Fast Racing In Antwerp

Yvonne Van Vlerken and Andrew Johns win the Antwerp Ironman 70.3

Published Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Fast Racing In AntwerpHolland's Yvonne Van Vlerken and Great Brittan's Andrew Johns won last weekend's Antwerp Ironman 70.3, the Marc Herremans Classic. Marieke Vervoort and Marc Herrmans both broke five hours, setting the fastest times ever accomplished by wheelchair athletes over the Ironman 70.3 distance.

It was a hot and beautiful European summer day with clear blue sky in Antwerp for the Marc Herremans Classic, the newest member of the Ironman 70.3 series. For a long time it looked like we might see a couple winning on this picture perfect day as Andrew Johns' girlfriend, Lisbeth Kristensen, led for much of the course, too.

Johns almost didn’t even make it to the line on Sunday. On Saturday he spent most of the day going from one bicycle store to the next trying to get a tire glued onto his disc wheel. Every store told him to come back on Monday – they didn’t do repairs on Saturdays! Despite the fact that Johns has been racing for 15 years, he had never glued a tire onto a rim before. It was Kristensen who eventually glued the tire on to his disc. “Yea I admit it, Lissy is the handyman in our house,” Andrew laughed.

There were many world class athletes among the 600 competitors at the start line. During the race many of those favorites were forced out with flat tires, though. Johns led out of the water and kept the lead until the 10 km point of the ride when Belgium’s Marino Vanhoenacker took over ... Vanhoenacker’s lead was short lived, though, as shortly afterwards he found himself on the side of the road with a flat.

A little later it was Great Brittan’s Spencer Smith taking over the lead and putting himself in front of Johns. “Spencer was pushing very hard on the bike, but I tried to stay with him,” Andrew said later. “At about 25 km an age grouper with a very high number passed us. Spencer and me where looking at each other and saying who the heck is this guy?”

That age grouper was Belgian’s short distance specialist Thierry Verbinnen, a training partner of Rutger Beke’s, competing for the first time in a longer distance event. He managed to stay with the leaders until T2, but fell back in the run and finished 18th.

At the 35 km point, Norman Stadler also passed Johns.

“Norman passed really fast, and I tried to ride with him, while the other two fell off,” said Johns. “I was looking forward to a challenge here on the bike, but then Norman had a flat too!”

Johns stayed out in front through the rest of the ride, exiting T2 1:35 minutes ahead of Belgium’s Rutger Beke. Johns managed to increase his lead during the first half of the run to three minutes, finally coming across the line with a 3:38:00 clocking, more than two minutes in front of Beke.
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“I felt really good today and had didn’t have to push at all,” said Johns. “I just went at a comfortable pace and cruised to the finish line.”

The women’s race was dominated by Holland’s Yvonne Van Vlerken and Kristensen, the Danish winner of Ironman Brazil earlier this year. Kristensen was first out of the water, but Van Vlerken managed to close the gap of 40 seconds by the 35 km point of the ride. vanvlerken1.jpg

Van Vlerken remained 20 to 30 seconds behind Kristensen throughout the rest of the ride, In T2, while Kristensen put on her Camelbak for the final leg of the race, Van Vlerken took the lead.

“I felt strong in the race and was really happy to be in the lead,” said Van Vlerken. “But I have a lot a respect of Lisbeth and always thought she will catch me again.”

With the temperature well above 30 degrees (Celsius), Kristensen was well hydrated, but wasn’t able to catch Van Vlerken. After the race, Van Vlerken collapsed and ended up unconscious in the medical tent.

“I probably didn’t drink enough and felt quite bad after the race,” she said. “But after an IV I was OK again.”

Kristensen was happy with her second place performance.

“It was so hot and hard!” she said. “I’m happy with the race because I did it out of my training as part of the preparation for Frankfurt. I trained very hard last week, on Wednesday I had a hard 30 km run, and my legs felt pretty tired today.”

vervoortandherremans.jpgThe most incredible women’s performance of the day was that of Belgium’s Marieke Vervoort. The 27-year-old finished only 43 minutes behind Van Vlerken in a time of 4:50:11 – in a wheelchair! “Wielemie,” as her friends call her, finished 11th overall in the women’s race.

“It was a great race,” she said. “I got so much support from the spectators, and I’m very happy about my personal best here.”

For Marc Herremans things didn’t look so bright during parts of the race. During the final leg he had a collision with the escort bike, crashed, and fell out of his racing chair. Luckily he got away only with some bruises, but it took him several minutes to get his chair fixed before he could get moving again. Despite all that, “Mad Max” Herremans finished with the fastest time ever for a wheelchair athlete over the Ironman 70.3 distance, 4:40:49. Despite the record time, he was not happy with his race.

“I had no good arms today; I still feel the stress of the last weeks from Ironman Lanzarote and climbing Mount Ventoux with the handbike,” he said. “And while being involved so much in the organisation of the event, I had not enough time to prepare and rest before the race. But most important for me here was that the athletes had a great time and race here, so I’m happy everything went well.”

The next stop for Herremans will be a trip to California, where he’ll climb El Capitain. Then it will be back to multisport racing with appearances at the Monaco Ironman 70.3 race, and then the Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

Ironman 70.3 Antwerp, Marc Herremans Classic
1. Andrew Johns 3:38:00
2. Rutger Beke 3:40:18
3. Pete Jacobs 3:42:53
4. Bert Jammaer 3:44:37
5. Richie Cunningham 3:45:20

1.Yvonne Van Vlerken 4:07:29
2. Lisbeth Kristensen 4:12:47
3. Tine Deckers 4:19:09
4. Sophie De Groote 4:25:50
5. Anne Marie Dupont 4:26:18

Wheelchair athletes
1. Marc Herremans 4:40:49

1. Marieke Vervoort 4:50:11