Zyemtsev, Mack top pros at Ironman 

Challenging, chilly conditions slowed times

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - spoils of viktor-y Ukrainian runner Viktor Zyemtsev holds up the finish line after winning the men's pro division at Subaru Ironman Canada on July 26.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • spoils of viktor-y Ukrainian runner Viktor Zyemtsev holds up the finish line after winning the men's pro division at Subaru Ironman Canada on July 26.

Scroll down. Go all the way down the list of over 1,900 athletes who signed up for Subaru Ironman Canada on July 26.

The very last name on the alphabetical list was Viktor Zyemtsev.

And on a day where several athletes were put through suffering of biblical proportions, the last truly ended up being first.

Zyemtsev, who was the first to cross the finish line 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.

With cool temperatures and rain that sometimes bordered on being a downpour, the best of the best certainly earned their stripes.

"It's unusual weather today," Zyemtsev said after the race. "It was really cold and a couple guys even stopped.

"This was really cold."

Zyemtsev's winning time was 33 minutes off of Marino Vanhoenacker's top-shelf pace from last year.

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.

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."

Though Zyemtsev put himself in good position to attend the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii this fall, he may not take up the offer. He has been five times before, but has had "no luck" with a best finish of 30th.

"It's a really difficult race — windy, hot," he said.

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 Kona, needing a second-place finish to do so. That proverbial carrot was all the determination he needed to overcome the pain. He's had success in paradise before, having won the amateur race in 2013 in a record time before competing in the pro division last year.

But to get back there, Buckingham had to deal with some decidedly un-Hawaiian conditions, as he noted he bundled up for the cycling section, wearing an extra undershirt and gloves to protect against the biting conditions.

"Descending was so cold. You just had to be smart and not get hypothermia. It was definitely a challenging course — probably the hardest Ironman I've ever done," he said. "I'm happy I soldiered on to the finish line."

Buckingham saw some tumult in the cycling section as well, sporting a bloody gash on his right knee he suffered in a wipeout and costing him a couple minutes as he sought to get both his bike and body back in working order.

Rounding out the men's pro podium, Justin Daerr of Boulder, Colo. said though he was struggling, no one else had it any better.

"I figured everyone was going through it. I was hoping at one point maybe it would get a little better. I figured if I could get to Pemberton, it's got to be better in the valley," he said. "It was so hard to stay warm. I was pretty wrecked and then climbing out of Pemberton all the way home was pretty challenging on the best of legs, let alone tired legs."

The snowboarder finally crossed Whistler off his bucket list, though he'll have to make a return engagement to shred pow.

"When they announced they were moving the race here, I hoped I could make it out here because it's one part of the world that I wanted to see," Daerr said.

Colorado high for women's winner

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 said her deficit actually grew early on in the run, with McQuaid building up nearly seven minutes on her.

Mack, who has Colorado as her home base, felt even though she'd never had to contend with rain for so long, her mountain background paid off in spades.

"Lately, we've been getting a lot of rain in the afternoons and I hit the rain with an hour left in my ride," she said. "I knew I could ride in the rain, endure in the cold, and just stay mentally tough the entire time."

Midway through the race, Mack took on her first feelings of doubt, as she began to experience some fatigue around the 130th kilometre of the bike ride. She still had about 50 kilometres left to ride and a full marathon to run.

"The last ascent up back into Whistler, things started to turn around again and I started to get my positive vibes back," she said.

After hitting emotional and physical peaks and valleys throughout the run, Mack steeled her determination with about a third of the way to go, passing frontrunner McQuaid and not looking back until late.

"With about one mile left in the run, everything just started to seize and tighten. I was just praying 'Oh God, hang in there! I just have a few more steps,'" she said. "When I finished, it was everything I had, for sure."

To qualify for the World Championships, female runners must accumulate enough points to finish in the top 35. With these being Mack's first significant points, of the season and the cutoff being Aug. 30, she has resigned herself to the fact she'll have to wait at least a year to head to Hawaii as a pro for the first time after competing twice as an amateur.

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.

Men's age group winners were: Canadians Jamie Woodbury (18 to 24), Daniel Clarke (25 to 29), Jan Trojanowski (35 to 39), Ted Cochrane (40 to 44), Dan Smith (50 to 54), Brian Keast (55 to 59) and Len Ireland (60 to 64), Australians Cameron Wurf (30 to 34) and Rob Howitt (65 to 69), and Americans Graham Cooper (45 to 49) and Merrill Schwartz (70 to 74).

Women's age group champions were: Americans Karla Bensen (18 to 24), Caroline Lee (25 to 29), Susanne Davis (40 to 44), Peggy Yetman (45 to 49) and Cherryl Rose (55 to 59) and Canadians Stephanie Corker (30 to 34), Steph Neufeld (35 to 39), Kate Stebbings (50 to 54) and Debbie Suzuki (60 to 64).

Full results are online at www.ironman.com/triathlon/events/americas/ironman/canada/results.aspx#axzz3h3BgAEcw.

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