The women’s race this year was going to be nothing short of incredible. There were no clear favourites, and at least eight women had the potential to end up on top of the podium. At the end of a gruelling day, where the lead changed constantly, it was Great Britain’s Leanda Cave, who was strong in all three disciplines to earn the title. Tightening the screws on the run, and making the pass with approximately five kilometres to go on the run, Cave now joins Craig Alexander as the only athletes who have won both the 70.3 and Ironman World Championships in the same year, plus, her resume also includes the ITU World Long Course Champion (2007) and ITU World Short Course Champion (2002).

 

Much to the delight of the professional women, this year the women’s race started five minutes behind the men’s, allowing for a more fair and separate race. Although, there is still requests for it to be moved out to an 8-10min gap as some of the women still caught the slower professional male athletes. There were a few women her broke away in the swim, but it was no shocker that Amanda Stevens lead out of the water (55:09) to thunderous applause from the crowd. Meredith Kessler was the first to chase, less than a minute down, closely followed by Gina Crawford, Leanda Cave, Mary Beth Ellis and Amy Marsh.

 

Stevens’ lead on the bike was brief. The strong riders were making a move early, and it wasn’t long until Cave (aka Super Bird), flew to the front of the pack followed by Ellis (aka bulldog. NB. We heard this on course, and not sure if it’s her actual nickname, but agree that it is very fitting. This woman is hard as nails, unrelenting and is so little). Caroline Steffen (aka Xena), one of the race favourites, was chasing the lead group of girls by over a minute and half out of the swim, but the charging Warrior Princess made light work of the gap and was back in contention early.

 

At approximately 60kms, however, Xena was forced to take a four minute drafting penalty, leaving Cave to continue in the lead with Ellis and Marsh right behind. Kessler was trailing by a minute to the lead girls. Further back in the field, some of the race favourites weren’t making up any ground as yet, including 2010 champion, Mirinda Carfrae and 2012 Challenge Roth winner, Rachel Joyce. Carfrae had been working under the guidance of Mat Steinmetz on her cycling for the past nine months or so, and was hoping to improve on two wheels to match her incredible running talent. While in the pre-race press conference, Joyce revealed that she had been sick in the days leading up to the race, and was hoping that she could overcome the virus prior to race day.

 

Back to the front of the pack, and Xena exploded out of the penalty box, again, stampig her authority on the bike leg of this course. Making up time on the leaders, she cut her four-minute deficit down to two in no time. The temperature started to rise, and the wind picked up. Cave began to edge away from Ellis, and Steffen moved ahead of Marsh for third spot on the Queen K highway. By the 88km marker, Steffen was not far behind the lead girls, and soon took the lead. Again, the women jostled for position. Not one of them wanting to give an inch. Cave tried to make a pass on Steffen, and entered her draft zone before realising she wasn’t strong enough at that point to make the pass, so dropped back. However, this resulted in a drafting penalty for Cave which she would have to serve later. Further back, Carfrae was trying to shake the others and made a move towards bridging the gap to the leaders. Further back in the field, the ever impressive 47 year old, Natascha Badmann was showing everyone how to ride a bike – Badmann would eventually end the ride with the fastest bike split. Amazing effort.

 

Heading back into town, the two lead women again swapped turns on the front. Cave was out of the penalty box and on the hunt again, and Carfrae was making up time on the bike also. This race was far from over.

 

Into transition, it was Ellis just in front of Steffen, however, she too got penalised for drafting, and had to stand out for four minutes. The top three women at this stage had all served a drafting penalty – this game was wide open. Steffen was the first out onto the run course, followed by Ellis, and Cave not far behind. Carfrae had a great back end of the bike, and managed to ride herself into transition only eight minutes behind Ellis and Steffen, and four minutes behind Cave. The bike course this year was tough. With times significantly slower than previous years (disregarding penalties as well), it was evident that the wind had played a tough role in the outcome of the bike times. The other mover in the field was Badmann, who rode herself into fifth position, and claimed the fastest split (5:06:07), 42 seconds faster that Xena. Meredith Kessler had a bad end to her race colliding with an amateur on the bike course, and her coach pulled her from the race because of concussion.

 

Onto the run, Ellis maintained a strong hold of Steffen early in the piece, however, Steffen started to pull away. Cave was making in roads, and it wasn’t long until she passed Ellis, who locked on to the shoulder of Cave. Cave pulled away from Ellis, as Carfrae stepped it up and closed the gap. Over the first 10miles, Carfrae had made up time and was only 1:15 behind Cave and Ellis.

 

Carfrae kept pushing and as expected was running the house down. She caught Ellis, and then caught her breath. Keeping tempo, she regrouped and tried to make a move to catch Cave as well. “I took a breather before trying to make a move on Leanda. Then I decided to go. But, the body didn’t respond,” Carfrae explained. “I’d lost a bottle on the bike, so I was low on calories and I paid for it. I tried to get the calories in, but it just wasn’t enough.” Carfrae went on to explain later, “that takes nothing away from the other girls. Leanda had a fantastic day and executed the race beautifully.”

