March 5th marked a momentous occasion: the first full Ironman of 2016 Mike Reilly announcing his 150th Ironman. So we should all clap for him, or something.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Ironman New Zealand. Taupo is a beautiful place, which is probably why so many Pros from all around the world show up to race there every year – for 32 years, in fact. The course is universally described as “iconic” with oodles of crowd support, plus carries a $75,000 prize purse and 2000 KPR points. Also, Ironman claims that 2,000 volunteers help run the show in Taupo, out of the 22,000 people that live there, which means that at least 9.1% of the population is super nice.*
*Basically I’m ready to move to New Zealand, and may have just googled “requirements for being a doctor in New Zealand.”
Start List: Defending champ Cam Brown, Terenzo Bozzone, Dylan McNeice, Matt Hanson, Paul Matthews, Antony Costes, Meredith Kessler, Gina Crawford, Amanda Stevens, Michele Bremer, Lauren Brandon.
— Cameron Brown (@ChuckiBrown) March 4, 2016
Just to make things interesting, the pro men and women essentially swam together. With only a 45 second gap between starts and some speedy female swimmers on the start list, a lot of dudes were about to get chicked. See next paragraph.
Clayton Fettell and Dylan McNeice each led a group of men at the beginning of the swim, but it was McNeice who held on to the lead, coming out of the water in 44:54 – yes, an Ironman swim in under 45 minutes. It probably takes some of you that long to swim a half ironman. McNeice had a 1:45 gap over Paul Matthews, Terenzo Bozzone, Mark Bowstead, and Fettell. Meredith Kessler had joined the front pack of men, where she and Amanda Stevens tried to give Lauren Brandon a run for her money. But you don’t mess with Brandon in the water, and LB exited the swim in 46:00 (to Kessler’s 47:49 and Stevens’ 50:44). Fortunately an Ironman bike is really really long, so Kessler, Gina Crawford, and Stevens still had ample time to make up those 2 – 5 minutes.
Via Ironman Live: “In the women’s pro race, Gina Crawford climbed out of the water in third some 5:11 down on the leader Brandon. Three seconds behind Crawford is another Amanda Stevens.”
Commentary: Climbed out of the water? What the heck was she climbing, is the swim situated in a canyon? And did Amanda Stevens clone herself, and one of her is in front of Gina while the other Amanda Stevens is behind? Strange things are happening in New Zealand.
Everyone hopped on their bicycles and away they went. 15km in, McNeice and Bozzone were 1-2, with Matthews 6 seconds behind. A
pretty tight chase pack of Antony Costes, Bowstead, Guy Crawford, Fettell, and Cal Millward were only 32 seconds off the lead. Defending IMNZ champ Cam Brown was sitting pretty in the next group 2:40 behind, either biding his time or watching his repeat-champ dreams ride away from him. Too early to tell. The women spaced out a little more (figuratively speaking); LB kept up her 1:30 lead over Kessler, with Gina Crawford another 3 minutes back, and another minute+ to Carrie Lester, Stevens, and Lisa Marangon.
Not much happened between 15k and 90k, except that they all rode their bikes farther, of course. The men shuffled order but all players stayed within about 2 minutes of each other, and the women stayed as they were, except Kessler moved gradually closer to Brandon, like a wildebeest stalking its prey, or whatever wildlife is indigenous to New Zealand.
Eventually Kessler made her big move, overtaking Brandon and opening up a 5 minute lead by 90k. Aussie Carrie Lester had moved into 3rd, followed by a pair of Brits, Laura Siddall and Lucy Gossage (all +8 minutes). A little farther up the road, the men’s field now looked like this: Bozzone, McNeice, Matthews, and Costes together, with the big mover being Cam Brown, now in 5th and only 19 seconds off the group – not too shabby at age 43. The top 10 men were still packed like sardines, if sardines had to maintain legal drafting distance, with Cal Millward at the front (tell me you didn’t just picture Cal as a sardine).
Gossage and Siddall passed Lester and Brandon to take over 2nd and 3rd place before the end of the bike and actually put some time into Kessler, who hit T2 still in the lead but with only 2 minutes over Gossage and 4 on Siddall (we later learned that Kessler cost herself about a minute by taking a wrong turn coming back into town….whoops.) In what was a tight men’s race with no clear leader through at least 100k, Cyril Viennot came off the bike with a 2:25 lead, while the chase group had thinned out to (in order of appearance) Cam Brown, Bozzone, Millward, Crawford, Joe Skipper and Bowstead.
Viennot can run crazy fast, with recent Kona marathon splits of 2:51 and 2:53. But it appeared he burned himself on the bike today, as he had already fallen to 6th place by 3.8km. Word on the street was that Viennot had cramped, but he was still going, unlike McNeice:
Because it’s not a #triexcuse unless you’re “gutted”.
Out of #IMNZ – oldest excuse in the book, my hammy is gone! Toughest thing I've done pulling out, but wasn't doing myself any favors. Gutted
— Dylan McNeice (@dylanmcneice) March 5, 2016
The real story was Cam Brown and Cal Millward running side-by-side for pretty much the entire run. Cal threw in an early surge but couldn’t shake Brown. While this mano-a-mano thing was going down, Bowstead dropped off, Joe Skipper moved up, Matt Hanson moved way up from 13th to 5th, Bozzone was hanging on desperately…until finally, at 31.4km, a defining moment came. Brown opened up 36 seconds on Millward, and that was that. Sadly (for Cal), Joe Skipper was able to capitalize on the fading Millward and move up to 2nd.
And oh, yeah, the women were still racing.
Meredith Kessler was on pace to break her own course record, and gained back some of those minutes she lost due to thinking it was December and she was on the 70.3 course. Most importantly, Kessler managed to keep all the water cups in the upright position as she passed the run course aid stations. Laura Siddall’s streak of awesomeness (see: podium at Challenge Wanaka) seemed to be continuing as she initially moved up past Lucy Gossage, but she couldn’t hold on – passed back first by Gossage, and then by a strong Carrie Lester. Kessler won her 5th Ironman New Zealand and set the course record (only 7 more times until she’s as cool as Cam Brown!), with Gossage, Lester, Siddall, and Stevens rounding out the podium.
1. Meredith KESSLER – 8:56:08
2. Lucy GOSSAGE – 9:05:08
3. Carrie LESTER – 9:07:19
4. Laura SIDDALL – 9:09:08
5. Amanda STEVENS – 9:12:50
Cam Brown deserves his own concluding paragraph: the man is a beast. 43 is old-ish for triathlon, particularly when you’ve had a 27-year career. Today, he broke his own world record with his 12th victory at IMNZ. In 8:07:57. First dude to win the same Ironman 12 times, and the oldest to win an Ironman period.
1. Cameron BROWN – 8:07:57
2. Joe SKIPPER – 8:09:36
3. Callum MILLWARD – 8:10:56
4. Matt HANSON – 8:12:29
5. Matt RUSSELL – 8:15:24