Marino Vanhoenacker took the big showdown between the world’s fastest Ironman athletes, while Caroline Steffen took her second major championship in Frankfurt.
After six straight years of winning at IRONMAN Austria, Marino Vanhoenacker reluctantly agreed to try a change for 2012. He’d race the Frankfurter Sparkasse IRONMAN European Championship despite the fact that once he got here, he “felt like a little kid at his first day of school.” Austria had become very comfortable for the Belgian star, who felt like he could do the course with his eyes closed – he’d done it that many times.
After his incredible 7:45: 58 in Austria last year, though, there really wasn’t much for Vanhoenacker to prove in Klagenfurt. He’d won six years in a row. He’d become the fastest man ever at an official IRONMAN event. It was time for a new challenge.
They don’t do anything in small measure here in Frankfurt, so the race was quickly set up to become the showdown of the fastest Ironman athletes on the planet. A week after Vanhoenacker’s win in Austria, Andreas Raelert blasted through a 7:41:33 at a full-distance race here in Germany. The Frankfurter Sparkasse IRONMAN European Championship was to be the decider.
Early on it looked like Raelert might have the advantage. The German, who won here in 2010, came out of the water with the leaders and was a few seconds ahead of Vanhoenacker. He quickly opened a gap of over a minute on the Belgian, seemingly in control of the race as he led a group of that included Jan Raphael, Stephane Poulat, Jeremy Jurkiewicz, age-grouper Bart Colpaert and the Spaniard with the Scottish-sounding last name, Clemente Alonso-McKernan.
Eventually Vanhoenacker would catch up to the group, as would Sebastian Kienle, who was about three minutes down after the swim. About an hour into the bike it started to rain very heavily, which caused a few crashes out on the course – including one by Raelert, who quickly jumped back on his bike and rode his way back to the group. After completing the first loop, Kienle and Vanhoenacker started to pull away from everyone else, steadily opening a gap. Kienle pushed initially, but it was Vanhoenacker who made the deciding move on over the last 45 km and managed to finally get rid of his fast moving shadow. Vanhoenacker came off the bike with a lead of just under three minutes over Kienle, just under 11 minutes over Raphael and Poulat and almost 12 minutes on Raelert.
As if things weren’t going badly enough for Raelert, he was required to wait in T2 for a short penalty because he didn’t have his gear bag at his bike this morning.
Off the bike Vanhoenacker started the run very well, holding a 2:45 marathon pace, but still found himself under pressure as Kienle pushed on at about 2:42 pace. The gap stayed steady at about 2:30 until just over the halfway point, where Kienle’s push for the win finally stalled. From then on Vanhoenacker steadily pulled away and would eventually take a convincing win. Kienle hung on gamely for second, while Clemente Alonso-McKernan won an interesting duel for the last podium spot. For a time it looked like Raelert might catch the Spaniard and Raphael, but couldn’t catch up to the Spaniard and only managed to get past his countryman Raphael 1 km from the line.
As gracious as Raelert was at the finish line – he was quick to point out how amazing Vanhoenacker’s race was and congratulated all three for being the “better athletes” today – it would appear that his crash was a bit more serious than he made out. Hopefully whatever injuries he sustained won’t affect his Kona preparation.
Today’s race will certainly help Vanhoenacker’s confidence as he heads to Kona hoping to improve upon the third place finish he had there in 2010. Today he proved that he can win when the pressure is on and over a stacked field. (Sounds a lot like Kona, doesn’t it?) While his time wasn’t nearly as fast as he went last year in Austria, he could care less – today he did exactly what he set out to do: win the IRONMAN European Championship.
Top 10 men:
(1)Vanhoenacker Marino BEL 08:03:31
(2)Kienle Sebastian GER 08:09:55
(3)Alonso-McKernan Clemente ESP 08:14:044
(4)Raelert Andreas GER 08:17:36
(5)Raphael Jan GER 08:18:17
(6)JURKIEWICZ Jérémy FRA 08:23:24
(7)Vuckovic Stephan GER 08:31:37
(8)Widmann Uwe GER 08:37:40
(9)Santamaria Alejandro ESP 08:38:4510
(10)Colpaert Bart BEL 08:40:18*
*Colpaert was competing as an age group athlete.
Steffen dominates again
A year ago Caroline Steffen won here in Frankfurt, but describes that race as a disaster. Coming off a runner-up finish in Kona the year before, Steffen was fighting an injury here in Frankfurt and struggled through the run, slowing to a walk at times and slowing down dramatically over the closing stages of the race.
In Kona Steffen was still dealing with the injury and found herself in trouble again. The leader of the race for most of the first half, she would eventually fade to fifth place.
A month or so later she dropped out of the ITU Long Course World Championship. Her coach, Brett Sutton, said she’d have to prove herself to him again. “Proving herself” started with training – a lot of training. “For the next few months everything was hard,” she says.
All the hard work paid off, though. In Melbourne this year for the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Steffen blazed through a 4:35 bike and a 3:01 marathon (her fastest) to finish just a few seconds off of Chrissie Wellington’s fastest IRONMAN time from South Africa last year.
Which put her very much in the favorite’s hot seat here in Frankfurt. If she felt any pressure, she certainly didn’t show it. In the water the former Swiss national team swimmer trailed only Amanda Stevens and Anja Beranek. Once out on the bike course Steffen quickly moved to the front, but had a rough time dropping a tenacious Beranek, who managed what few thought was possible – she passed Steffen on the bike and took the pace for a while.
Eventually Steffen re-took the lead and powered into T2 in front, but a lead of only a couple of minutes on Beranek, who’s triathlon claim to fame before today was a runner-up finish in Wales last year.
Steffen was having a rough time getting rid of Beranek, but the rest of the women in the field were having a brutal time trying to keep up to the two women up front. Yvonne Van Vlerken had a PB swim and then moved up to third off the bike, but was still over 12 minutes behind. Sofie Goos was another five minutes behind in fourth, while Susan Dietrich finished the bike in fifth, almost 19 minutes behind.
Some of the other women we expected to push Steffen on the course today struggled – Nikki Butterfield dropped out after getting three flats, while Heather Wurtele was never her normally-powerful-self on the bike – no doubt the result of having raced almost all of IRONMAN Couer d’Alene two weeks ago. (She was finally pulled off the course at 21 miles after she lost her crank on the bike course and borrowed another athletes bike to finish the last 17 miles of the course.)
Once out on the run Beranek continued her impressive race by staying close to Steffen through the first loop of the course. After that, though, she finally ran out of gas and watched Steffen power her way to another impressive win for 2012.
Van Vlerken dropped out on the run due to back problems, which left things wide open for the final podium spot. That would eventually go to Great Britain’s Corinne Abraham, who managed to get past Dietrich in the closing miles of the run. Goos hung on for a well-deserved fifth.
Top 10 women:
(1) Steffen Caroline SUI 08:52:33
(2)Beranek Anja GER 09:05:41
(3)Abraham Corinne GBR 09:21:03
(4)Dietrich Susan GER 09:22:07
(5)Goos Sofie BEL 09:28:03
(6)Hufe Mareen GER 09:31:32120
(7)Stevens Amanda USA 09:33:10
(8)Wurtele Heather CAN 09:42:10
(9)Möller Kristin GER 09:43:48
(10)Pekerman Nina ISR 09:55:38