2009 Race Report–Day 1

Roll, Armstrong lead Ultraman

Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Sat Nov 28 2009

VOLCANOES NATIONAL MONUMENT, Hawaii — Five-time women’s champion Shanna Armstrong and longshot, second year competitor Richard Roll led the first day of the 25th Ultraman World Championship held on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Armstrong, 35, combined a women’s-best 2:51:29 10 kilometer swim and a second-best 6:08:40 for the 90-mile bike to craft a 9:00:09 first day time that gave the Fort Worth, Texas star a 14 minute 50-second lead over first day runner-up Kathy Winkler of Mill Valley, California. Looming in third is Ultraman rookie Trix Zgraggen of Switzerland, 43, a two-time Gigathlon champion, who posted the day’s fastest women’s bike split of 6:05:41 and trails Armstrong by 16 minutes 35 seconds.

Armstrong, who termed her third place finish in her first crack at Ultraman Canada this summer “an absolute disaster,” said she was back on her game Friday. “I’m not feeling faster, but I’m feeling stronger,” said Armstrong. “I’m having a good time and I made a decision not to key off anybody else’s race.”

Richard Roll, a 43-year-old entertainment attorney from Malibu, California, combined a blazing race-best 2:21:56 swim and a third-best 5:35:22 bike to carve out a 9-minute 53-second lead over Ultraman rookie Mike Le Roux of Cairns, Australia, and an 11-minute 20-second advantage over three-time Ultraman champion Alexandre Ribeiro of Brazil.

“Last year I came into this race like the Bad News Bears,” said Roll, a former NCAA swimmer for Stanford University who took up triathlon three years ago. “I put the whole race together in six months when all the Ironman races were sold out. I liked it so much I put all my chips on the table for this race. I trained for and focused completely on Ultraman and it paid off today. Today I exceeded all my expectations and it was probably the coolest athletic thing that’s ever happened to me. Now I’m tired and I’ll just take tomorrow moment by moment.”

Ribeiro who entered this edition of Ultraman as the defending champion and odds-on favorite, seems to be is in the catbird’s seat for this year’s race, as his race-best 5:14:56 bike split was 22 minutes faster than last year’s third place finisher Miro Kregar of Slovenia and 27 minutes 23 second faster than 1997 Ultraman champion Peter Kotland of Moore, South Carolina. Going into Saturday’s 171.4-mile bike, Ribeiro holds a 15 minute 21-second advantage over Kregar and 19-minute 42-second advantage over Kotland. If last year’s performances are any indication, Ribeiro should extend his lead going into Sunday’s double marathon. .

Buoyed by favorable currents, seven men and one woman broke three hours for the 10k swim. The bike was another story, as headwinds pushed back at the riders in the final half of the 90-mile ride.

With neither second-year Ultraman Roll nor Ultraman rookie Le Roux possessing runs strong enough to challenge the 6:15 double marathon bests of Ribeiro and Kregar and the sub-six hour run of Kotland, Ribeiro seems well on his way toward a record-setting fourth Ultraman win.

The Ultraman is a 320-mile, three-day stage triathlon which takes place on the weekend after Thanksgiving on the Big Island of Hawaii. Day 1 begins at 6:30 AM Friday with a 10 kilometer swim from Kailua Pier to Keauhou Beach and finishes with a 90-mile bike over 7,500 feet of climbing south to Volcanoes National Monument. On Saturday, the competitors face a 171.4-mile bike ride from Volcanoes National Monument to Hilo, north along the east coast, uphill to Waimea, up the spine of the 3,500-foot Kohala range and downhill to Hawi. Day three is a double marathon from Hawi, heading south along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway and finishing at the old airport in Kona.

There is no prize money and the event shepherded by race director Jane Bockus limits entries to 35 individuals and a short list of relay teams who are selected as much for their affinity with the Hawaiian spirit of aloha as for their endurance skills. Still, the roster of Ultraman winners includes established Ironman stars such as Ironman Hawaii winner Scott Molina, ITU long course World Championship silver medalist Jonas Colting, and Ironman star Gordo Byrne.