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On a blistering hot and humid day at the Challenge Laguna Phuket (CLP) triathlon, despite a number of new additions to the professional field, a pair of well-known Phuket champions proved triumphant. In the women’s race, Australian Melissa Hauschildt scored her fourth consecutive victory, putting to rest any doubt as to whether she’s fully recovered from an injury that derailed her Ironman 70.3 World Championship race earlier this year. Newbie pro Parys Edwards (GBR), who burst onto the Phuket scene with a win at last weekend’s Laguna Phuket Triathlon (LPT), posted another impressive performance for second and Radka Vodickova (CZE), also a three-time LPT champion, rounded out the women’s podium. For the men it was two-time LPT victor Ruedi Wild (SUI) who outpaced his rivals to claim the top spot. Fredrik Croneborg (SWE), who makes Phuket his full-time home and is rumored to race with coconut water as his electrolyte drink, scored second place and Australia’s Luke McKenzie was thrilled to nab third in his first attempt on the brutal course.
The Women’s Race
While Vodickova was characteristically first out of the swim in 26:54, Hauschildt’s 28:20 was swift for the usually untouchable bike-runner and proved she was in it to win it from the starting gun. Sentimental favorite Belinda Granger (AUS), in her professional racing farewell to Phuket, exited the water just ahead of Hauschildt and set to work covering the island’s harrowing hills one final time. As the pre-race favorite, it was just a matter of time before Hauschildt overtook her rivals, a feat she accomplished at the 13-kilometer mark. Once in the lead she continued to quicken the pace, working to build a comfortable gap heading in to the half marathon. Meanwhile, the battle behind Hauschildt was brewing, with Edwards using her strength on the bike to make up time lost in the swim, ultimately arriving in T2 with Granger and a minute ahead of Vodickova. Hauschildt had succeeded in creating a rather large cushion, however, and the nearly 10 minute lead she enjoyed out of T2 was insurmountable for the other women. Accompanied down the CLP finish chute by Kandi the elephant for a record fourth time, she won in 4:27:40, almost 15 minutes ahead of Edwards, whose smart and steady run solidified her second podium finish in two weekends of racing. Vodickova was thrilled to capture the final podium spot in 4:45:48, and while Granger struggled on the run and was passed by Stef Puszka (AUS) and Beate Goertz (GER), she was all smiles nonetheless as she capped an incredible career.
“I was pretty stoked with my swim,” said Hauschildt after the race. “The plan was to try and swim and ride really hard and try and go a bit easy on the run to save it for next week [Hauschildt will race Challenge Bahrain on Dec. 6]. I kept working pretty hard on the bike to try and get a good lead. When I got off I had no idea where I was and Jared [Hauschildt’s husband] didn’t know either. Then the first split I got was about 10 minutes, so I knew that was good. I still ran pretty solid the first 10k and then I just backed it off. But the heat still made it so hard. I don’t know if it’s easier backing it off or not.”
Hauschildt’s race marked a much-needed confidence boost following the disappointment she endured at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship when an injury to her pectoral muscle forced her to DNF, and also put an end to the possibility that she would debut in Kona in 2014. “I was hoping to have a really good race here just to build my confidence a bit,” she said. “Training’s been going really well, so I knew I was fit, I guess I just had to get a win in the bag to get that confidence back. We joked after that I finally got my first win in my blue race kit. I was starting to think it was no good! I got it for Mont Tremblant and things went downhill after that.”
