Canada’s Lionel Sanders and the United States’ Meredith Kessler earned big victories at Sunday’s Ironman Arizona after each turning in disappointing performances at last month’s Kona race.
Athletes were greeted with cool and cloudy conditions on racing morning at Tempe Town Lake that eventually gave way to pouring rain that lasted through the late morning and afternoon. As one of the most popular Ironman races on the circuit, the event welcomed approximately 3,000 athletes—including nearly 700 first timers and a massive professional field of over 100. With the 2016 Kona qualifying season underway those pros were looking for a share of the coveted KPR points and the $100,000 prize purse. Ultimately it was Canada’s Lionel Sanders and the United States’ Meredith Kessler who took the big wins in conditions that they each said worked to their favor.
Estonia’s Marko Albert led the men out of the 2.4-mile swim in 47:06, with Brent McMahon (CAN) just three seconds behind. There was a two-minute gap to the main chase group made up of Joe Umphenour (USA), Drew Scott (USA), Andrew Starykowicz (USA), TJ Tollakson (USA), Kevin Collington (USA), Miguel Angel Fidalgo (ESP) and Maik Twelsiek (GER). 2009 Ironman Arizona champ Jordan Rapp (USA) was 10th out of the water at 5:28 back, with Sanders about eight minutes back in 17th position.
Starykowicz used his signature race plan—ride as hard as possible out front—to build a significant lead over the field of strong bikers. By about the midway point of the bike Starykowicz’s lead stood at 5:30 over Tollakson, 7:54 over Albert, 8:00 over Sanders, 9:33 over Rapp, 9:35 over Twelsiek and 10:58 over the United States’ Jonathan Shearon and defending champion McMahon. In the end Starykowicz used an impressive 4:03:35 bike split to come off of the bike with a 12:43 lead over Tollakson, a 14:43 lead over Sanders, a 14:48 lead over Twelsiek, a 15:57 lead over Rapp and a 17:58 lead over McMahon.
Starykowicz spent the majority of the marathon alone out front, but those behind him were slowly chipping away at the American’s massive lead. It was Sanders who ultimately caught up to Starykowicz at about the 18-mile mark of the marathon to take the top spot. The Canadian cruised through the final miles of the race, posting a 2:47:07 marathon to take the 7:58:22 victory. McMahon had the fastest marathon of the day (2:46:25), putting him across the finish line at 8:00:57. Tollakson has been a consistent podium finisher at this race and he did it again, crossing in third at 8:04:17. Starykowicz struggled through the final miles, but stayed tough to finish in fourth at 8:05:56.
Kessler kicked off her day out front and thanks to a swim time of 48:25 with 2008 Olympian—and Ironman rookie—Sarah Haskins (USA) five seconds back. Next out of the water were Germany’s Julia Gajer (2:41 back), the United States’ Amanda Stevens (2:43 back) and the United States’ Christina Jackson (2:47 back) as the closest pursuers.
It was evident early on that Kessler planned to ride hard out front. She was growing a lead with Haskins staying within a reasonable distance, but the rookie had a bit of bad luck on her first lap. Haskins reportedly suffered two flat tires, putting her nearly 17 minutes back at around 47 miles of the bike. With Haskins well back in the field, Kessler excelled and established a 10-minute lead her closest pursuer (Gajer) by the midway point of the bike.
Kessler’s 4:42:18 bike split gave her a 10:50 lead over her closest pursuer, Stevens, to start the run. Kessler, who has raced Ironman Arizona in all 12 of its offerings dating back to when she was an age grouper, was solid in the rain throughout the marathon. She used a 3:08:58 run split to take the victory in 8:44:00. Stevens, who also came to this race after a disappointing Kona performance, turned in the first sub-9 performance of her career (8:52:31) to finish in second. Gajer—the 2013 winner of this race—finished third at 9:03:15. Haskins ultimately wasn’t able to finish the race, Tweeting after “I am ok, made decision to shut it down. After a couple of flats/bike issue had trouble getting body moving again. Thanks for the cheers..”
2015 Ironman Arizona
Tempe, Ariz. – Nov. 15, 2015
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Lionel Sanders (CAN) 7:58:22
2. Brent McMahon (CAN) 8:00:57
3. TJ Tollakson (USA) 8:04:17
4. Andrew Starykowicz (USA) 8:05:56
5. Jordan Rapp (USA) 8:08:05
1. Meredith Kessler (USA) 8:44:00
2. Amanda Stevens (USA) 8:52:31
3. Julia Gajer (GER) 9:03:15
4. Darbi Roberts (USA) 9:05:10
5. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 9:11:31