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Race morning in Frankston greeted the more than 2,500 competitors with chilly conditions that would give way to heat and wind. As the first championship-level race of the year, the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne welcomed a competitive field of pro men and women, all looking for valuable Kona Pro Ranking (KPR) points and their slice of the $150,000 prize purse up for grabs. In a new twist for 2015, the winners of the event were also promised automatic entries into October’s Ironman World Championship. In the end, Canada’s Jeffrey Symonds earned the biggest title of his career thanks to a stellar marathon, while Australia’s Melissa Hauschildt battled through blisters on the run to take her second Ironman title in her second try.
Estonia’s Marko Albert led the men out of the 2.4-mile swim with a new course record time of 45:18. His lead was slim as Australia’s Todd Skipworth (:01 back), Germany’s Nils Frommhold (:08 back), Australia’s Brad Kahlefeldt (:09 back) and Australia’s Luke Bell (:12 back) all headed into T1 right on his heels. Symonds started his day with a bit of work to do thanks to a four-minute gap out of the swim.
Frommhold and Bell quickly took advantage of their positions in the front pack and broke away. The move by the two stuck for the entire bike ride as the pair spent the 112 miles building on their gap to the chasers. Though they—legally—rode up front together for the majority of the second leg of the race, Frommhold managed to break away in the final miles and earn a lead over Melbourne-based Bell.
By the time bike turned to run, Frommhold’s gap stood at 1:33 over Bell, 10:50 over Tim Van Berkel (AUS), and just under 12 minutes over a large group made up of Jan Van Berkel (AUS), Christian Kramer (GER), Callum Millward (NZL), Kahlefeldt, Albert, Skipworth, Casey Munro (AUS), Symonds and a few others.
Bell fell off of the pace pretty quickly as Frommhold initially looked strong out front. With the entire marathon featuring a headwind, the effort was too much for Frommhold. Both Van Berkel and Symonds were running strong and passed the German at the 31K mark. The two ran shoulder-to-shoulder but ultimately Van Berkel could not maintain the pace set by the Canadian. Symonds put together a 49:40 swim, a 4:27:30 bike and a 2:44:14 marathon to earn the Asia-Pacific Championship title in 8:04:29. Van Berkel finished what he called a tough day in second at 8:07:57. Former Olympian Kahlefeldt rounded out the top three in his Ironman debut at 8:09:21. Germany’s Christian Kramer was fourth, with Frommhold hanging on for fifth.
Ironman rookie Annabel Luxford (AUS) earned an early gap, exiting the swim in 51:20. Two-time Ironman Melbourne winner Caroline Steffen (SUI) followed at 1:22 back with Bree Wee (USA) not far behind. Next were American Laura Bennett (1:41 back), Australian Kym Coogan (3:17 back) and then two of the strong pre-race favorites, Hauschildt and Mirinda Carfrae (both at 3:23 back).
Luxford rode strong out front, with Steffen chasing hard to catch her. The veteran caught the rookie, but Luxford appeared to be expecting it and managed to keep pace with Steffen—who is known as being one of the strongest cyclists in the sport. At the midway point of the bike, the pair’s lead stood at 3:17 over Hauschildt, 6:09 over the Netherlands’ Yvonne Van Vlerken, 8:17 over Wee and 10:01 over three-time Ironman world champ Carfrae.
Steffen earned a small 16-second gap over Luxford coming into T2. The big news was Hauschildt at only 4:13 back to start the marathon. Though the two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion won Ironman Australia last year, she made the decision to compete in that event only three weeks prior to race day. Would the star runner be able to track down Steffen and Luxford?
Hauschildt took the top spot before the 20K mark and looked to be cruising to another Ironman title and the automatic Kona qualification. The Aussie struggled out front with blisters—at one point stopping at an aid and removing her shoes to apply Vaseline in hopes of gaining some relief. Despite the struggles, Hauschildt got back to her cruising pace. She put together a 54:44 swim, a 4:48:01 bike and a 3:06:32 marathon to get the 8:52:51 victory. She’s the first Australian to take the Asia-Pacific Championship title in the race’s four-year history.
Steffen looked to have second place in the bag, but she struggled over the final meters and was overtaken by Van Vlerken in the finish chute. Van Vlerken earned that runner-up spot in 8:58:58. Steffen took third at 8:59:08 and was immediately taken to the medical tent. Sweden’s Asa Lundstrom improved on her 2014 finish by one place, claiming fourth. Beth Gerdes was the first American across the finish line in fifth.
Carfrae accomplished her goal in Melbourne, finishing in seventh and validating her spot at the Ironman World Championship.
2015 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships
Melbourne, Australia – March 22, 2015
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Jeffrey Symonds (CAN) 8:04:29
2. Timothy Van Berkel (AUS) 8:07:57
3. Brad Kahlefeldt (AUS) 8:09:21
4. Christian Kramer (GER) 8:11:31
5. Nils Frommhold (GER) 8:12:58
1. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 8:52:51
2. Yvone Van Vlerken (NED) 8:58:58
3. Caroline Steffen (USA) 8:59:08
4. Asa Lundstrom (SWE) 9:02:49
5. Beth Gerdes (USA) 9:05:08