By Timothy Carlson
Faris Al-Sultan got back on track after a disappointing 2007 with a commanding 30-minute victory over Petr Vabrousek in the pavement-melting heat at Ironman Malaysia, while Belinda Granger earned her fifth Ironman-distance win with a 6-minute 24-second margin of victory over Holland's Yvonne Van Vlerken.
Al-Sultan came out of the water in second, then blasted away from the field with a 4:34:44 bike that put 15 minutes on the next best in the field, then topped off his day in the Malaysian sauna with a race-best 3:06:08 run that gave him a third-best ever Ironman Malaysia finishing time of 8:34:42.
Sultan's virtual wire-to-wire solo exhibition in his own time zone left the Czech Republic's Vabrousek running away from Germany's Elmar Schuberth at the end by two minutes for second place. Al-Sultan's effort was just what the doctor ordered to forget 2007 - an early season DNF, a tepid 6th at Frankfurt and the excruciatingly disappointing Did Not Start due to a stomach virus at Ironman Hawaii. The win was Al-Sultan's first Ironman win after his debut victory at Ironman Arizona and smashing win at Ironman Hawaii in 2005.
Granger got a measure of revenge for the spanking she received by the fleet feet of Van Vlerken at Quelle Challenge Roth last year in which the Netherland's fastest-ever Ironman star finished the classic Roth course 16 minutes ahead in a blazing swift, near world-best 8 hours 51 minutes last July.
Granger started her day with a 58:01 swim, just behind Team TBB teammate Hilary Biscay, which put 5 minutes 42 seconds on Van Vlerken. Granger then padded her lead by another 3 minutes 30 seconds with a race-best 5:03:30 bike then hung on grimly with a strong-for-the-heat 3:24:11 run that only surrendered 2 minutes 9 seconds to her rival.
Granger's 9:29:11 finish broke 2007 Ironman Malaysia winner Nicole Leder's race record by 13 minutes and 12 seconds and set up a rematch in Germany this summer.
Recognizing Granger's superior heat adaptation qualities, qualities, Van Vlerken knew she would have her hands full in Malaysia. "This is Belinda's playground," Van Vlerken told IronmanLive.com before the race.
Granger credited coach Brett Sutton, who also coaches Ironman Hawaii phenom Chrissie Wellington, with the perfect strategy. " I did exactly what he told me to do at Ironman Canada two years ago," said Granger, who won at Penticton that year. "Get a lead off the bike, but don't go out too crazy in the marathon and just make them work a long time to get every 30 seconds back. That gets demoralizing and they blow up."
Van Vlerken trimmed Granger's 9 minute lead off the bike to 3 minutes with 10k m to go on the run before she surrendered. "I had so much pain and I tried so hard," said Van Vlerken. "My legs were hurting like hell and I couldn't go any more."
Granger told IronmanLive.com that Van Vlerken's stunning performance in the relative cool of mid-summer Germany left a blow to her pride she hoped to erase. "Yvonna really did make Jo Lawn and I look pretty ordinary last year."
Ironman Malaysia also served as the 100th Ironman finish of amazing age grouper John Wragg.
Lotto Ironman Langkawi Malaysia
February 23, 2008
S 2.4 mi/ B 112 mi/ R 26.2 mi
1. Faris Al-Sultan (Ger) 8:34:42
2. Petr Vabrousek (Cze) 9:04:54
3. Elmar Schuberth (Ger) 9:06:03
4. Matthieu O'Halloran 9:10:44
5. Luke Dragstra (Can) 9:17:49
6. Park Byung Hoon (Kor) 9:19:56
7. Patrick Bless (USA) 9:31:24
8. Peter Kern (Ger) 9:34:02
9. Kjell Schoiberg (Nor) 9:57:50
1. Belinda Granger (Aus) 9:29:21
2. Yvonne Van Vlerken (Ned) 9:35:45
3. Yasuko Miyazaki (Jpn) 10:14:01
4. Hilary Biscay (USA) 10:18:11
5. Ute Streiter (Ger) 10:50:30
First overall male: Thomas Vonach (Aut) 9:26:55
First overall female: Diana Riesler (Ger) 10:18:50