Both winners of today’s Ironman Florida had been waiting for solid races after a slew of injuries, personal challenges and mishaps have altered their races this year. Van Vlerken hasn’t had the past year she’d hoped for, with frustrating results for various reasons and Starykowicz suffered bad injuries followed up with quite the post-race fiasco in Abu Dhabi earlier this year.
The Men’s Race
The men started five minutes before the women in the two-lap Gulf of Mexico swim in Panama City Beach, Florida. At the 1.2-mile mark, Starykowicz was a minute behind leader Denis Chevrot and in fifth place. Although he kept his minute distance behind, he exited the swim in second into T1.
By mile 10, Starykowicz had taken the lead on the bike. By mile 15, he had already built a 2:13 gap on the next contender and kept the power going. He didn’t stop, increasing his lead to 10:20 by mile 50, 13:50 by mile 70 and 16:16 by mile 90, eventually reaching T2 with an impressive course-record 4:04:49 bike split and a large gap heading out onto the run.
Behind Starykowicz came a chase pack of nine men, two of whom—Jan Rapheal and Kirill Kotsegarov—had previously won this race. Although Rapheal steadily made up time on the leader, almost a minute per mile, he eventually ran out of real estate. Starykowicz crossed the line in 8:06:17, followed by Raphael in 8:08:49 and Scott Defillippis in 8:09:33.
The Women’s Race
The women’s swim was led by strong swimmer Meredith Kessler, who built a 2:25 lead on her competitors at the halfway point and a four-minute gap by the end of her 56:28 first leg. Ashley Clifford came out next with a 1:00:13. Two of Kessler’s biggest threats—Mirinda Carfrae and Yvonne Van Vlerken—came out of the in 7th (1:01:58) and 10th (1:04:18), respectively, giving her an ample lead out onto the bike.
Kessler, a multiple Ironman champion, has had quite the rollercoaster year. She broke her back in a bike crash only weeks ahead of Ironman 70.3 World Championships in September, and just when she was feeling better and having a powerful performance at the Ironman World Championships a few weeks ago, she collided with another competitor and wound up with a concussion.
Through mile 10, Kessler had a 5:33 gap on the rest of the women, but van Vlerken was making her way toward her. Through the 33-mile mark, van Vlerken had made up a large part of the deficit and pulled into second, 5:40 off Kessler. Carfrae found her way into third by mile 50, but was overtaken by Carrie Lester around mile 70. Kessler wasn’t going to give up her lead easy, though, and although van Vlerken was fighting to chip away time, she stayed around 3:40 back from Kessler until mile 95, when she decreased the gap to 2:00.
Kessler held her lead into T2, with Van Vlerken on the hunt 1:10 down out onto the run. The leader change came at mile four, when van Vlerken passed Kessler and continued to increase the space between them, creating a 5:50 gap by the halfway point. Van Vlerken, known as “Flying Dutch Girl” ran away from the rest of the field and just kept going, taking the win in a course-record 8:51:35.
Carfrae came off the bike 16 minutes down but used her quick feet to move her way up, passing Kessler by mile 24. Kessler, who appeared to be fading a bit, was also passed by Clifford in the late stages of the marathon. Carfrae arrived at 9:05:03 and Clifford ran a 2:57:31 (a race best) to take third in 9:07:34. Kessler crossed in 9:08:28 to take fourth.
Top 5 Men
1. Andrew Starykowicz 8:06:17
2. Jan Raphael 8:08:49
3. Scott Defilippis 8:09:33
4. David Plese 8:14:28
5. Denis Chevrot 8:16:49
Top 5 Women
1. Yvonne Van Vlerken 8:51:35
2. Mirinda Carfrae 9:05:03
3. Ashley Clifford 9:07:34
4. Meredith Kessler 9:08:28
5. Stephanie Jones 9:13:18