Funchal, Madeira: The rain
continued in Madeira as the men’s event started with a picture-perfect dive off
the pontoon. With Australian Craig Walton on the start line, predictions were
that he would try to take a big lead out of the swim, then power his way to a
2 minute lead on the challenging bike course - enough to run home for the victory.
At the halfway point of the swim Walton’s plan was not unfolding as intended, as he had a mere 2 second lead on Germany’s Christian Ruderer and veteran World Cup podium finisher Vlodimyr Polikarpenko of the Ukraine. French teammates Frank Bignet, Stephane Poulat and Frederic Belaubre, always a power to be reckoned with on the swim-bike section, were also in contact with Walton.
Walter exited the swim 11 seconds ahead of Ruderer, with the rest of the field, led by Polikarpenko, a further 20 seconds back.
Once onto the bike course, Walton tried to establish his solo act at the front and by the 5km mark he had a 22 second lead on the chase pack of 16. Frank Bignet and Axel Zeebroek of Belgium seemed to have plans in store for Walton as they continually challenged the pace at the front. Olympic silver and bronze medallists, Stefan Vukovic of Germany and Jan Rehula of the Czech Republic, as well as the current World Champion, Ivan Rana of Spain were sitting in good position in the chase pack at this point.
By the 10km mark, the chase pack held Walton to his 22 second lead as Frederic Belaubre dropped off the back of the chase pack and was swallowed up by the second chase pack led by Italy’s Emilio d’Aquino, Maik Petzold of German and New Zealands Bevan Docherty.
At 15km the 2 chase groups joined, as Stefan Vukovic and Bevan Docherty took charge at the front. Walton’s lead still increased to 25 seconds - the rain-drenched roads being easier to handle alone than with a large group of riders.
Axel Zeebroek, Frank Bignet and Denmark’s Rasmus Henning managed to get the chase group organised and by the 20km mark they had taken a huge chunk out of Walton’s lead, reigning him back to just 12 seconds.
On lap 5, Bignet, Zeebroek and Poulat broke away and caught Walton. They then joined forces with the powerful Aussie to make time of the chase pack. By lap 6 the leaders had built their lead to 15 seconds, then to 26 seconds by the start of the final lap. Craig Watson of New Zealand tried to pull the chase pack up to the leaders, but the power at the front was too much.
By the time the lead quartet reached the bike to run transition they had built up a credible 40 second lead. Watson was first out of transition onto the 10km run course followed by Zeebroek, Bignet, and Poulat. Rasmus Henning was the first one from the chase pack onto the run, 45 seconds back. Ivan Rana was in 12th place at this point 50 seconds behind Walton.
On the first lap Alex Zeebroek moved to the front as Craig Walton dropped back to 3rd, with Poulat in 2nd and Bignet 4th.
Meanwhile Daniel Unger of Germany, Kiwi teammates Matt Reed and Bevan Docherty, along with Ivan Rana made up considerable time and by the 2nd lap were just 30 seconds back.
Drama started building by the 5km mark as Rana moved up to Zeebroek, with Reed, Poulat and Unger within seconds of the leader. Bevan Docherty was in 6th place, 8 seconds back, with Walton still hanging onto 7th place, 13 seconds behind.
Spain’s World Champion moved into the lead on the 3rd lap, and as they entered the final 2km of the event he had a 14 second lead on Daniel Unger and Matt Reed who were running shoulder to shoulder - both hunger for those coveted podium steps. Bevan Docherty had dropped back 23 seconds, as the event’s “Brave Heart” Alex Zeebroek - who spoiled Walton’s game plan, dropped back to 5th, now 39 seconds off the pace.
Ivan Rana put the pedal down with less than a kilometre to go and took back-to-back wins in Madeira, which was also a dress rehearsal for the 2004 Triathlon World Championships - the final event before the Athens Olympic Games Triathlon Qualification cut-off.
Daniel Unger held onto 2nd place, taking his first World Cup podium finish just 7 seconds behind Rana. Matt Reed, who has not been on the podium since the Cancun World Cup in 2001 was 3rd, a further 8 seconds back. Bevan Docherty was 4th with Stephane Poulat rounding out the top 5.
Ivan Rana said after the race, “This made up for my loss to Hunter Kemper in Madrid, which was a very sad day for me. Now I know that I can race full out alone from start to finish.”
Another story within the event was the breakthrough of the swim-bike specialists such as Craig Walton, Stephane Poulat, Frank Bignet and Axel Zeebroek - the powerhouse at the front of the Madeira bike section. They can also run well after a hard bike - all four of the leaders off the bike finished in the top 10.
|Results: Elite Men|
|1.||Ivan Raña Fuentes||ESP||01:46:22|