Weather challenges the toughest of Ironman contenders as international event hits Youghal

Weather challenges the toughest of Ironman contenders as international event hits Youghal
Picture: John Hennessy

YOUGHAL played host to a thrilling edition of the world-famous Ironman race on Sunday, and it was Britain’s Alistair Brownlee who triumphed in the inaugural Cork version of the renowned triathlon event.

Over 2000 athletes, from over 60 countries, took to the start at Claycastle beach for a race which was making its ‘full-distance’ debut here in Ireland. Somewhat unfortunately, the swim leg of the event — a 2.4 mile open water test — which is traditionally the first part of the race, had to be cancelled, due to unsuitable sea conditions.

However, that didn’t deter the thousands of local and international supporters, who lined the streets of Youghal, and beyond, in support of their heroes, despite the grey skies overhead and heavy rain throughout.

Weather conditions proved difficult on what was an especially tough route. After a fast start to the opening cycle event, along the undulating coastal roads of east Cork, the climb up the steep Windmill Hill set the audience on the roadside alight, with scenes reminiscent of a stage of the Tour de France.

Brownlee, taking on his first full Ironman event, was the third athlete on to the hill, his looming red jersey drawing loud roars from the fans flanked nearby. The legendary triathlon figure cracked a smile as he went in pursuit of the day’s early leaders, Germany’s Markus Thomschke and Ireland’s Bryan McCrystal.

It proved a thrilling spectacle, as triathletes scaled the gruelling Windmill Hill, — a short hill with 21% gradient twice featured along the 112 mile trek, which included over 1900 metres of climbing in total — willed on by the superb support of the enthusiastic spectators on the roadside. There were thrills, spills and falls. Some chose to walk but, even allowing for that, the riders weren’t found wanting for effort, in adverse conditions.

McCrystal was the leader at the transition area, though Brownlee saved his best for last, winning the race on the run. After a full-marathon (run over 26.2 miles) through the streets of Youghal, Brownlee emerged victorious in a classy time of 07;49;20. The day was a journey into the unknown for Brownlee, but it was a highly impressive Ironman debut for the British Olympian, who has now sealed a place at the Ironman World Championships, in Hawaii.

Victory in the professional women’s race went to Switzerland’s Emma Bilham, who also delivered an impressive display on the four-lap run along the streets of Youghal, after a solid showing on the cycle, to cross the finish in an overall time of 08;50;18. She takes the accolade of being the first female athlete to win the edition of the Cork race. Second in the women’s race was Holland’s Pleuni Hoojiman (09;19;50). Amanda Wendorff (09;28;32) of the USA was third. The first Youghal athlete home on the day was Warren Terry of South Coast Tri Club, who was strong throughout, as was his teammate and close pursuer, David Murphy.

Sunday might have been the worst day of the year in terms of weather, but it must surely rank as one of the best yet in terms of Youghal’s, and Cork’s, rich sporting history. 625 athletes took on the mammoth challenge for the first time, and there was very strong Cork representation within the line-up, with the local ‘host’ club, South Coast Tri Club, sending out up to 40 representatives.

Brownlee described Ironman Cork as tough, and he paid tribute to the strong support from the fans on the roadside. After building up a good rhythm entering the run, the last 10km was the most challenging part of the day, he explained, though it also proved to be the most decisive; it was the point at which he won the inaugural title.

McCrystal, a top cyclist, produced an admirable display on the day (07;51;19), claiming the title of first Irishman home. ‘‘Look who was chasing me down!’’ joked McCrystal at the finish line, ‘‘Alistair is strong, hard as nails’’. Thomschke crossed the line in third (07;58;46).

Completing an Ironman race is seen as the ultimate achievement. After all, it is the biggest test of endurance, and the world’s most famous single-day endurance race. Despite the fact that the 2.4 mile swim was unavoidably omitted on Sunday, each and every finisher deserved the title of ‘ironmen’, as was explained by the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly.

Regardless of finishing times, and whatever the weather, Ironman Cork was a massive success and now has lift off. Those on the podiums are already looking forward to making a return. Roll on next year — and the year after that — when the race comes back to town. The race is expected to be worth around €8 million to the local economy.

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