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Luxembourg’s Dirk Bockel and Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen rebounded from disappointing performances at last year’s Ironman World Championship to claim a slew of KPR points, prize money and bragging rights by winning against tough pro fields at the third running of the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne, Australia.
Unlike last year when the swim had to be shortened due to the conditions, the water was ideal for 2.4 miles of swimming. A large group of contenders made up the front pack out of the water. Benjamin Sanson (FRA), Axel Zeebroek (BEL), Harry Wiltshire (GBR), Daniel Halksworth (GBR), Courtney Atkinson (AUS), Paul Matthews (AUS), Christian Kemp (AUS), Dirk Bockel (LUX), Casey Munro (AUS) and David Dellow (AUS) and Peter Robertson (AUS) all entered T1 within 30 seconds of each other. The second pack out of the water came two minutes later and included pre-race favorites Craig Alexander (AUS), Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) and Luke McKenzie (AUS).
McKenzie struggled with a helmet problem in transition and fell back a few more minutes before hopping onto the bike. Zeebroek and Dellow took control of the front pack and worked to keep the chasers away. The front group kept contact with the fast pair for the first 125K, but it didn’t last to transition. Zeebroek and Dellow made a break in hopes of gaining an advantage over the faster runners. Bockel also gapped the main pack, but chose not to keep pace with the duo up front. Ultimately Zeebroek and Dellow entered T2 with the lead, with Bockel coming nearly two minutes later.
Once on the run, Zeebroek went for it and opened up a two-minute lead before surrendering to Dellow. Dellow managed to drop Zeebroek but he was overtaken by Matthews, who had made up the seven minutes he lost on the bike in the first 28km of the run. His lead didn’t last as Dellow found his way back to the top. Ultimately all of this shuffling didn’t mean much as Bockel claimed the lead at 36km and didn’t look back.
Bockel capped his day with a 2:48:35 marathon to claim the win in 8:01:02. “It was a hell of a day, I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ve taken this race seriously,” Bockel said at the finish line. “Coming to Aussie for a triathlon for a Europe guy, you are asking for trouble. Everyone laid it down out there, it was amazing. A fantastic race.”
Matthews had a rough patch, but battled back to pass Dellow and finish second in 8:02:14. Matthews, who is coached by Alexander, posted an impressive 2:44:09 marathon. Dellow rounded out the top three at 8:03:07. Austria’s Michael Weiss had the fastest bike split of the day and finished fourth. Alexander finished fifth and announced at the finish line that this was his final race over the Ironman distance.
American Mary Beth Ellis opened up a sizable margin early thanks to her strong swim skills. She exited the water in 49:59. Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen finished her swim two minutes later, with Australia’s Rebekah Keat following close behind. The rest of the women started their bike rides with work to do to make up on the front three. Steffen caught Ellis by the 45km mark and the two took turns in the lead position for much of the bike. Steffen managed to break away in the final 10km and came into T2 40 seconds ahead of Ellis and Canada’s Angela Naeth, who posted the fastest bike split of the day (4:51:20) to make up for a slower swim. With Keat coming into transition six minutes back of Steffen, it looked like the winner would come from that front trio.
Steffen didn’t give the women running behind her a chance to see the front. She stormed through the marathon in 3:04:44 to claim her second win in Melbourne. Her finishing time of 8:57:57 made her the only woman to go under nine hours.
“After last year I wanted to get back to win this race,” Steffen, who is coached by two-time Ironamn world champion Chris McCormack, said after the race. “It feels like a home. I can’t say thank you enough it’s a great course and a great support the aid stations are amazing.”
Ellis cruised in for second, finishing in 9:02:15. American Kim Schwabenbauer had the fastest run (3:01:34) to finish second eight minutes behind Ellis. Keat earned fourth with Denmark’s Asa Lundstrom finishing fifth.
Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships
Melbourne, Australia – March 23, 2014
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Dirk Bockel (LUX) 8:01:01
2. Paul Matthews (AUS) 8:02:13
3. David Dellow (AUS) 8:03:06
4. Michael Weiss (USA) 8:03:45
5. Craig Alexander (AUS) 8:05:46
6. Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 8:08:24
7. Axel Zeebroek (BEL) 8:12:34
8. Christian Kemp (AUS) 8:14:09
9. Christian Kramer (GER) 8:15:09
10. Peter Robertson (AUS) 8:16:29
1. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 8:57:56
2. Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 9:02:14
3. Kim Schwabenbauer (USA) 9:10:05
4. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 9:11:05
5. Asa Lundstrom (SWE) 9:16:08
6. Angela Naeth (CAN) 9:21:10
7. Mareen Hufe (GER) 9:21:39
8. Simone Boag (AUS) 9:31:19
9. Rosie Oldham (AUS) 9:32:33
10. Jessica Simpson (AUS) 9:34:07