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(Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa) The 2015 African Continental Championship Standard Bank Ironman South Africa took place 8 hours west of Cape Town in the South African municipality of Port Elizabeth. South Africa, widely considered to be directly below North Africa, is known to to get fairly hot at times and today was no different as 23 women 38 men went to battle chasing precious Kona points and a $150,000 prize purse.
The new point allocation helped assemble what was arguably the strongest field ever at this event, with the winner punching their ticket to the Big Island and providing themselves with a nice stretch of time to fully recover and prepare for the World Championships. One of the favorites on the women’s side, Linsey Corbin, pulled out the day before with a lung infection.
With a wetsuit-legal-for-everyone water temperature of 66 degrees (19C), the athletes quickly departed Hobie Beach onto the choppy, single loop swim course. As expected, Jodie Swallow quickly separated herself from the pack and used her familiar high turnover to propel herself quickly into the back of the men’s race and to ultimately a 50:17 swim which was followed by Camilla Pedersen 2:27 back and Diana Reisler another 5:18 behind Pedersen. Swallow, who finished third at this race last year, would have her nose in the wind all day.
Jodie wasted no time in finding her rhythm on the new-for-this-year 2 loop bike course, pushing through the beautiful course that afforded some amazing views of the shark infested ocean which might have been the Indian Ocean (this author’s research could not find exactly which ocean it was, but there were definitely sharks in it).
The Brit, who has taken up residence on the continent with her South African boyfriend (competitor James Cunnama), rode to a 4th best 5:20:58. The rolling course made things interesting by hitting the athletes with a stiff headwind for the last 30 miles of each of the 2 loops. Camilla Pedersen eventually closed the gap to Swallow later in the bike, but ended up coming into T2 a couple minutes back after riding a 5:20:08. Diana Reisler would put herself in good position on the run by riding a race best 5:16. Strong runner and 2014 runner-up Lucy Gossage would also put herself into contention with a 5:20 ride after a swim that put her 9 minutes in arrears of Swallow.
Swallow took off on the run, chased by Pedersen, Reisler, Gossage, and Eva Wutti who had inserted herself into the race after a strong bike, with Swallow pushing her lead over Pedersen to 7 minutes at the 11 mile mark. Pedersen, Reisler, Gossage, and Susie Cheetham would trade spots several times behind Swallow, with Gossage ultimately pulling away from that group and making up time on Swallow on the last lap, taking back six and a half minutes in the last 10k. Gossage simply did not have enough road in front of her, finishing second to Swallow who would earn her first win on this continent. Susie Cheetham rounded out the podium, putting 3 Brits on the pedestal.
This was an emotional win for Swallow who can consider this not only a victory on her home turf, but also a tribute to her friend, fellow professional triathlete Linda Scattolin, who was recently killed in a tragic cycling accident in South Africa. If Swallow raced with a heavy heart, it certainly did not weigh her down as she took the win in convincing fashion.
After a tough current and choppy swim that formed a homogenized chase pack, Frenchman Sylvain Sudrie‘s prolonged breakaway attempt was neutralized as he led the men out of the water in 49:05, with pre-race favorite and 2013 Ironman World Champion Frederik Van Lierde 11 seconds back, followed closely by Das Biederen, Eneko Llanos, Bertrand Billard, Mike Aigroz, and Port Elizabeth local Kyle Buckingham. American TJ Tollakson came in quickly behind this group and soon enough the men were out onto the 112 mile bike course. There were no reported shark attacks.
Port Elizabeth is known as The Windy City and several men would work together to get through the first loop efficiently with FVL coming through the halfway point in first place followed by Sudrie, Buckingham, and Billard. Buckingham, who finished second here last year and was riding his Ventum on its maiden 140.6 voyage, would eventually lose some nutrition (food) on the bike and fall off pace. Van Lierde would ride a very fast 4:32:45 and would be follow onto the run by Buckingham, a whopping 14 minutes down. Matt Trautman would ride a smart 4:48with Bart Aernouts and Ivan Rana a few minutes ahead of him.
Van Lierde, apparently not comfortable with his 14 minute lead, stormed onto the spectator friendly 3 loop course and would end up running a 2:49:45 marathon to finish off a very balanced day. Rana would once again have the fastest run of the day at 2:48:44 but would still finish 14 minutes down of FVL. Aernouts and Trautman would be third and fourth with Eneko LLanos rounding out the top 5.