Louisville, KY—The 2013 Louisville Ironman Triathlon drew more than 2000 racers to the River City on Sunday for the final Ironman World Championship qualifying event. It was a Kentucky derby, but these thoroughbreds didn't stop after a mile and a quarter.
Racers age 18-80 took the ultimate physical and mental test with a 2.4 mile swim in the Ohio River, a 112 mile bike ride across the rolling bluegrass and a full 26.2 mile marathon that took the racers past historic Churchill Downs.
The men's pro division promised a stern contest between friends and training partners Patrick Evoe and Australian Chris McDonald.
Evoe started in the number one bib as the defending champion after pushing two-time winner McDonald to the second step on the podium in 2012. In 2011, McDonald took first with Evoe second. 2013 would be the rubber match.
McDonald came out of the water in fourth place, a full three minutes ahead of Evoe. One mile into the bike McDonald took the overall lead and never looked back. He set a course record of 8:21:34, posting the fastest bike and run times of anyone in the field.
Evoe was in third place coming off the bike and ran down eventual third place finisher Thomas Gerlach by the first check point. Evoe couldn't make up any ground on McDonald, however, and had to settle for his second silver medal.
Louisville rookie Kate Bevilaqua made it an Aussie sweep with a time of 9:29:02. Bevilaqua was fourth after the swim with a ten minute lead over Canadian Brooke Brown. Bevilaqua needed every minute of it as Brown beat her time in the bike and run, but the North American couldn't run down her Commonwealth mate.
Whitney Garcia of Boulder, Colorado took five minutes out of Bevilaqua on the bike but faded on the run to finish third.
The 26-year old Bevilaqua won her first full distance Ironman, a competition that normally favors 30-somethings. "Team Ironkate" cheered madly wearing tee-shirts with the "man" in Ironman crossed out and "woman" penciled in above it.
The River City
The city of Louisville threw out the welcome mat once again and showed that it is more than a one-horse race town. The city hosted the UCI Cyclocross World Championships earlier this year and welcomes the PGA Championship next year.
Louisville is a sports town and Louisvillians love to put on a show.
When asked at the official post-race interview of the course contributed to his three Louisville Ironman wins, McDonald said the course was much like any other.
"It's not the course, it's the city, good vibes, good people, good luck. I can't express what the city means to me."
McDonald gave some of the credit for his dominating performance on the bike to the huge crowds that gather around the LaGrange Loop that the riders traverse twice. "The crowd's energy was awesome, it really helped."
For Bevilaqua it was her first time in Louisville but she too paid tribute to the city's rabid competition devotees, "the crowd was absolutely amazing."
The Louisville Sports Commission and the Louisville Metro Government continue to demonstrate that they have the facilities and resources to host sporting events big and small. A few months ago the National Wheelchair Basketball Association National Championships came to Louisville and the competitors I spoke to all said the River City put on the best tournament they'd ever been to.
The home of Muhammad Ali and Hunter S. Thompson—who got his start as a sports journalist in Louisville—may be small in size, but when it comes to sporting events no city does it bigger.