Van Vlerken, Plese Run to Wins at Ironman Barcelona

Barcelona: known more for football than triathlon, except on one magical day per year when Ironman comes to town. On Sunday, a city full of culture and history was temporarily flooded by 2700 people in compression gear, most of them decidedly less attractive than Barcelona Football Club men.

Notable Names: Yvonne Van Vlerken, Elisabeth Gruber, Harry Wiltshire, Tim Brydenbach, Per Bittner, David Plese, Ruedi Wild

Swim

A one loop course along the shoreline of Calella makes this an actual spectator-friendly swim – although storms threatened the day before, athletes were greeted by a calm and warm Mediterranean sea on Sunday.  A pair of Brits, Harry Wiltshire and Oliver Simon, came out of the water at the top of a large men’s pro field, trailed by Germany’s Sebastian Bleistener and Belgian Tim Brydenbach. The top 10 all exited the swim within 14 seconds, just in time for the top women to emerge on shore. Kaisa Lehtonen (Finland) was the first woman out of the water, with Vanessa Raw (GBR) 34 seconds behind her. It was a full 6 minutes before Yvonne Van Vlerken followed in 3rd.

Top Swim Splits: Harry Wiltshire (47:32), Oliver Simon (47:33), Kaisa Lehtonen (55:32)

Bike

Per Bittner flew through a T1 crowded with pro men and out onto the bike, racing away to ride alone through the early miles. Bittner’s eagerness cost him, as Andreas Niedrig caught him, along with a 10-15 man chase pack, at 20km. Never count out a German cyclist attacking from behind, especially one who just recently missed out on the overall title at Ironman Copenhagen. Meanwhile, in the women’s race, Van Vlerken chased Raw who chased Lehtonen. This was Vanessa Raw’s first full Ironman, and she stated pre-race that she was “pretty terrified”, although at this point it looked like she was more terrified of letting Lehtonen get away than of the 100 miles still ahead of her.

While the top 3 women were madly trying to chase each other down after spreading out in the water, the top group of men never really separated. Bittner’s attempt to get away followed by Niedrig’s attempt to pass and then gap Bittner and the whole chase pack had, by 40km, resulted in only a 9 second spread amongst the top group. With splits 1-3 seconds apart, you’ve gotta wonder how much drafting is occurring (and/or affecting energy expenditure) among this group. But I can’t see all the way from Pennsylvania to Barcelona to tell – even with my binoculars – so let’s just assume that everyone’s behaving themselves on the bike course. Suffice it to say that Niedrig, Ruedi Wild, Anton Blokhin, Brydenbach, Hannes Cool, Bittner, and Simon rode within 9 seconds of each other until the last lap of the bike course, when Niedrig, Bittner, and Blokhin finally pulled away by 1 ½ minutes. Niedrig was first off the bike, having held a steady 42 km/hr pace.

Van Vlerken overtook Raw at 75km, but still had 5 minutes to make up to reach Lehtonen, who had been by herself for so long that “One is the Loneliest Number” would’ve made an appropriate soundtrack for this race. In other news, Natascha Badmann – 6-time Kona champion, now age 48, had moved into 4th. Pretty badass. By the time Lehtonen hit T2, Van Vlerken was only 50 seconds behind.

Top Bike Splits: Bryan McCrystal (4:17:11), Yvonne van Vlerken (4:41:28)

Run

After starting the marathon with a 1 minute lead, Niedrig was overtaken by Blokhin and then Bittner, Brydenbach, and David Plese. Over-biked, or injured? Niedrig was observed grabbing his left leg in the last miles of the bike, and now started to visibly hobble as he dropped to 4th, and I’m not sure quite yet whether to feel gutted for him (that’s the lingo, right?) or call up @TriExcuses. It wasn’t going to be as close as Ironman Chattanooga, but close enough for things to shake up throughout the men’s marathon. Blokhin was running hard to accrue a 2 minute lead, while Plese, after spending the bike at the back of the top group, overtook Bittner for 2nd and seemed to be gunning for Blokhin. Things got exciting when Plese overtook Blokhin with 10km to go, and held on for his first Ironman win in 8:02:21.

Yvonne van Vlerken finally caught up to Lehtonen just before 12km (and if you pause for a moment here, you can just feel Siri Lindley beaming rays of positivity from afar). After turning down a Kona slot this year – stating she wasn’t quite in “Kona shape” – Van Vlerken clearly showed she was still “in damn good shape”, as stated in the pre-race press conference. Lehtonen didn’t want to give up her place, however, and the two ran side-by-side until past the half marathon mark, with 8 minutes separating them from 3rd place Elisabeth Gruber. Lehtonen fought hard until the end, but Van Vlerken ultimately outran her for the win in 8:46:45 – her 10th sub-9 finish.

Top Run Splits: David Plese (2:43:38), Elisabeth Gruber (3:02:12)

Men’s Results

 

Swim

Bike

Run

Finish

$$$

Points

David Plese

50:39

4:25:28

2:43:38

8:02:20

$10,000

2000

Anton Blokhin

47:45

4:19:06

2:56:18

8:05:50

$5,000

1600

Per Bittner

47:44

4:19:28

2:56:37

8:06:23

$3,250

1280

Mauro Baertsch

51:12

4:26:28

2:49:53

8:10:25

$2,500

960

Tim Brydenbach

47:34

4:23:41

2:56:30

8:10:34

$1,750

720

 

Women’s Results

 

Swim

Bike

Run

Finish

$$$

Points

Yvonne van Vlerken

59:57

4:41:28

3:02:48

8:46:44

$10,000

2000

Kaisa Lehtonen

53:22

4:46:41

3:05:34

8:48:40

$5,000

1600

Elisabeth Gruber

1:00:19

4:48:34

3:02:12

8:54:03

$3,250

1280

Eimear Mullan

1:00:11

4:48:44

3:04:55

8:56:51

$2,500

960

Martina Dogana

1:00:01

4:49:03

3:13:40

9:05:30

$1,750

720

 

photo credit: Barcelona Skyline via photopin (license)

About the Author

Adrienne Taren
Adrienne is a MD/PhD in Neuroscience researching stress, your brain & the neuroscience of mindfulness training. She is also a fairly decent triathlete/runner/writer and an average ultra-distance swimmer, if there is such a thing. Visit her blog: http://www.adriennetaren.com/. Follow @SeeSpondyRun

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