Former Challenge Cairns winner Chris McCormack and Aussie Luke McKenzie were strong favorites to win today, however last week McCormack was sidelined in the hospital with a kidney problem, and McKenzie went on to have one of his best Ironman performances to date. After spending much of the day out on his own on the bike, McKenzie held off a surging Tim Berkel to take his first-ever Australian Ironman title. McCormack managed to stay strong for most of the day, but began to show signs of pain in the final run loops around downtown Cairns. Still, his performance would net him a podium finish, but not long after finishing he would be carted off in a wheelchair to medical. 

In the men’s race, the swim began as expected with Aussie Clayton Fettell out first in a time of 47:53, followed a minute later by countrymen Chris McCormack and Luke McKenzie. Aussie Matty White exited in sixth place three and a half minutes back of Fettell alongside New Zealand’s Cam Brown, and Australian Tim Berkel. 

Once out on the bike, Fettell led the way with Brown, McKenzie, McCormack, Todd Israel and White roughly seven minutes behind him. Fettell was tagged for a drafting penalty on their way up toward the turnaround at Port Douglas, and his resulting four-minute hold in the penalty box would change the dynamics of the entire race. 

With Fettell sitting out for four minutes, McKenzie seized the lead and would ride alone along the Captain Cook Highway for the rest of the day. At the 115-km mark McKenzie was more than six minute ahead of Fettell, with Israel giving chase 13 minutes behind and McCormack and White a minute behind him. Berkel had also received a drafting penalty, putting him more than a minute behind the chase pack and roughly 15 minutes behind the leader. 

McKenzie entered T2 with more than 12 minutes on Fettell 19-plus on Israel, and a whopping 21 minutes on Berkel, McCormack and White. McKenzie’s 4:21:52 bike split was something that none of his competitors could even touch. “I feel like I’ve finally got my riding back to where it was three years ago,” said McKenzie after finishing.

 Israel quickly fell off pace, and by the 5K mark Fettell showed signs of breaking, leaving the door wide open for Berkel and McCormack to start reeling in the minutes they had lost on McKenzie on the bike. However, McKenzie wasn’t having any of it. By the 10K mark, Fettell had fallen to third place, and Berkel slipped into second by the 15K mark, still 14 minutes back of McKenzie.

 McKenzie’s pace was noticeably slower than Berkel’s, but he was still maintaining enough distance to effectively seal his win. McKenzie would finish with roughly four minutes to spare in 8:17:43. Berkel had still managed to come back after a drafting penalty and made up more than 17 minutes in the marathon to net his runner-up finish.

 The crowd-pleasing moment of the day definitely went to McCormack, who despite his pre-race medical troubles, managed to slug out a 2:54:52 marathon to round out the podium. McCormack was noticeably pained at the finish, but still gave the crowd a show with his post-race interview. “I was in agony,” he explained. “A full credit to the boys, Luke [McKenzie] and Tim [Berkel], they were in another zip code. Luke, take that to Kona, that is the way you win an Ironman. Very impressive.”

While the men’s race was an unofficial comeback, the women’s race was a brilliant debut. British ITU super-star Liz Blatchford, in her first attempt at the Ironman distance, held off arguably one of the toughest women in Ironman racing, 11-time Ironman title holder Gina Crawford of New Zealand. 

Blatchford led out of the swim in 54:12, with Crawford roughly a minute and a half behind her. These two were out on their own from the beginning, with the third woman out of the water—Aussie Michelle Gailey—four minutes back of Blatchford. 

Once out onto the roads, Crawford quickly caught up to Blatchford, and what unfolded turned into 112 miles of cat and mouse. American Stephanie Jones, who exited T1 more than 12 minutes behind Blatchford, quickly gained ground on the bike, chipping away five minutes by the first 50K of the bike. 

Crawford and Blatchford would exit T2 together, and Jones followed suit a little less than eight minutes behind them. Crawford pulled out in front early on, but was never too far ahead of Blatchford. At the 32-km mark, Blatchford made her move, and never looked back. By the 35-km mark, Blatchford had more than a minute on Crawford, and by the 40-km mark Blatchford’s title was all but sealed.

 Blatchford would pull out a 3:09:38 marathon on her way to her first Ironman finish and first Ironman title, with an overall time of 9:19:51. An emotional Crawford would hold on for second in 9:23:14, and Stephanie Jones would round out the podium in 9:31:46. Blatchford balked at answering whether or not a full-time Ironman racing career was in her future, however she admitted she planned on taking her Kona slot and seeing how she could fare on the Big Island. In her first season racing Ironman, having netted a 70.3 title in Mandurrah and a win at Ironman Cairns, there’s a good chance she’s one to watch in October.


Ironman Cairns

June 9, 2013

Cairns, Queensland, Australia

2.6-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run 

Men’s results

  1. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 8:17:43
  2. Tim Berkel (AUS) 8:22:16
  3. Chris McCormack (AUS) 8:32:50
  4. Jason Shortis (AUS) 8:38:21
  5. Clayton Fettell (AUS) 8:41:42 

Women’s results

  1. Liz Blatchford (GBR) 9:19:51
  2. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:23:14
  3. Stephanie Jones (USA) 9:31:46
  4. Anna Ross (NZL) 9:46:28
  5. Beth Walsh (USA) 9:55:23