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Athletes awoke to howling winds in Pucón on Sunday morning and Mother Nature calmed only slightly prior to the swim start, promising a windy ride. Sunny skies and temperatures that soared near 90 degrees added to the day’s weather conditions, providing a variety of challenges for pros and age group athletes alike
Local favorite Valentina Carvallo was uncontested in her historic victory as Chile’s first female athlete to claim the crown. She led the race from start to finish, besting American Sarah Piampiano and Frederici Frontina of Uruguay who finished second and third respectively. Brazil’s Reinaldo Colucci captured the men’s title after nearly losing a sprint finish to fleet-footed Daniel Fontana of Argentina, who started the run more than three minutes down from Colucci. Chile also earned bragging rights on the men’s podium, with Felipe Van de Wyngard claiming third.
The Men’s Race
Then men’s race featured powerful performances by several athletes with Olympic pedigrees. While several of the top men were in striking distance of one another exiting the swim, Reinaldo Colucci (BRZ), Pucón’s 2010 champion and a London Olympian, quickly sped ahead on the bike. In hot pursuit of Colucci was a group including Daniel Fontana (ARG), Luke McKenzie (AUS), Santiago Ascenco (BRZ) and Felipe Van de Wyngard (CHI), but by halfway through the ride Colucci had opened the gap to nearly two minutes. He widened his lead by yet another minute by the time he reached T2, making him an obvious favorite for the win with his long legs and speedy ITU-trained stride. But Fontana proved a dangerous adversary to the Brazilian, cutting a minute per each of three laps into Colucci’s lead and leaving fans curious as to which man would in fact appear at the finish first. Fontana came just shy of running past his rival, however, surrendering in a sprint finish and crossing the line a mere three seconds behind exhausted champion Colucci. The two men posted times of 4:04:12 and 4:04:15.
“I caught him at the last corner,” said Fontana afterward, “But I think he had a reserve tank and mine was empty! I have speed because I also come from an Olympic background [Fontana competed in both Athens and Beijing], but this is also my off season. I’ve lived in Italy for 10 years, so I came here from the snow. But I was born in Patagonia in Argentina, and so it is so nice for me to be here with my family and friends cheering.”
Van de Wyngard, yet another London Olympian, finished in third in a time of 4:08:43 to the roar of the crowds welcoming home the first Chilean athlete. A clearly elated “Vande” embraced his wife and son at the line and caressed her obviously pregnant belly in acknowledgement of the soon-to-be new addition to their family. Spain’s Marcel Zamora proved his running prowess by blasting past several of the other pro men to ultimately finish fourth in 4:11:38. And Santiago Ascenco, last year’s second-place Pucón finisher, rounded out the men’s top five.
Following the race, seventh-place finisher Luke McKenzie (AUS) and ninth-place finisher Ben Hoffman echoed one another’s words as to the difficulty of the course coupled with their off-season fitness.
“Oh, those hills on the run!” remarked McKenzie. “I’m not in shape this early for hills like that.”
“Wow. Welcome back to reality! That run is insane!” said Hoffman.
The Women’s Race
Valentina Carvallo (CHI) was the obvious fan favorite here in Pucón, and from the moment she exited the water until she completed the grueling run she put on a performance worthy of their pride. Carvallo was well ahead of the other women out of the water, and by halfway through the bike she led second-place Sarah Piampiano (USA) by almost six minutes. The third female cyclist, Frederici Frontina (URU) trailed more than 23 minutes behind Carvallo, with Amanda Balding (AUS) four minutes further in arrears and suffering from an unusual bout of muscle cramps.
Carvallo continued to grow the gap to second, and once she had logged the first lap on the run she enjoyed a 12-minute buffer over Piampiano. With very little question remaining as to who would wear the women’s crown, spectators eagerly awaited Carvallo’s arrival at the finish, a feat she accomplished in 4:39:43. The North American Piampiano – making her debut appearance in Pucón – hung tough, keeping a strong hold on her position and ultimately earning silver. Third place went to Frontina and Balding, the fourth and final female pro to finish, soldiered on to the end despite walking much of the run.
“It was really tough, but really good!” said runner-up Piampiano at the finish. “For me this is a really early season race, so I feel good about the day. There wasn’t any fight – Valentina was absolutely the strongest girl today and she had a great race.”
Piampiano went on to compliment the South American athletes, the community of Pucón and the race organizers saying, “This is honestly one of the most positive races I’ve been to. Everyone’s just so friendly and so chill, but also incredibly well organized. The vibe is really positive. I’ll definitely be back.”
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