The second-to-last Ironman of the year (the last is Western Australia on Dec. 4) kicked off in Cozumel, Mexico, with 2,325 registered athletes ready to earn their holiday meals. Of those athletes, who came from 60 different countries, 61 of them were professionals ready to test themselves in southern Mexico’s heat.
Yvonne Van Vlerken was back to defend her 2010 title, while last year’s male runner-up, Michael Lovato, was out to win this time around. Lovato got his wish, running his way to a win, while Van Vlerken had a bad run, allowing Simone Benz to take home her first-ever IM victory today.
Water temps at 81 degrees Fahrenheit made this swim in the Carribbean wetsuit-illegal. Louiz Ferreira led the men out of the water, and Lovato was in fourteenth place starting the bike. After one loop into the three-lap bike course, Lovato had moved up to seventh, with IM Louisville 2011 champ, Chris McDonald, right behind him. Just four miles into the run, Lovato began to pull away from his competitors, despite a sudden change in weather from warm sun to high winds and rain. While the men’s field fell apart, Lovato stayed strong, running his way to a victory in 8:23:52, and setting a new bike course record of 4:19:17. Patrick Evoe held on for second, while Alejandro Santamaria ran it in for third.
Tami Ritchie led the women out of the water with Simone Benz on her toes. Van Vlerken, who swam 56 minutes in Cozumel last year, started the bike 12 minutes behind after finishing the swim in one hour flat. Benz led early on in the bike, but her highest place finish this year was seventh at IM South Africa, so it was anyone’s guess if she could hold on for the win. Coming into T2, Van Vlerken was in third, 20 minutes behind Benz and three minutes behind Sofie De Groote. But today wouldn’t be Van Vlerken’s day. She struggled on the run, while Benz ran strong straight to the first-place finish—her first IM victory ever. Sonja Tajizich ran her way into second with a new women’s run record of 3:02:54, while Sophie De Groote came in third.
Cozumel, Mexico – Nov. 27, 2011
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Michael Lovato 8:23:52
2. Patrick Evoe 8:30:36
3. Alejandro Santamaria 8:32:50
4. Zach Ruble 8:34:51
5. Andrey Lyatskiy 8:43:05
1. Simone Benz 9:14:08
2. Sonja Tajsich 9:23:15
3. Sophie De Groote 9:26:07
4. Terra Castro 9:39:35
5. Kristin Andrews 9:42:14