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Unseasonably stormy weather and pounding surf over the past few days at Laguna Lang Co resort in Vietnam threatened the swim portion of Sunday’s inaugural Laguna Lang Co Triathlon. All day on Saturday race organizers strategized contingency plans, even announcing at the evening’s pre-race briefing that the likelihood of the swim going forward was a mere 10% and promising to make a final call at 4:00 a.m. on race morning. Fortunately Mother Nature granted a slight shift in the weather and athletes awoke to cloudy but dry conditions, somewhat calmer waters and the news that anyone wishing to swim would have the opportunity to do so. For athletes uncomfortable swimming in the high surf, a seamless transfer to the event’s duathlon category was allowed. With both the competitive aims and safety concerns of the athletes addressed, race morning kicked into full swing.
The swim was indeed an adventurous one and had to be slightly shortened (from 1800 to approximately 1200-meters) to avoid a section of powerful current. But the athletes choosing to swim embraced the challenge, many seeking out last minute pre-race advice from pros Chris McCormack and Belinda Granger–both raised on Australia’s high-surf beaches–as to how best navigate the swell. Not surprisingly, McCormack led the men’s field out of the water, followed closely by American Chris Lieto. The two super-bikers enjoyed an early lead out of T1 but were captured at the 20-kilometer mark by former professional cyclist Massimo Cigana (ITA). Cigana, a three-time champion of the event’s sister race, the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, pushed hard on the bike to open up a significant gap over McCormack and Lieto, who he later admitted are his triathlon idols. By T2 he was well into the lead, followed five minutes later by Lieto and another five minutes to McCormack. Cigana continued to push the pace through the race’s two-lap 12-kilometer run course (which takes place entirely on the pathways and greens of the resort’s Nick Faldo golf course), proving his prowess as an all-around athlete with the day’s best run split of 24:57. His first place finish, in a time of 2:28:29, was more than 11 minutes faster than his closest rival. Early on in the run it seemed that Lieto would clinch second place, however a calf strain slowed him to a walk after the first lap, ultimately landing him in fourth. McCormack continued to run strong and claimed second place while Justin Granger (AUS), another long-time Laguna Phuket Triathlon devotee, rounded out the men’s podium in third.
In the women’s race Radka Vodickova (CZE), also a three-time Laguna Phuket Triathlon champion, exited the surly swim 30 seconds ahead of Belinda Granger. That gap stayed consistent throughout the bike, with Vodickova serving as a rabbit to the hard-chasing Australian. Unable to close the gap, Granger, likewise a former Laguna Phuket Triathlon champion, lost a few precious minutes to Vodickova on the run and the athlete from the Czech Republic was proudly crowned the first Laguna Lang Co women’s champion. Granger was elated nonetheless with her second-place finish, and third on the women’s podium was age-group athlete Sarah Wheeler, editor-in-chief of TriMag Asia.
Following the finish, the pro athletes had nothing but praise for the inaugural event in Vietnam:
“I am very honored to win the first year race,” said an elated Cigana. “My swim was good because I’ve been working very hard on it. Then on the bike I caught to Macca and Lieto and just pushed very hard. I wanted to open the gap as much as possible. On the run I just enjoyed the beautiful golf course and countryside. I love racing here. All the people and volunteers are so friendly. And to beat Macca and Lieto is also an honor. I am very proud.”
He went on to laud the bike course conditions in particular:
“I’m very happy about the road. It was very safe for everyone, very beautiful and very good conditions. Only at one point on the road we had some water buffalo!”
Cigana also voiced a sentiment shared by the entire pro contingent when asked about the pre-race concerns regarding the swim. “Without a swim it’s not a triathlon,” he said. “It’s a different sport. So I’m very glad we were able to swim.”
McCormack likewise praised the race as well as his Italian rival. “Oh it’s a beautiful course!” he said. “But man–that was embarrassing! Massimo was amazing! It’s amazing to see an athlete in that form. He just flew by me.”
Vodickova–who notably finished fourth overall–admitted to struggling on the swim. “It was the most difficult swim of my career,” she said. “But it was fun! On the bike I had to race very hard because Belinda is just so strong. The whole course was so beautiful–the bike and the run just so beautiful. I hope next year so many more people come here to race and to see Vietnam. I’m sure it’s going to become a top place for triathlon–for training and racing–because it is just perfect here!”
Massimo Cigana (ITA) 2:28:29
Chris McCormack (AUS) 2:39:46
Justin Granger (AUS) 2:49:49
Chris Lieto (USA) 3:06:48
Radka Vodickova (CZE) 2:52:14
Belinda Granger (AUS) 2:55:30