The Subaru Ironman Canada, by any measure, is a stiff test for the world's toughest triathletes.
Throw in some uncooperative weather and the challenge is increased severely.
With cool temperatures and rain that sometimes bordered on being a downpour, the best of the best certainly earned their stripes here in Whistler on Sunday, July 26.
Conditions were so challenging that winner Viktor Zyemtsev of Ukraine posted a winning time that was 33 minutes off of Marino Vanhoenacker's top-shelf pace from last year.
Zyemtsev, who won in a time of eight hours, 49 minutes and 46 seconds (8:49:46), posted the best run by nearly five minutes to come back and beat South African competitor Kyle Buckingham. Buckingham had the third-best swim and best time on the bike to build roughly a six-minute advantage on the field entering the run. Buckingham was no slouch in the run, either, as he posted the second-best time to a swift Zyemtsev.
The champion said it was tempting to stop, even for just a moment, to fight the early-morning chill. But he made a point of powering though the icy blast, something rarely found in summer competitions.
"It's unusual," he said. "It was really cold and a couple guys even stopped.
"This was really tough."
Zyemtsev, who won the race in 2010 when it was still based in Penticton, acknowledged the cycling stage isn't his strongest, so he sought to stay within striking distance and make his move in the run.
"I stayed behind and was just patient, patient, patient, patient (in the bike portion)," he said. "I did a fast run on the first lap and caught the first guy (Buckingham).
"I was doing very well. My run was fast for the whole marathon distance."
Buckingham, meanwhile, estimated he and Zyemtsev ran side by side for about 15 kilometres in the race's closing hours. However, his pace slowed just short of the finish line and Zyemtsev took advantage.
"I tried to hang in there and at 40 kilometres (out of 42.2), my legs just seized up," Buckingham said.
Buckingham, who listed the race as his most challenging Ironman, said he was determined to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii this fall, needing a second-place finish to do so. That proverbial carrot was all the determination he needed to overcome the pain.
American Danielle Mack emerged victorious on the pro women's side. Mack also overcame a deficit entering the run, as eventual runner-up Melanie McQuaid had sewn up over a five-minute cushion. Mack, who captured her first pro Ironman win in Boulder, Colo. last August, ultimately posted a winning time of 9:46:19, besting McQuaid by just over two minutes. Mack was wheeled to the medical tent shortly after crossing the finish line and was not available for immediate comment on her victory.
Penticton's Jen Annett rounded out the top three, completing the course in 9:55:06.
Adam Ward was the top Whistlerite, placing sixth in the men's 25 to 29 age group in a time of 10:12:10.
Competitors have until midnight to finish the race on Blackcomb Way. Live results are online at www.ironman.com/triathlon/coverage/athlete-tracker.aspx?race=canada&y=2015#axzz3h3BgAEcw.
For more, see Thursday's edition of Pique.
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