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A Day Of Historic Firsts At Laguna Phuket Triathlon

Massimo Cigana (ITA) proudly claimed his fourth victory at Sunday’s Laguna Phuket Triathlon.

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After a night punctuated by rain, thunder and lightning, race morning dawned clear and the stage was set for sweltering hot and humid conditions in the 21st edition of the Laguna Phuket Triathlon in Phuket, Thailand. A field of more than 1200 individual athletes from 47 countries, plus 65 relay teams competed in the iconic event. The bike course, known for its quad-busting hill climbs, had to be altered slightly from prior years, as areas of road construction and damage from recent storms had all but obliterated certain sections of road. The amended course, which maintained the entire stretch of hills, was actually 50km (as opposed to the usual 55km), however organizers estimated that bike split times would be comparable to the race’s usual distance, given the highly technical nature of the new portion of the course, which contained numerous twisty sharp turns and a few additional small hills.

The men’s professional race marked two significant firsts in the history of the storied event–the first dual champions and the first four-time winner. Massimo Cigana (ITA), known equally for his stylish dress as for his success in Thailand, proudly claimed an unprecedented fourth victory (he also won in 2008, 2010 and 2011), an honor he shared with countryman Alberto Casadei (ITA). The two arrived to the finish chute together and, rather than sprint it out in a duel to the line they hoisted an Italian flag in unison to the delight of the crowds, running to the finish along with Kandi the baby elephant to finish in 2:33:57. In the women’s race, rookie pro Parys Edwards (GBR) earned her own important first–her number one professional win. Edwards crossed the line ahead of veteran pro Belinda Granger (AUS), who marked her 12th and final professional appearance in Phuket.

The Men’s Race
Casadei was first out of the water, followed closely by Australian Casey Munro. The pair rode together, however once out of T2 Munro could not match the foot speed of the young Italian and fell behind. Meanwhile, Cigana had a four-minute deficit after the swim, however the powerhouse former professional cyclist made up time on the bike, entering transition only one minute behind the race leader. Mitchell Robins (AUS) also came from behind to clock the fastest run of the day (42:57), thus earning second place and the final podium position, just 17 seconds behind the pair from Italy.

“I caught Alberto the first part of the second loop and then we ran together, a little bit slower to conserve energy for next week,” said Cigana. “We had one minute or more on third, so it was enough to maintain the lead and we enjoyed the finish line.”

The countrymen, who are close friends and frequent training partners in Venice, where they live only two kilometers apart, decided to finish together, a fitting tribute to their friendship. Casadei, who turns 29 next week and who has finished second, third and fourth in his prior three attempts in Phuket has benefitted from the expertise of 40-year-old Cigana in the course of his developing career.

“At the beginning of his career, I help him a lot with how to ride the bicycle, the psychology of it, how it feels during the bike and how to take a course. I helped him a lot the first year. But now he’s a pretty good biker!” said Cigana.

Casadei was appreciative and complimentary of his mentor. “When this happened I was a triathlete already and he came to train with us during his pro career in cycling. So I improved a lot and I learned a lot from Massimo. Now I can work with my legs! But I realize one thing: if I want to get my solo picture with Kandi I have to wait until Massimo ends his pro career, because he’s almost unbeatable here.”

When asked if they would perhaps share another victory next weekend, given the same circumstance yet this time with a professional prize purse on the line, Casadei was quick to reply. “I think it would be a little bit harder to be first and second next weekend. But hopefully there will be the same situation and we can arrange something!”

The Women’s Race
Australia’s Brooke Langereis led the women’s swim in 28:05, followed by Granger and then Katja Rabe (GER) just over a minute later. Granger and Rabe worked together to tackle the challenging bike course, keeping a legal distance and ultimately logging identical splits of 1:32:51. Langereis, known for her incredible swim talent, fell back on the bike, while Edwards pushed the pace and made the pass near the 18km mark, clocking a 1:29:16 split and reaching T2 one minute and forty seconds behind the two leaders. Showing equal prowess on the run, she caught up to her rivals at the four-kilometer mark and never looked back, posting an impressive time of 48:36 over the 12km course and finishing in 2:54:53. Granger managed to drop Rabe and held strong for second, finishing four minutes behind newbie Edwards. Rabe, now a Phuket local but originally from Germany, scored third on her adopted home turf.

A newcomer to the pro ranks in 2014, Edwards is no stranger to success, owning multiple age group titles, including wins at the ITU Triathlon European Championship and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in 2012 and the ITU Triathlon World Championship in 2013. She was thrilled and slightly shocked by her victory in Phuket.

“I still pinch myself to think I’m racing at this level. So to win today is going to take a while to sink in,” she said. “This is my first pro win. I had some great results in age group so that’s what prompted me to turn pro when I had the opportunity at the end of last year and I got some sponsorship. But I really thought about it long and hard. I wasn’t sure if I should take the leap. I’m not on the young side, but you know what–Belinda Granger showed me it’s got nothing to do with age. I’m 38, and to start your pro career at 38 is crazy. But if Jo Pavey can win a European gold medal (in the 10,000-meter track event) at 40 then darn it, I’m going to race pro at 38!”

When asked as to the honor of racing alongside Granger, the long-time darling of Laguna Phuket Triathlon, Edwards had this to say:

“I was just texting my friends that I was in awe to sit next to Belinda Granger at the pro briefing! This is my first time meeting her and I can completely see why she’s the darling of triathlon. She is just so lovely. When I passed her on the run she said, ‘Great race sweetheart.’ And she was leading.”

All three Laguna Phuket Triathlon victors will now rest up to prepare for next Sunday’s Challenge Laguna Phuket. Shortly after, Cigana and Casadei will travel to the Middle East to compete in the inaugural Challenge Bahrain on Dec. 6. Complete Laguna Phuket Triathlon results can be found here.

1. Massimo Cigana (ITA) 02:33:57
2. Alberto Casadei (ITA) 02:33:57
3. Mitchell Robins (AUS) 02:34:14
4. Casey Munro (AUS) 02:37:35
5. Fredrik Croneborg (SWE) 02:37:59

1. Parys Edwards (GBR) 02:54:53
2. Belinda Granger (AUS) 02:58:51
3. Katja Rabe (GER) 02:59:35
4. Carole Fuchs (FRA) 03:04:29
5. Leanne Szeto (AUS) 03:05:05

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