 

Carfrae did catch Cave, but it was short lived. In what has possibly never happened before, someone was running away from Carfrae. As Carfrae dropped back, it looked like the race was going to come down to the wire between Cave and Steffen who was still running strong up front. Back in the field a huge mover was Sonja Tajsich. Loving the heat, she was picking up the pace and making moves of her own. Unless something went drastically wrong with Cave and Steffen, they were in the clear, but there was every chance Tajsich could catch Ellis and even Carfrae.

 

This women’s race was shaping up to be one of the closest. Cave kept inching closer to Steffen, and with about five kilometres to go Cave was making the pass. The crowd at the finish line roared as they watched on the jumbo screen, the two women run shoulder to shoulder. Steffen stayed with the accelerating Cave, but it was short lived. “When Chrissie past me last time, I tried hard to hang on, but I only lasted a couple of seconds. This year when it happened with Leanda, I held on longer. So maybe next year I can hold on long enough!” said Steffen, reminiscing of being passed again in the dying stages of the race.

 

If Cave just held pace, it didn’t look like Steffen would be able to match her. The two women continued to run for home, and Steffen stepped on the gas going back down Palani road, but it wouldn’t be enough. Cave kept turning the screws and moved towards coming the Ironman World Champion.

 

Waiting at the line were her friends and family, nervously watching the jumbo screen to see Leanda enter the finish chute. The crowd were on the feet, smashing the guard rails and using everything possible to welcome home to the new champion. Cave crossed the line in 9:15:54 and was elated. Exhausted. But elated. Dropping to the floor to perform the Blaisman roll across the finish line, Cave finished off an amazing race to claim her first Ironman World title, and her fourth world title overall.

 

Steffen crossed the line in second just over one minute behind, and Carfrae left nothing out there collapsing across the line in third.

 

“I’m stoked. It was really exciting out there and just enjoyable to be racing. There was no clear race favourite before the race, nor during, and I love that way of racing. It was always back and forth, and a few were always in the mix. I haven’t actually raced these girls [looking at the top five women] this year, so there’s always that question in your own head about where you will stack up against everyone.” Cave said after the race.

 

Tajisch finished the day in fourth, overtaking Ellis right towards the end, and clocking up the fastest marathon of the day in 2:59:26.

 

Our ambassador, Bek Keat, had a good start to the day with a 57:44 swim, but was struggling on the bike with back pain. However, she ran hard to make up time and  finished with a strong marathon to claim 12th position.

 

Photos by Delly Carr and Stef Hanson (see if you can tell the difference…)

 

We will be updating our Kona coverage when the I return to Australia – stay tuned for age group updates, interviews and a bunch of photos from the big day – Ed.

 

 

Total Swim Bike Run
 Leanda Cave USA 9:15:54 0:56:03 5:12:06 3:03:13
 Caroline Steffen SWI 9:16:58 0:57:37 5:06:49 3:08:08
 Mirinda Carfrae USA 9:21:41 1:00:06 5:12:18 3:05:04
 Sonja Tajsich GER 9:22:45 1:10:36 5:07:57 2:59:26
 Mary Beth Ellis USA 9:22:57 0:56:06 5:08:06 3:10:30
 Natascha Badmann SWI 9:26:25 1:06:21 5:06:07 3:09:18
 Gina Crawford NZL 9:28:54 0:55:59 5:21:30 3:06:16
 Linsey Corbin USA 9:32:18 1:02:53 5:16:55 3:07:55
 Caitlin Snow USA 9:36:18 0:57:43 5:30:47 3:03:06
 Amy Marsh USA 9:38:15 0:56:08 5:16:36 3:20:27
 Michelle Vesterby DNK 9:42:22 0:57:44 5:16:57 3:22:47
 Rebekah Keat AUS 9:43:43 0:57:44 5:26:53 3:14:05
 Heather Wurtele CAN 9:44:04 1:00:04 5:16:58 3:22:28
 Kelly Williamson USA 9:46:51 0:57:39 5:40:03 3:05:01
 Tine Deckers BEL 9:48:38 1:06:18 5:19:25 3:18:43
 Kristin Moller GER 9:51:16 1:16:43 5:23:46 3:06:36
 Amanda Stevens USA 9:51:59 0:55:09 5:27:07 3:24:50
 Mareen Hufe GER 9:52:58 1:06:25 5:20:44 3:21:01
 Simone Brandli SWI 9:53:24 0:57:40 5:29:07 3:21:38
 Joanna Lawn NZL 9:55:11 1:00:09 5:21:27 3:28:41
 Sara Gross CAN 10:03:54 1:00:07 5:46:05 3:13:00
 Sarah Piampiano USA 10:04:51 1:06:20 5:29:53 3:23:29
 Susan Dietrich GER 10:07:06 1:06:12 5:15:50 3:40:23
 Sofie Goos BEL 10:14:39 1:02:52 5:49:06 3:18:01

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