July 22, 2007

Placid Ironman attracts top athletes

Australian pro competing in 4th Ironman event in ’07


LAKE PLACID — Belinda Granger has already completed three Ironman triathlons this year, and she intends to race in the World Championship in the fall. But the Australian professional couldn’t resist squeezing in a trip to Lake Placid.

“I just love racing,” Granger said. “I enjoy training, too, but ultimately I love to race. I’ve found that over the years — I’ve been doing Ironman distance races now since the year 2000 — that I actually recover really quickly. So why not?”

Granger is one of 22 pro women expected to compete in today’s ninth annual Ford Ironman USA Lake Placid. The pros will race for a $50,000 purse and 10 qualifying spots in the Oct. 13 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. There are also 70 Kona spots up for grabs for age-group athletes.

The race kicks off with the 2.4-mile swim in Mirror Lake. Athletes must complete the swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run by midnight.

Granger is a four-time Ironman champion, including the 2006 Subaru Ironman Canada, her most recent victory. She said she appeared in that race for the first time only because her coach insisted, and it convinced her to continue to add new races, like Lake Placid, to her schedule.

“I don’t want to get to the end of my career having just saved myself for Hawaii,” she said. “I know Hawaii is important. I will be back in Kona this year, and I love that race. But there are so many other fantastic races around the world that I want to experience and I haven’t yet.”

The 36-year-old who excels on the bike calls Peregian Beach, Australia home but has been in Europe preparing for Sunday’s race.

“Obviously I chose to do this course because it is a tough bike ride, and the bike ride is my strength,” Granger said. “I’ve been training in Switzerland now for the last month, and I’ve been riding the most ridiculous climbs ever. So I definitely can use the bike course to try and get a lead.”

But she was quick to point out that she’ll have to contend with other strong riders like American Karen Holloway. Tereza Macel is also seen as a contender Sunday.

And the pros are wary of Erika Csomor’s marathon. The native of Hungary is a former duathlete who admitted she’s not a strong swimmer, but she’s known to be a very fast runner. Granger said Csomor “is on fire at the moment,” noting that she came from behind to finish second at last week’s ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in France.

Macel, who’s originally from the Czech Republic but now lives in Canada, had the lead at Lake Placid in 2005 after the bike leg but ended up 12th. Since then, she has claimed her first Ironman victory — in Korea last year.

“A few years ago, I got off the bike here first thinking, ‘This is a mistake; I shouldn’t be in this position,’ ” Macel said. “So what I’ve learned from Korea (is) that you have to take what the day gives you and just work at it the best you can and surprise yourself.”

Macel, 33, is a strong swimmer. She’s been trying to improve her run, though she said “it’s a mystery to me.”

“I’m still working on my run,” she added. “I ran a straight-up marathon just to show myself that I can run a big marathon, and it worked out well. Now it’s just a matter of doing it off the bike.”

A race official said Saturday that Karen Smyers, the 1995 Ironman World Champion, is not expected to compete Sunday because of a knee injury.

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