Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ironman Cozumel Titles Go to Beke and Van Vlerken

In a land often reserved for cruise ship ports, Caribbean breezes, margaritas and beaches, this weekend was reserved for Ironman and those margaritas and lying on the beach were most likely waiting until after the race. Instead, the crowds flooded Cozumel to see who would be crowned champion at this endurance race. At the inaugural Ironman Cozumel, debuting November 29, in the Mexican city on the Yucatan peninsula, the men's winner was just decided with Rutger Beke crossing the finish line first in 8:18:40. And in the process of writing this report, Yvonne Van Vlerken wrapped up her final miles of the marathon and crossed first for the women in 9:06:58.

Cozumel, often referred to as a vacation destination, was announced as a new Ironman race site in August 2008, and filled to capacity shortly after. For Americans it's a destination just far enough away from home and it's date right after Thanksgiving can be viewed by some as the perfect excuse not to overeat on the holiday. And for others, the Mexican destination draws a homeland crowd, vacationers and those who want to add a new Ironman to their repertoire. According to a press release about the race, Ironman Cozumel has 50 qualifying slots for the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. And the $50,000 professional prize purse will be distributed among the top five male and female finishers. I guess you could say that Christmas came a little early for Beke and Van Vlerken.

Beke is no stranger to the podium, nor is he unfamiliar with finishing among the age-groupers rather than dropping out when his legs couldn't give anymore. The 32-year-old Belgian has won Ironman Monaco in 2005 and Ironman Arizona in 2007. And if you watch the Ironman World Championship coverage on NBC each year, you may remember Beke's struggle in 2007 where he walked the entire marathon to finish in a respectable amateur time. He then redeemed himself in 2008 with a stellar day, finishing in third place. But back to Cozumel. Beke worked his way to the lead after coming out of the water in 11th (46:38), hammering down on the bike to move up to second by the time he reached T2 (4:34:27), and then finishing up with the only sub-three-hour marathon thus far for the day. Beke also seems to have the fastest bike time, just seconds faster than Sebastian Pedraza.

Van Vlerken, on the other hand, knows how to race fast but she's unfortunately often pushed out of the limelight because of Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington. Van Vlerken finished second to Wellington at the 2008 World Championships, and she held the iron-distance record for a year before Chrissie Wellington shattered it. In July 2008, the Dutch triathlete beat Paula Newby-Fraser's 14-year-old iron-distance record at the Quelle Challenge Roth. Then Wellington came along this year and broke it. But after today's Ironman, Van Vlerken has one pretty special bragging right: She finished 10th overall, having only nine men cross the finish line before her. You could say Van Vlerken started a little behind on the swim, finishing in the second pack of females (51:06), but she tore loose on the bike and never looked back. The 31-year-old turned out the fastest bike of the day in 5:03:44 and just built her lead on the run, finishing in 3:08:04.

Congrats to these Ironman champions! So fast on land and water, especially considering Cozumel has been known to get walloped with high winds as was the case in the days leading up to the race when the swim area was closed for practice. A relatively calm day--at least sounding like it from the live feed I read--made for some fast 2.4 mile swims. And a flat bike course followed the Cozumel island main road for sightseeing while cycling.

Uh oh, I sense another Ironman urge coming on. I'm already signed up for Wisconsin, but the vacation allure has me sold on Cozumel for the future. Not to get all personal here, but I'd be scared to check out a first-time bike course mostly because that's where I have issues when I race, which is why I didn't jump at the chance last year to register (the $525 price tag didn't help either). But if you ever needed an excuse to skip a family Thanksgiving--or more reason to gorge on the turkey and trimmings knowing they'd be burned off a few days later--or check out for a Caribbean vacation with a race thrown in, this is it. Not too far from home either, little adjustment to the time zone, but give me a Computrainer practice course first.

Want some results? Check on the progress of approximately 1,900 age-groupers at ironmancozumel.com, and follow along with the live tracker here. Photo grabbed from rutgerbeke.com. Posted by Kate

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