Located in Port Macquarie, about four hours north of Sydney, this race has traditionally been an Australian professional triathlete showcase; however, last year saw Canadian Eliot Holtham take the men’s crown. Could one of the Australian men follow in fellow Aussie Melissa Hauschildt’s lead from 2014 and defend their home turf?
The swim course is point-to-point in Hastings River, a protected inlet between the mainland and Pelican Island. Given the Australian swimming heritage, fast times are typical here.
The bike, meanwhile, is a two-loop affair with some short, punchy climbs. Wind can always play a role here.
The run course is a four lap trip following the shoreline of Hastings River, promising little shade if temperatures rise.
As a $50,000 purse event, pay went 8 places deep.
This race is a P-2000 event in the Kona Points Ranking scale.
Challenging conditions were the name of the game, as strong gusty winds and driving rain marked the lead up to the 30th edition of Ironman Australia. To help athletes out, bike check-in was available Sunday morning.
However, bike and run transition bags still had to be dropped off on Saturday. This, in the opinion of this reporter, is a disservice to the athletes; their gear bags would likely soak with no hope of drying (nor access to those bags on Sunday morning, for that matter).
Regardless, race day itself dawned cooler with low winds. Rain threatened for the second half of the bike and the run, but could lead to very fast times on a course known for speed.
A Word on Coverage
This is not one of those races. Credit needs to be given to the team at Ironman Asia-Pacific; particularly, the team behind the @IronmanAsiaPac Twitter account, which provided highlights, photos, and splits on the professional race all evening long.
The in-water start made for some early stroke chaos as the field attempted to sort itself.
Halfway into the swim, Luke Bell, Pete Jacobs, and Graham O’Grady had broken away from the field. 2013 champion Paul Ambrose and Peter Robertson found themselves down 30 seconds and fading.
At swim exit, it was O’Grady in 44:56, with Bahrain Endurance’s Bell two seconds behind and Jacobs another second back. Ambrose was 4th onto the bike after his 47:34 swim. Lachlan Kerin rounded out the all Aussie swim Top 5 with a 48:21.
On the bike, the leading trio took a relaxed pace due to wet road conditions. Spotters reported the three working together through the out-section of the first lap, each taking a turn in the lead. Ambrose was starting to whittle the gap down, now 1:41 behind the leaders. Robertson led a chasing group 3:38 down that also included Nick Baldwin (SEY) and Brian Fuller (AUS).
At halfway, Jacobs had a strong lead, but lost time after missing the turnaround and having to retrace his tracks, cutting his lead to 30 seconds. Bell was 2nd; Ambrose 3rd. O’Grady had fallen to 4th, leading the Robertson/Baldwin/Fuller chase pack.
Wind began to really pick up on the second lap. Ambrose started to make his move, chasing Bell down 25 kilometers into the second lap. Robertson and Baldwin had also managed to separate themselves from Fuller and O’Grady at this point.
At the final lap turnaround, Ambrose had taken the lead. Bell had gone with Ambrose, and shot through Jacobs as well; all three separated by less than a minute. Baldwin and Robertson were now over four minutes arrears.
Jacobs either cracked or had a mechanical, as 10 kilometers later he had slid all the way to fourth.
Ambrose drilled the final few miles, opening up a massive gap to the chasers. Upon arrival to T2, he had a 6:49 led over Bell. Baldwin was 3rd, over 9:00 behind. Fuller was in 4th, 12:00 back. Jacobs was fifth, now 15:00 out of the lead.
At the one-third mark of the run, Ambrose had held his lead, now with a 6:50 over Bell. Fuller had moved through Baldwin and was now 10:00 behind the leader. Robertson unfortunately pulled out of the event after 10k.
Over the next 7 kilometers, Bell started taking serious time out of Ambrose, whittling the lead down to 4:29. Another five minutes back was the trio of Fuller, Baldwin, and Luke Martin (AUS). Jacobs and O’Grady had continued to slide backwards through the field.
Two-thirds of the way through the run and Bell kept closing on Ambrose; Ambrose’s lead was now only 2:52 and losing 10 to 15 seconds per kilometer to his fellow countryman. Fuller had proven the cream of the remaining crop, but was 12:00 behind.
