COEUR d’ALENE — This is getting to be like a broken record: Viktor Zyemtsev wins Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
The 39-year-old took his third title here on Sunday, finishing the 140.6-mile race in 8 hours, 32 minutes and 29 seconds.
The man from Ukraine took charge about halfway through the 112-mile bike leg and extended his lead throughout the 26.2-mile run to claim $15,000 in a race that saw pre-race favorites in both the men’s and women’s field fail to finish.
Despite being in front off the bike, and being a strong runner, Zyemtsev didn’t feel in control.
“I was scared. It’s a long day. Nutrition and everything is important,” he said. “Just one mistake and you can get in trouble.”
He said his 10 years of Ironman racing gave him the experience to hold off a gutsy effort by Tim O’Donnell of Boulder, Colo., who came in at 8:41:36.
“Sometimes, it’s so difficult, but today, I feel pretty good,” Zyemtsev said.
Meredith Kessler of San Francisco topped the women’s field in 9:21:45 on a day that started cold, windy and cloudy, but turned warm and sunny by afternoon.
The 33-year-old, wearing bib number 45 in her 45th Ironman, was also first after the bike, and was never threatened on the run to win by nearly 40 minutes, as she took home a $15,000 first-place prize. It was her second full Ironman title in two months, as she won Ironman St. George in May.
“This is a really special day,” Kessler said. “Someone is shining down on me right now. I didn’t anticipate to win. I feel really fortunate to pull off a double Ironman win already.”
Kessler and Heather Wurtele of Kelowna, British Columbia, who won here in 2008, were dueling during the bike, and Wurtele had just surged into a lead when her bike suffered mechanical problems. She was later able to continue on another bike and gave chase on the run, but was disqualified. Ironman officials said USA Triathlon rules require riders to finish the race on the same bike they have at the start.
“It’s really unfortunate that that happened,” Kessler said. “I don’t wish it on anyone, not even my biggest competition.”
Kessler built a five-minute lead by covering the 2.4-mile swim in 51:53, despite choppy water on the second lap when strong winds blew in. Wurtele pulled even on the bike about 30 miles in, and they raced head-to-head for the next 60 miles.
“She put the hammer down at 90. It was all I could do to stay with her,” Kessler said. “I took a risk on the bike for me. I was well out of my comfort zone.”
“It was worth the risk, I was able to run OK,” she added.
Kessler saw Wurtele’s bike breakdown, but was unaware she was later disqualified, so she never relaxed.
On the run, Kessler followed a strategy of 3 miles fast, 3 steady, and “nutrition, hydration, nutrition, hydration” to maintain control.
“You find this inner self, you just want to stay there. That’s all of our biggest fears, blowing like a champagne cork on the run,” said Kessler, who also won a half Ironman in New Zealand earlier this year.
A pre-race favorite in the men’s field, Chris Lieto, was leading for much of the bike segment, but dropped out around mile 80.
The 40-year-old from Danville, Calif., fought through a cold, rough swim, and felt he rode well for about 60 miles.
“Then my power shut down in half,” he said. “My riding got really slow.”
Lieto, runner-up in the 2010 Ironman World Championship, tried to push on, but when his right calf tightened, he decided against it. His Achilles, too, has been a problem, and he didn’t want to risk injury.
“I had to make a call, the tough call you don’t want to make, and that’s to DNF,” he said.
Ironman Coeur d’Alene offered a $75,000 professional prize purse and 50 age-group qualifying slots for the 2012 Ironman World Championship, taking place on Oct. 13 in Kailua Kona, Hawaii.
About 2,700 Iron men and women dove into Lake Coeur d’Alene, which was about 57 degrees at the start. Conditions improved as the day went on, with temperatures climbing into the 70s by mid-afternoon.
One man was pulled from the water during the swim and taken to Kootenai Medical Center, where he was reportedly in stable condition Sunday night.
Zyemtsev, a 10-time Ironman champ, won Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2005 and 2007, and was second in 2008.
He said he loves the city and the scenery, but could do without the chilly swim.
“I don’t like the cold water,” he said, smiling.
He was surprised to be in front after his 4:47:55 bike leg, and made his lead stand up with a solid 2:49:37 marathon.
O’Donnell, battling a bug that ailed him last week, led after a 49:20 swim. He overcame mechanical problems early on the bike and felt good for about 45 miles.
“Then, the wheels fell off,” he said.
Once Zyemtsev went by, O’Donnell said he simply held on as best he could for a 2:52 marathon and the $7,500 second-place prize.
“For me, I played my cards on the bike and it didn’t work,” the 31-year-old said. “It was really just about maintaining. I could have tried to make a surge, but in all honesty, Viktor’s an awesome runner. It probably would have caused me to blow up and lose second place.”
After the race, O’Donnell said he felt horrible, and his quads were “smashed.”
“Deep down, I’m satisfied with myself, I dug and just kept racing,” he said. “Anybody can have a solid race when they’re feeling good. To have a solid race when they’re feeling bad takes a tough person. I think I showed that today.”
Haley Cooper-Scott of Spokane was the second-place woman, finishing in 10:01:25 to earn $7,500. She called it the hardest she’s worked for what she said was one of her slower Ironman times.
It was a tough day. She was recovering from a virus, panicked early on the swim and nearly dropped out, and couldn’t make up ground on the bike. The run was better — for the first 13 miles.
“Then I imploded. I was really, really lucky to hold her off,” she said of third-place finisher Whitney Garcia of Boulder, Colo., just 21 seconds back in 10:01:46.
Cooper-Scott said the cheers of the crowd in what she considers her hometown race kept her feet moving.
“I couldn’t go anywhere without people screaming at me,” she said.
Garcia, sixth off the bike, closed with a personal best Ironman marathon of 3:20:18 and won $5,000.
“Like Haley said, you never know what’s going to happen, what others will do, what you will do,” she said. “Just keep pushing through and something great might happen.”
As they did with Cooper-Scott, the crowd urged Garcia on.
“At the very end I could see her, I was really trying,” she said.
The new bike course that went south on U.S. 95 earned good reviews for its difficulty and more than 5,000 feet of climbs.
Kessler called it much harder than the previous Hayden course.
“The climbs are steeper, they’re longer, they’re kind of relentless,” she said.
Tom Evans, who won Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2008, finished in 9:20:03 to win his age group and finish eighth overall. He liked the flow and rhythm of the new course.
“Kudos to whoever picked the new bike course,” he said. “It was very nice.”