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Saturday’s second annual Laguna Lang Co Vietnam Airlines Triathlon saw a stark contrast in the weather to last year’s race, when unseasonably stormy conditions diffused the typical Asian heat. This year, the sun delivered in spades and athletes sweated the day away under sweltering skies, with calm seas and relatively little wind. Only the strongest and most strategic athletes can prevail under such conditions, and on Saturday those athletes proved to be Ruedi Wild of Switzerland and defending champion Radka Vodickova of the Czech Republic, who commandeered the women’s race from start to finish.
The Men’s Race
It was up and coming Australian pro 24-year-old Michael Murphy who led out of the water, despite having crashed two days prior to the race while traversing a corner in training and bearing a brutal collection of scrapes and bruises. He was followed more than a minute later by a train of top contenders including Chris McCormack (AUS), Wild, Ben Hammond (AUS) and Frederick Croneborg (SWE). Croneborg, an ever-smiling favorite on the Asia racing scene who currently makes him home in Phuket, Thailand, suffered an unfortunate puncture straight out of T1, thus losing his position with the lead pack. Wild and McCormack reeled Murphy in by the 15-kilometer mark and the trio rode together the rest of the 62-kilometer course, escorted by a draft marshal ensuring the field’s fair play and with Wild reportedly pushing the pace at the front nearly the entire ride. Once back to T2 Wild whipped up the pace even further, dropping his rivals without a look back and ultimately winning by a three-minute, sixteen-second margin in a time of 2:35:35. McCormack’s day was cut short a mere 500-meters into the run, when a painful pulled hamstring forced him to stop. “I’ve got a busted ass!” he joked afterward, explaining that in retrospect, the seat on his road bike–which he brought to the race intending to also compete in the afternoon’s 62-kilometer road race–was likely a tad too high and aggravated his muscle to the point of injury. Murphy stayed strong across the 12-kilometer course and was happy to finish second. The 2013 men’s champion, Massimo Cigana (ITA) reached T2 a few minutes after the leading men’s group, yet posted the second fastest run split of the day on his way to third. Croneborg, despite having lost two or three minutes due to the puncture, captured fourth and Till Schramm (GER) rounded out the men’s top five.
“I think I was solid but controlled with my watts and I felt pretty good on the bike,” said winner Wild. “I was quite surprised with how well the legs went. Those guys were just hanging behind, but I knew that on a normal day on the run I would be fine against them so I stayed in front. Then on the run I knew that if Massimo came from behind I would have to run hard at the end, so I kept it controlled and still had room for improvement if I needed to go faster. It ended up being the right tactic. I like to try different things in a race, because then you always develop yourself as an athlete. There are different ways you can do a race, and for your competitors it’s better to play different cards so they can’t always judge what you’re going to do. It worked out perfectly, so I’m really happy and it also gives me more options for the future, for how to design a race.”
The Women’s Race
In typical fashion, Olympian Radka Vodickova led the women’s swim; in fact she swam alongside McCormack after the mass beach start. She exited the water 2:21 ahead of the next woman, Belinda Granger (AUS) and 3:02 in advance of the third female pro, Katja Rabe (GER). These positions held throughout the course of the women’s race, with each of the three pros riding solo the entire way and Vodickova ultimately extending her lead to finish more than nine minutes ahead of Granger and more than 16 minutes before Rabe.
“I wanted to do really good training today, so even when I knew maybe I could win I didn’t want to slow down on the bike or on the run,” said Vodickova, referring to her significant lead. “I just wanted to have a good hard training day–not where I was dying on the run, but where I would be really tired at the end.”
When asked whether she struggled at any point during the race, the women’s champion described a unique obstacle on the course. “Twice on the bike course I had to brake because of water buffalo! Once it was OK because a guy was with them but once there were just two buffaloes crossing and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I could scream at them or what to do, so I just went very slowly around them,” she said, laughing.
Granger, who recently announced that 2014 would be her final professional season, was pleased with her consistent effort in each discipline. “At Challenge Bateman’s Bay I was four and a half minutes behind Radka in the same distance swim, and here it was much less, so I was happy with that. I was just solid–I didn’t have an outstanding day, but my swim, bike and run were all solid, for me,” she said.
The Bike Race
Four of the triathlon pros also returned to race the 62-kilometer bike race later on Saturday afternoon, an event that boasted close to 100 competitors. Former professional cyclist Massimo Cigana took the overall men’s title in a close finish sprint with Till Schramm, also a former mountain and road bike racer. Frederick Croneborg faded slightly following his efforts earlier in the day, finishing third among the pro triathlete contingent. Belinda Granger–known for her cycling prowess and her fondness for training with single sport cyclists–claimed the women’s overall win.