A stacked field of IRONMAN champions and world champions alike descended on the Woodlands, which didn't fail to deliver a characteristically hot and steamy day of racing.
by Jennifer Ward Barber, photos by Nils Nilsen (gallery
Memorial Hermann IRONMAN North American Championship Texas brought the IRONMAN championship series to the U.S. after kicking off in South Africa last month. Spectators and fans got to watch veterans and relative newcomers duke it out for points and an automatic ticket to the IRONMAN World Championship in October.
Matt Hanson strong all day
Todd Skipworth (AUS), Barrett Brandon (USA), and Ben Hoffman (USA) took the lead on the swim early at Lake Woodlands this morning. 2005 IRONMAN World Champion Faris Al-Sultan (DEU) and Jeremy Jurkiewicz (FRA) made headway, with Ronnie Schildknecht (CHE) in the immediate chase pack five seconds back, and Germany's Andreas Raelert in sixth. Schildknecht and Matt Hanson (USA) had joined the front pack by the time the men entered the canal. Skipworth, Brandon, Al-Sultan, and Jurkiewicz entered T1 just slightly ahead of Hoffman and Raelert.
Hoffman and Raelert made bold moves within the first 20 miles of the bike, pulling confidently to the front. But it was Raelert's countryman, veteran Al-Sultan, who ended up staying there much longer, leading a pack containing Jurkiewicz, Skipworth, Brandon, and Raelert through mile 30, while Plese, Hanson, and Schildknecht lead a chase group five minutes back.
By mile 60, Hoffman's strong riding put him back at the front while Lionel Sanders (CAN) and Joe Skipper (GBR) began to work together behind them. The two eventually bridged the gap to the leaders, putting their race-best bike splits to use, with the latter taking the lead at mile 72. Hoffman maintained his position two minutes back, with the rest of the field losing precious ground, and some (Jordan Rapp, Chris McDonald, and Al-Sultan) eventually dropping out of the race altogether.
Once out onto the run, Sanders chiseled away patiently at Skipper's lead, eventually reducing his 1:42-minute deficit off the bike down to 30 seconds by mile four. Hoffman showed exceptional form early on but suffered a nosebleed halfway through the marathon that caused him to struggle, and he fell back.
The star of the run was last year's runner-up here (and run course record holder) Matt Hanson, who was making up 40 seconds per mile from the start and by mile 10 had reduced his 10 minute bike deficit to 5:33. He stormed into the lead at mile 17, with Skipper holding fast and Sanders eventually struggling from the heat and fading. Schildknecht ran strong, working his way into third. Hanson's course-record 8:07:04 landed him the win and a ticket to the IRONMAN World Championship in October, with Skipper taking second, and Schildknecht landing third place.
Rookie Naeth makes her mark on IRONMAN racing
Great Britain's Leanda Cave and Rachel Joyce led the swim from the start, as expected, with Katy Blakemore (USA) bridging her wide start and rejoining the leaders by 15 minutes in. Into the canal, the three leaders had a minute on the rest of the field.
Out onto the rolling, hot and humid bike course, Joyce and Cave played cat and mouse up until mile 60 when Angela Naeth (CAN), who is relatively new to IRONMAN racing, blazed to the front obliterating her 6:30 swim deficit. Heather Wurtele (CAN) led the charge from behind, at three minutes-plus back, including Heather Jackson, Bree Wee, and Corinne Abraham (GBR). Naeth barely managed to hold off Cave through the end of the bike, beating her into T2 by only a few seconds. Joyce entered 2:10 back, losing a minute in the last 10 minutes of the bike. Abraham stole the show on the bike with her race-best 4:40 split.
Naeth's strong bike launched her out of T2 in first, just ahead of Cave. Abraham went out onto the run with a 3:30 deficit off the leaders, with Joyce almost five minutes back. Naeth and Cave ran shoulder to shoulder until mile five, when Cave began to falter and Naeth seized the opportunity to pull away, a lead she'd go on to extend by about two minutes. Cave held strong for second while Rachel Joyce managed to fend off a fading field behind her, including Abraham, to take the final podium place.
Don't miss our photo gallery from the day
Top 5 Pro Men
1 Hanson, Matt USA 0:55:02 4:21:25 2:45:47 8:07:03
2 Skipper, Joe GBR 0:55:09 4:10:07 3:04:35 8:16:26
3 Schildknecht, Ronnie CHE 0:55:07 4:24:27 2:55:54 8:21:03
4 Sanders, Lionel CAN 0:57:19 4:11:25 3:11:22 8:24:54
5 Gomes, Pedro PRT 0:54:48 4:32:02 2:54:43 8:26:42
Top 5 Pro Women
1 Naeth, Angela CAN 0:59:35 4:41:38 3:09:13 8:55:19
2 Cave, Leanda GBR 0:53:13 4:47:43 3:12:02 8:58:12
3 Joyce, Rachel GBR 0:53:08 4:52:35 3:14:00 9:05:02
4 Williamson, Kelly USA 0:55:17 5:06:43 3:01:02 9:08:34
5 Abraham, Corinne GBR 1:03:24 4:40:39 3:22:45 9:12:20
Courtesy Ironman A-P; Text by Jennifer Ward Barber, photos by Nils Nilsen