By Kevin Mackinnon (IRONMAN.com)
Boulder, Colorado has been one of triathlon’s hottest spots for decades. The home of numerous IRONMAN champions for all or part of the year, the city just outside of Denver has become a training mecca for triathletes from across the globe.
Which is why it is surprising that it took so long for the city to host a full-distance event, but when IRONMAN Boulder was announced a year ago it didn’t take long for triathletes from around the world to sign up, looking for their chance to complete a race in one of triathlon’s most famous venues. The day lived up to all the hype and expectation, too, as over 2,300 athletes entered Boulder Reservoir this morning in picture-perfect conditions to tackle the challenging course. While things could have been considerably tougher if race organizers had wanted to have the competitors ride through some of the canyons and mountains that make Boulder such a popular training spot, thanks to the altitude (5,400 feet/ 1,665 m) and hot conditions (89 F/ 31C) the day was plenty tough.
Daerr outlasts Cunningham
It didn’t take long for today’s professional men’s race to become a two-man affair. Richie Cunningham, 40, decided he would do this race a year ago while lying on his couch recovering from a bike accident. It was his first IRONMAN race since coming fourth at IRONMAN Arizona in 2009. Amongst the greatest male 70.3 athletes ever with numerous wins along with two third place finishes at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, the Australian hardly has anything to prove in the sport, but the race here in Boulder served as inspiration to get himself back after he broke his elbow last summer.
Cunningham started the day looking like a man on a mission. He led co-favorite Justin Daerr (USA) and Karol Kristov (EST) by almost three minutes out of the water. It didn’t take long for Cunningham and Daerr to separate themselves from the rest of the field, though. Kristov would hang on to third for the rest of the ride, but starting the run he was 25 minutes behind.
Daerr remained between four and five minutes behind Cunningham for most of the bike, but started to gain some time over the closing miles. Once on the run course Daerr steadily gained time on his fellow Boulder resident and was 1:30 back at the halfway point. A few miles later Cunningham stopped to stretch out a cramp and Daerr quickly moved ahead, cruising to his first IRONMAN title after seven top-five finishes.
Scott Defilippis would run his way to third to round out the podium, but was never in the picture, finishing almost 34 minutes behind. Age group athlete Curt Chesney had an amazing race, finishing fourth overall in 8:56:45.
Kehoe outlasts the field
When it came to picking favorites for today’s race, Danielle Kehoe’s name wasn’t one that appeared on a lot of pre-race lists. Most of the talk was about Laura Bennett, one of the most decorated short course athletes in US triathlon history (numerous world titles along with a fourth place finish at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing), who was making her IRONMAN racing debut. Last year’s IRONMAN Canada champion Uli Bromme was another woman most considered one to watch, along with Australian Carrie Lester, the 2012 IRONMAN Cairns champion, who moved to Boulder in May to work with new coach Siri Lindley.
And all those picks looked to be good ones early on. Bennett dominated the swim, coming out of the water 1:36 ahead of Lester and almost nine minutes ahead of Kehoe and Bromme. Kehoe managed the worst transition of a group of four, which left her last out of T2.
Lester didn’t take long to move to the front of the ride, but Bennett hung tough for a long way, keeping the gap to about a minute until the 75-mile point. After that, though, Lester steadily pulled away, finishing the bike with a five-minute lead on Bennett and almost nine-minutes on Kehoe, who had moved through the rest of the women’s field to finish the bike in third.
Lester, who has been recovering from a stress fracture, pulled out of the run just four miles in, which left Bennett in the lead for the next 10 miles. Kehoe steadily ate into her lead, though, and, by the 16-mile point of the marathon, she was in front. Just months after she collapsed while in the lead at IRONMAN 70.3 New Orleans with just two miles to go, Kehoe surged through the last 10 miles of this race, sprinting across the line for her first professional triathlon win.
Bennett struggled to the line in second, while Christine Hammond rounded out the podium. Age group athlete Nicole Callan’s 10:01 put her fifth overall on the day.