By Rikashni Rangasamy and Michael Flanagan
The 2009 Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa got underway to festivities and fanfare as the athletes were greeted by the crowd on a pristine morning on Hobie Beach, Nelson Mandela Bay. Even though the spectators soaked up the music and carnival atmosphere, it was serious business for the athletes.
The swim leg of the race started almost more explosively than the starting gun, with the athletes heading speedily into the Indian Ocean. The early morning water was relatively flat which ensured a fast race and this invariably led to both the men's and women's swim records being broken by Anton Storm (RSA) and Lucie Zelenkova (CZE) respectively. Storm took an early lead in the water with his brother Brad (RSA) and defending champion, Stephen Bayliss (GBR) on his tail. Lucie Zelenkova never seemed in any danger of being overtaken as she streaked to an early 20 metre lead over second placed Kathryn Cronje (RSA). The start of the second loop saw France's Olivier Marceau follow Anton Storm out of the water although he was eventually hauled in by both Brad Storm and compatriot Lawrence Van Lingen (RSA). Anton went into transition with a new swim record bettering his previous record time of 00:47:06, with a new time of 00:45:22. Brad Storm 00:46:06, Van Lingen 00:46:56, Marceau 00:46:57 and Stephen Bayliss 00:47:58 followed Anton into cycle transition.
In the women's field Zelenkova powered through to the second loop followed by Cronje and Andrea Brede (GER). British duo of defending women's champion Bella Bayliss and Rachel Joyce followed in third and fourth respectively. There was no stopping Zelenkova as she was predictably out of the water first in record time, beating her own previous record of 00:50:00 with a new record of 00:47:40. Following her into transition was Joyce 00:52:18, Cronje 00:52:19, Brede 00:54:40 and age-grouper, Diane Lee (GBR) 00:56:05 with Bella Bayliss in sixth place.
After the particularly fast swim, athletes set out for the cycle leg of the race with the hope that conditions would remain favourable. The early leaders were Anton and Brad Storm, Olivier Marceau, Stephen Bayliss and Marino Vanhoenacker for the men and Lucie Zelenkova, Rachel Joyce, Kathryn Cronje, Andrea Brede and Bella Bayliss for the women. Vanhoenacker looked strong from the start as he powered past Brad and Anton Storm to take the lead at the 35km mark. Zelenkova carried through her form and speed from the swim and pulled away immediately, amassing a 7-minute lead over Joyce.
Scorching temperatures didn't seem to deter the leaders as they sped past the supportive crowds at the half way point, however the chasing packs seemed to struggle with conditions as they lost time. Vanhoenacker passed first with a time of 02:13:09, just one second ahead of Brad Storm, followed closely by Anton Storm and Marceau. First across for the ladies was Zelenkova in a time of 02:25:57,with an insurmountable lead of 8 minutes over Joyce (GBR) and 13 minutes over Cronje. Vanhoenacker and Zelenkova continued to stretch their lead as the race continued, with Vanhoenacker really starting to pull away from the 94km mark. Both leaders surged towards the 120km mark with Vanhoenacker two minutes and 37 seconds ahead of Brad Storm and Zelenkova 8 minutes ahead of Joyce.
The leaders remained unchanged for most of the cycle with the top 5 finishers as follows: Men- Vanhoenacker 04:25:08, Brad Storm 04:30:46, Marceau 04:31:35, Tissink 04:36:42 and Gohner 04:36:47, with last year's winner Stephen Bayliss ending in 8th position. Women -- Zelenkova 05:00:38, Joyce 05:04:53, Tajsich 05:06:09, Bella Bayliss 05:08:32 and Gordon 05:10:52.
After a speedy transition Vanhoenacker and Zelenkova slipped into their running shoes and hit the ground running. Both athletes seem inspired by the leads they had created in the cycle which continued to grow with every stride.
Despite the relative ease with which the leaders progressed, it was evident that the sapping conditions of 34 degrees was too much for even some of the more favoured athletes. Defending women's champion, Bella Bayliss, PRO athlete Justin Gray and even hometown favourite Raynard Tissink all retired between the 6km and 12km mark in the marathon with Andrea Brede falling out after the 18km point.
Halfway through the gruelling run, Vanhoenacker and Zelenkova remained dominant. At the 28km mark, chasing pack of Michael Gohner (GER), Petr Vabrousek (CZE), Stephen Bayliss and James Cunnama (RSA) were not even in sight of Vanhoenacker's heels. Likewise, Sonja Tajsich (GER), Joyce, Gordon and Anne-Marie du Pont (BEL) were unable to chase down a speeding Zelenkova.
The excited crowd who endured the sweltering heat were treated to a display of determination and endurance by two world class athletes. Vanhoenacker crossed the finish line in a record time of 08:17:32, breaking Stephen Bayliss's record of 08:18:23, after leading the race from mid-way through the cycle. Zelenkova shone throughout the race, leading from the start and eventually winning her first ever Ironman in a record time of 09:16:32 shattering Natascha Badmann's (SWI) previous record of 09:22:01. Both winners never looked like surrendering their lead at any stage despite the harsh conditions, and were deserved winners of the 2009 Spec-Savers Ironman South Africa.
1. Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 08:17:32
2. Michael Gohner (GER) 08:32:01
3. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 08:36:07
4. Stephen Bayliss (GBR) 08:47:26
5. Andreas Venhorst (GER) 08:51:52
6. James Cunnama (RSA) 08:55:24
7. Raimo Raudsepp (EST) 08:57:19
8. Olivier Marceau (FRA) 08:59:09
9. Sebastian Pedraza (ITA) 09:03:19
10. Lawrence Van Lingen (RSA) 09:17:16
1. Lucie Zelenkova (CZE) 09:16:32
2. Sonja Tajsich (GER) 09:27:59
3. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 09:37:00
4. Jacqui Gordon (RSA) 09:46:26
5. Caroline Koll (RSA) 10:08:35
Spec -- Savers Ironman South Africa
5th April 2009
3.8km SWIM | 180km CYCLE | 42.2km RUN
30 qualifying slots for the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii
Photos: MARATHON PHOTOS