The Men’s Race
As predicted, defending champion and super swimmer Rasmus Petraeus (DEN) led out of the water, followed by a main pack including Wild, Croneborg and McKenzie. Onto the bike, McKenzie put his cycling strength to work pushing the pace and scoring the fastest split of the day in 2:14:22. Only Wild and Croneborg were able to respond to the Australian’s power, and after 56 kilometers and two sections of hill climbs reaching up to 22 percent grades, the three reached T2 together, their hard work on the bike paying off with a comfortable seven-minute buffer over the rest of the field. Wild’s well-known foot speed made him the favorite out of T2, and in fact he pulled away from the other two men at the one-kilometer mark. Croneborg stayed with McKenzie until midway through the half marathon, then finally managed to pull ahead in lasting fashion. Ultimately Wild ran 1:21:20 to take the win in 4:02:43, with Croneborg finishing in 4:04:02 and McKenzie completing the podium in 4:06:00. Although fourth through sixth in the men’s field–Massimo Cigana (ITA), four-time LPT champion, Petraeus and Kevin Collington (USA), in his rookie Phuket bid–all clocked slightly faster half marathon splits than the leaders, their chase efforts were not quite quick enough to earn the top spots.
Wild was elated to get his first half distance career victory. “I was getting really close a couple of times this year, like in Rapperswill and other places I’ve been to, but it never actually worked out. So this is the first time and it’s my favorite race so I’m pretty happy it happened here. This time I skipped LPT and just focused on this one, and it seemed it paid off well,” said Wild.
Not only did Wild opt out of racing back-to-back weekends, he also enjoyed a less intense build up to the race than is his usual style. “I came to this race pretty relaxed. I did a different preparation than I’m used to. We [he and girlfriend Lea] were traveling in Australia and going from camping site to camping site, checking out the Great Ocean Road and doing the race in Shepparton down there as well, so I felt pretty relaxed coming here and I didn’t feel nervous at all. In the morning I told Lea, ‘I think this is going to be my day today.’ I had a feeling it was going to be my first win, and usually I’m not telling her things like this before a race. But I just had this feeling in my mind and in my gut,” he said.
Wild was appreciative and complimentary of McKenzie’s power on the bike, from which he benefitted. “In this race, the seven-meter draft rule actually gives you a good draft. Luke really went for it after the technical section and Freddie and me were the only ones that could stay with him. He definitely did all the work on the bike. I wanted to help him more, but he was just too strong. I felt sorry for him but I just couldn’t push any harder. For me, on one side there was no need to push harder because I knew I could rely on my run, but on the other side I wanted to give him some support. But really he was the strongest on the bike. Freddie and I just tried to put our heads down and out of the wind to stay with him. Then on the run I felt pretty confident. I knew in a normal race I would be the strongest runner, but I still knew from last year about the heat and how this can still strike you in the last couple of kilometers, so I kept my speed pretty constant over the run. I felt pretty well, but still in the last three or four kilometers I started becoming hotter and hotter so I was really happy to cross the finish line. No matter how fast you go it always hits you, this heat and humidity.”
At the post-race awards banquet McKenzie shared his first impressions of the iconic race, known worldwide for its tough and technical climbs and descents and often sweltering conditions (while the accuracy of the thermometer cannot be not confirmed, the temperature reading at Sunday’s finish arch put the high well above 100 degrees).
“It was definitely one of the toughest races that I’ve ever competed in. But I loved every minute of it,” beamed McKenzie. “I knew it would be a tough race and I was expecting it and it lived up to it. I’m almost annoyed at myself for not having come here earlier. It’s one of those races that I’m falling in love with and I should have been racing this for a long time. I’m already looking forward to coming back next year. I’d love to win this race and it’s one that would certainly look good on the resume. What a great way to end the season!”
Challenge Laguna Phuket
Phuket, Thailand – Nov. 30, 2014
1.2-mile smile, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Ruedi Wild (SUI) 04:02:43
2. Fredrik Croneborg (SWE) 04:04:02
3. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 04:06:00
4. Massimo Cigana (ITA) 04:09:57
5. Rasmus Petraeus (DEN) 04:10:44
1. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 04:27:40
2. Parys Edwards (GBR) 04:42:05
3. Radka Vodickova (CZE) 04:45:48
4. Stef Puszka (AUS) 04:48:54
5. Beate Goertz (GER) 04:50:19
Check back soon for the full race recap and quotes from the winning pros. Complete results are available here.