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By Cameron Elford, Inside Triathlon Managing Editor
Before Ironman USA, NORBA pro Steve Larsen said that he would play to his strength, the bike, and he made good on his word. In just his third triathlon, the Davis, California, native powered to the front after overcoming an 11-minute deficit out of the swim in Mirror Lake to hold off fast-closing runner-up Olympian Ryan Bolton, also making his Ironman debut, and defending Lake Placid champ Cam Widoff. Among the women, Canadian Heather Fuhr came from behind on the run to catch a hammering Joanna Zeiger just past the halfway point of the marathon.
Larsen languished far behind the leaders after the swim as Australia’s John Van Wisse powered to the solo lead in 46:15 with Bolton, James Bonney and Alec Rukosuev about one minute behind. Widoff gave away over three minutes to Bolton with a 50:58 swim.
But it was on the bike that the race picture, at least among the men, began to take shape. Losing a further two minutes to the competition with a loose seatpost bolt, Larsen had his work cut out for him as he made his way out onto the 112-mile, two-lap hilly course. However, in just the first 30 miles Larsen took back over half of his 13-minute deficit to then-leaders Bolton and Bonney. And by the end of the first lap at 56 miles, Larsen had ridden himself into third, just 2:17 behind the pair of leaders and 30 seconds ahead of fourth-place Norbert Domnik of Austria. Widoff was 6:56 off the pace at halfway but said he wasn’t worried.
Then less than one hour later, midway through the second lap of the bike, Larsen powered into first relegating Bolton and Bonney to second and third. And Larsen continued his charge through the field, putting seven minutes the pair by 90 miles and heading out onto the run with an astounding 15:30 margin over Bolton and 16:00 over Bonney. By the end of the ride, Larsen had obliterated Thomas Hellriegel’s 1999 bike course record by 10 minutes with a 4:33:23 and was on his way to a new overall course record.
Once on the run, most expected the man to fade, but Larsen, whose weekly run mileage averages just 20 miles and who had, before today, never run longer than 18 miles, tenaciously held onto his lead. Behind him, Bolton was running a smart race, sticking to his plan and making up ground. But despite a 2:49 marathon, Bolton, who split 1:19:13/1:30:38 for the run, was unable to catch the man many were expecting to crack under the weight of an Ironman.
Larsen held on for the win in 8:33:11. Bolton took second in 8:41:52. Widoff, the only Ironman veteran on the podium, finished third in 8:55:06.
Zeiger, coming off a third-place finish at ITU world’s last weekend in Edmonton, Canada, came to Lake Placid looking for her first Ironman win. And for the first eight hours of the race it looked as though she would get her wish. After the first lap of the two-lap swim in the 72-degree Mirror Lake, Zeiger emerged as first woman and third overall, literally rubbing elbows with fellow Olympian Bolton at the turnaround.
After a 47:11 swim, Zeiger jumped on her bike and quickly gapped the second-place woman out of the water Andrea Fisher (51:02) of Texas and the 41-year-old Julianna Nievergelt (51:10). Fuhr languished some eight minutes back after the swim. And Zeiger continued to ride at the front, maintaining just better than a six-minute margin over Fisher, Nievergelt, Lauren Maule and Maryellen Powers at the halfway point. Fuhr sat an inauspicious 9:55 behind Zeiger at the end of lap one.
Once onto the run, the sunny, windless 75-degree temperatures mercifully gave away to a slight breeze and cloudy skies. But athletes were given no respite from the hills that had bedeviled them on the bike. At the start of the marathon, Powers was in second, 2:32 behind Zeiger. Fisher was third 3:30 back, and Fuhr had improved to a potentially dangerous fourth 6:30 down. And Fuhr used her awesome footspeed to wind her way through the pack in pursuit of her 11th Ironman win and an Ironman comeback of sorts after DNFing at Ironman California in May and changing her focus to short course for much of the rest of the season.
By thirteen miles into the run, Fuhr was in second just 20 seconds behind Zeiger. The pass came less than one mile later, and it was fatal. But as Fuhr hung on for the win, throughout the latter stages of the run, the gutsy, determined Zeiger refused to give up and managed to take time back from her Canadian rival in the final few miles. However, Zeiger ran out of room and had to settle for the runner up spot, giving it all she had and collapsing shortly after crossing the finish line just two minutes behind Fuhr. With her 9:31:10 finish, Fuhr eclipsed the previous course record of 9:45 – set just last year by Melissa Spooner.
Isuzu Ironman USA Lake Placid Triathlon. Lake Placid, New York. 1.2mi S/112mi B/26.2mi R. July 29, 2001.
Pro women: 1. Fuhr, Heather S. 55:45 5:28:54 3:01:28 9:31:10; 2. Zieger, Joanna S. 47:22 5:30:27 3:10:13 9:33:11; 3. Drake, Laura 1:01:51 5:27:08 3:17:05 9:51:55; 4. Fisher, Andrea 51:01 5:30:29 3:35:27 10:01:58; 5. Maule, Lauren 54:38 5:29:03 3:39:18 10:09:07; 6. McMahon, Donna S. 1:00:57 5:43:52 3:45:20 10:38:50.
Pro men: 1. Larsen, Steve 57:08 4:33:23 2:56:52 8:33:11; 2. Bolton, Ryan B. 47:48 4:58:55 2:49:52 8:41:52; 3. Widoff, Cameron 50:58 5:04:09 2:55:50 8:55:06; 4. Domnik, Norbert 47:42 5:01:35 3:03:24 8:56:49; 5. Miyazuka, Hideya 55:18 5:03:31 3:01:41 9:05:48; 6. Lavoie, Pierre 54:18 5:05:57 3:01:38 9:07:30; 7. Neill, Mike B. 52:02 5:15:40 2:57:30 9:10:39; 8. Bean, Eric D. 52:54 5:06:06 3:12:21 9:16:40; 9. Malo, Simon 53:45 5:06:50 3:11:31 9:16:50; 10. Wiley, Todd P. 51:05 5:08:17 3:14:07 9:18:32.