In Tenby the wind gathered, cruelly, for the final unforgiving hours of Iron Man Wales, together with that spirit-sapping drizzle familiar to all those who bumble through their local parks. Generous crowds – certainly in the tens of thousands if village clappers and farmstead fans are included – had assembled to heartily cheer the contestants round. Those at the forefront of this appallingly demanding event cruised relatively serenely through both transition and through the town; for those hanging on, the warmth extended to them seemed more essential to that primary goal – completion.
We watched as Sylvain Rota of France swooped impressively through the bike/run changeover, with the kind of faintly absurd ease befitting an unchallenged leader of the wonderfully diverse multitudes. Should we have stayed rooted to that spot, we might have seen allegedly lesser athletes trundle through for a further three or four hours; this prior to the 26 miles 385 yards still to be enjoyed in that increasingly testing seaside weather.
1500 competitors, supported and processed by an army of volunteers and officials hauled themselves in order or disorder through the decidedly nippy waters, the lush countryside and the hugely atmospheric streets around this iconic South Pembrokeshire resort. In view of the stats – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, full marathon – words such as ‘punishing’ spring inadequately to mind. Hard here not to simply express every superlative available to the (medium) literary consciousness and then daub it on every numbered vest.
When it came down to it, along the genuinely splendid Esplanade overlooking Caldey and the by now deserted South Beach, Rota did indeed triumph – his first Iron Man victory – in 8 hours 52 minutes and 43 seconds. Daniel Niederreiter of Austria and Christian Ritter of Germany pursued him home at roughly three minute intervals, followed by first GB athlete Daniel Halksworth in fourth. Joanna Carritt of GB finished an impressive 18th overall.
As I walked away from the finish line some 30 minutes after Rota, a cavalry charge of what looked like solid club athletes were concluding their bike ride on a parallel street. Suggesting finishing times for these individuals around 12 hours.
The fact that the park and ride service from the local airfield was scheduled to run until midnight may give some indication of the frayed edges of such a challenge; I try not to think too precisely about the state the very latest contestants may clock in at. Fear of glibness only prevents me from be-medalling them personally, in this column.
As a venue Tenby rose to this. Following the outstanding success of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event in North Pembrokeshire last weekend, local chests have been thrust out proudly – in certain cases, athletically. But even the sedentary seemed to have stirred to their doorstep or street corner to applaud the whoosh or whirr or gasp and splutter of the passing über-humans. The red-carpeted finish was appropriately ‘rammed’ as we say in Wales, as well as spectacularly TV-friendly. Even in the rain.