dragstra , Swede Swen Sundberg and Aussies Chris McDonald and Tim Berkel.
“I knew if I wanted a chance of winning, I couldn’t let Normann get away too much, no more than 8 or 9 minutes, Gohner said. “On the bike I was in a group, and only four of us were working—we couldn’t get away from them.”
Stadler tore into T2 with a four-minute lead on Jacobs, a five-minute lead on a fading Tissink and a six-minute buffer on the chase group. Yet despite the solid lead, his run pace was suffering, and it would not carry him. By the 12k mark, Stadler was captured. While Jacobs stood the best chance to capitalize on the slowing Stadler, it was Gohner who burst from the pack to pass Jacobs and earn the lead from Stadler, while Jacobs simply tried to stay in the same area code as the powerful German. “.I was wanting a good run and was going well at first, but at 15k I got slower,” Jacobs said. “I never got a second wind and was feeling very ordinary.”
The 2:41 marathon peeled Gohner away to his first Ironman-distance victory, after finishing second at Ironman Germany last year in Frankfurt. “It’s an overwhelming feeling,” Gohner said. “Finishing first here in Roth is special—there is something special with the race organization, with the fans, the community. To go from 8:11 to 7:55, that’s a quantum leap for me. It’s the highlight of my year.”
Jacobs went into energy management mode through the remainder of the run in second, simply trying to hold onto the position. He limped home on a 2:49 marathon to eke second from Kiwi Ussher, who finish just 14 seconds back. “It’s bittersweet, but to have such a poor run and still finish second in 8:02, I can’t complain. I’m proud of the way I raced.”
Stadler took up fourth, just over a minute behind Ussher.
The big surprise came with the third-place finish of Ussher. He was fifth at Ironman New Zealand earlier this year, but the Kiwi is better known he was an adventure racing world champion “I’m at home in a kayak on top of the water than being in the water, so I think I copped a few punches and kicks from Chrissie,” he said at the press conference to a round of laughs. “I’ve been dabbling in the Ironman distance, but the day was beyond anything I ever expected.”
2009 Quelle Challenge Roth
July 12, 2009, Roth, Germany
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Michael Gohner (GER) 7:55:53
2. Pete Jacobs (AUS) 8:02:01
3. Richard Ussher (NZL) 8:02:15
4. Normann Stadler (GER) 8:03:43
5. Patrick Vernay (NCL) 8:03:46
6. Olaf Sabatschus (GER) 8:06:01
7. Raynard Tissink (RSA) 8:07:18
8. Swen Sundberg (SWE) 8:07:50
9. Luke Dragstra (CAN) 8:13:51
10. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 8:15:03
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR) 8:31:59
2. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 8:39:24
3. Catriona Morrison (SCO) 8:48:11
4. Erika Csomor (HUN) 8:59:42
5. Belinda Granger (AUS) 9:12:12
6. Jessica Jacobs (USA) 9:25:24
7. Katja Rabe (GER) 9:25:43
8. Nicole Best (GER) 9:31:02
9. Anja Ippach (GER) 9:37:08
10. Christine Waitz (GER) 9:42:21