A podium placing at Busselton proved the ideal testing ground for James Cunnama while Caroline Steffen continued with her aim for an unbeaten 2015 season amid the stunning surrounds of Danang at the first IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam.
The pair found their running feet, managing the torrid heat best, to claim comfortable wins. Cunnama had finished third at IRONMAN 70.3 Busselton which laid the foundation, while Steffen has come back fresh in her first race since Melbourne.
While the day dawned overcast, the sun and humidity on the run made for some testing conditions.
Australians Sam Betten, Josh Amberger and Clayton Fettell led out of the 1.9km ocean swim off the beach at Hyatt Regency Danang with the trio joined by 2008 world champion Terenzo Bozzone (NZL) early on the bike.
Cunnama and Asia-Pacific champion Tim Reed were both 90 seconds back in the chase.
By midway through the 90km flat bike, Reed had joined the leading quartet with Cunnama slipping 2:40 off the lead.
"The front guys seemed to watch each other and not push too hard with the heat and that meant I could close the gap late in the ride," Cunnama says. "I was able to slowly reel them in and left me within striking distance."
The South African, who placed fourth at the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii two years ago, pushed past Bozzone into second place and just 36 seconds behind Reed by the 5km mark on the run.
Cunnama put his foot down at the 10km mark and pushed clear to win in 3:51:29 with his 1:15 run outstanding in the conditions.
"The conditions were brutal. At times it was hard to think about racing, just where the next aid station was," says Cunnama. "My race in Busselton set me up and I knew if I could stay close, then I could do well. It really gave me the confidence."
"With this course and the conditions I knew it would come down to the run and the person who could run best in the heat would do well. I am absolutely delighted with the win."
He finished four minutes clear of Reed with a further 1:26 back to Bozzone in third.
Asia-Pacific IRONMAN champion Caroline Steffen and the highly credentialed Liz Blatchford were the closest of friends for much of today’s race.
Blatchford led Steffen by just eight seconds out of the water and well clear of the rest, to suggest this was always going to be a two-horse race.
The pair rode the entire 90kms together, mostly with Steffen in the lead, and at sufficient pace to push third place veteran Belinda Granger some 3:30 behind with a further minute of Australian compatriot Dimitry-Lee Duke.
Blatchford, runner-up at Busselton last weekend, looked to make her move mid-race, stretching to a 33 second advantage after 10kms and she retained that margin for the next 5kms until Steffen found her form.
The Asia-Pacific IRONMAN champion quickly gobbled up the advantage to Blatchford and pushed clear to win in 4:21:40, finishing more than two minutes clear of her rival.
Managing the heat proved the key according to Steffen.
"I was really suffering in that first 10kms. I did not feel great and my body temperature was up," Steffen says. "I knew I had to race smart and not push too hard or I would blow up."
"It was one of the hottest days I have competed in. The course was 10km out and 10km back so I knew where I was, and gradually I started to feel good and I was able to pick up the pace and get to the lead.”
Steffen was glowing of the venue for the latest IRONMAN 70.3 in the Asia-Pacific regioin.
"Vietnam really is a beautiful country and the swim here and the beaches and area around Danang are just beautiful."
It also proved a double win for Chris McCormack’s newly formed Bahrain Endurance 13 team which boasts both Cunnama and Steffen.
1 James Cunnama South Africa 3:51:29
2 Tim Reed Australia 3:55:44
3 Terenzo Bozzone New Zealand 3:57:07
4 Cyril Viennot France 3:57:39
5 Josh Amberger Australia 4:00:24
1 Caroline Steffen Switzerland 4:21:40
2 Liz Blatchford Australia 4:23:48
3 Dimity-Lee Duke Australia 4:31:10
4 Stef Puszka Australia 4:39:08
5 Ange Castle Australia 4:44:47
Courtesy: Ironman Asia-Pacific.