With 9 kilometers to go, Bell had gotten the lead down to 1:33; with 5 to go, it was just a minute. The question now: would he run out of real estate? Could Ambrose hold?
Ambrose was able to find another gear and dash Bell’s dreams of glory, retaking the crown of Ironman Australia champion. Bell, despite a 3:01:01 marathon, had to settle for second. Fuller finished third. Martin was 4th, nearly 19 minutes back of Ambrose. Baldwin was fifth.
Final Men’s Pro Results**
- Paul Ambrose 8:35:53
- Luke Bell 8:38:34
- Brian Fuller 8:49:39
- Luke Martin 8:56:19
- Nick Baldwin 8:59:44
- Carl Read 9:02:08
- Petr Vabrousek 9:16:07
- Dan McGuigan 9:18:50
**Vabrousek was 9th overall. McGuigan was 11th.
The women, with a much smaller professional field at this event compared to the men, had a bit easier of a time settling out in the swim. (With four other Ironman-branded events occurring worldwide this weekend, as well as Wildflower Triathlon, this weekend scheduling likely led to the smaller field.) Nine pro women took to the river to begin the event.
Lisa Marangon (AUS) and Michelle Gailey (AUS) took the early lead, building up a 55 second advantage over Michelle Bremer (NZL) by the 1.2-mile mark.
At swim exit, Marangon earned swim bragging rights with a 51:59 splash session. Gailey emerged from the water 25 seconds later. Christie Sym (AUS) moved ahead of Bremer, down just 7 seconds to Gailey. Bremer came out of the water in fourth position, 1:14 down to Marangon. American Caroline Gregory found herself in 5th, 1:16 off the pace.
Bremer soon emerged as the leader on the bike, with Marangon, Sym, and Gailey all spaced 200 meters apart from one another.
Mid-way through the first lap, Bremer and Marangon were up the road. Sym found herself 2:16 down. Gailey was now over three and a half minutes down. Gregory had fallen off the pace; instead, in fifth was Jessica Fleming (AUS).
Halfway, Marangon led, with Bremer 30 seconds behind. Fleming now ran third, with Sym fourth and Gailey in fifth. Marina Jurjevic (AUS) pulled out here; with that, every pro female would be ensured a paycheck on the day if they finished.
20 kilometers later, with the wind gusting, Marangon opened up the lead over Bremer to 1:10. Fleming was now 4:00 back, with Sym now over 7:00 behind.
Marangon, like Ambrose, continued to drill the bike. Her 5:13:34 gave her nearly a full three minutes over Fleming, who earned fastest bike honors with a 5:11:50. Sym held third after a 5:16:57 day in the saddle. Bremer was fourth and would need some help to move up, as she was over 6:00 arrears. Gailey was fifth off the bike, down nearly 10:00.
However, early on the run it was apparent Marangon was in deep trouble. Fleming was chasing hard, quickly closing the gap. Marangon pulled out just after the 5km mark, relinquishing the lead to Fleming. Sym found herself 1:10 behind, with Bremer nipping at her heels.
Halfway through and Bremer had pulled alongside Fleming to battle. Gailey had moved herself up into third, nearly 9:00 back.
Sym joined Marangon on the sidelines, meaning WTC would not be awarding $1,250 worth of prize money ($75o for 7th, $500 for 8th) today. Marie Sorrell (NZL) ran in fourth, with Gregory hanging tough in fifth.
In the back half of the run, it was Bremer who had brought sprightlier running legs to Port Macquarie, opening up a few minute cushion over Fleming. Gailey was by herself just 10:00 arrears.
Bremer was able to close out the run and claim the throne of Ironman Australia champion after unleashing the race-best 3:23:17 run. Fleming finished in second while also claiming the title of first Aussie. Gailey rounded out the podium. Sorrell came fourth; Gregory fifth; and Michelle Wu was the final female pro finisher while earning $1,250 for her efforts.
Final Female Pro** Results
- Michelle Bremer 9:38:24
- Jessica Fleming 9:42:18
- Michelle Gailey 9:50:51
- Marie Sorrell 9:57:06
- Caroline Gregory 10:16:56
- Michelle Wu 10:24:49
**Gregory was 9th overall. Wu was 13th.
Featured Image courtesy of Twitter user @ironman_peter.