Zane Holmes has won a drama filled Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IronMan race at a packed Newcastle beach, coming from behind in the final swim and board legs of the day’s last Eliminator race to claim victory.
Holmes stormed to the line to win from rising star Ali Day and 35-year-old Phil Clayton who climbed atop the podium for the first time since 2004.
On a day when last start winner and Olympian Ky Hurst was sensationally disqualified for accidently cutting a turning can in the first race, a race that he won comfortably, the final result was in question until the last leg of the last race.
Hurst’s untimely disqualification promoted series leader Kendrick Louis back into the field after he had originally been eliminated by one place in the same opening race when his own ski hit him in the face and knocked half of his front tooth out.
Louis battled on all day, at times looking the man to beat in the four race format, only to finish fourth and relinquish the leader’s famed ‘Black Jersey’ to Day who now sits on 58 points to Louis’ 54. Holmes and Clayton are now equal third a further five points back.
Earlier in the IronWoman Series event, Kristyl Smith won her first race in three summers, dominating the third and final race from Liz Pluimers and Alyce Bennett after Series leader Courtney Hancock was eliminated in the first race after losing her ski.
After the Nutri-Grain Series race Holmes said he knew the day’s winner would come from the person who focussed all day.
“Today was all about concentration, and although there was that big rip, there were two ways you could go, just to the left and just to the right, and in the final race I picked right and it turned out being the correct one on that occasion,” Holmes said.
“I was trailing at the time so I bit the bullet and it ended up paying off.
“I think this format really suits my style of racing.
“Today, at the start, I thought it was going to be a long day, but going into the final I felt as though I hadn’t raced at all, so this format definitely allows me to get better as I go.
It was Holmes’ third win in five races going back to the final two rounds of last summer and now puts the veteran in back in contention to win his sixth overall series crown.
“I said after round two at Portsea that even though I was off the speed and out of the point score, it would only take one win to get back into contention, and that’s what happened today,” Holmes said.
Day’s second placing was the best of his career, surpassing his third placed effort in round one at Surfers Paradise and the 21-year-old from the New South Wales hamlet of Kiama who now lives and trains at Mooloolaba said he was surprised to be in the series lead.
“With today’s conditions and the luck I had in a few if the races I didn’t think I’d be coming away leading the Series,” Day said.
“The goal was to just go back to the basics in these conditions and just execute the small things and I think I did that today.
“A lot of people toted me as the young fella with all the fans, and it’s good to prove to not just everyone but myself as well that I do have the talent to match the following.
“I’ve got a third, a fifth and a second now so I think all the hard work is starting to pay off.”
Hurst wasn’t aware he had missed the apex buoy in the board leg, believing he only needed to round two buoys instead of three.
When told of the error and subsequent sanction he took the news graciously, offering no excuses, even though his dream of winning the Nutri-Grain Series in the same year as he contests his second Olympics is in tatters. Today’s result saw him slip from second to tenth, 22 points behind Day.
“Obviously I didn’t even realise. Clearly I didn’t listen prior to the race. Yesterday I knew it was three apexes, today I assumed it was one in the swim, two in the board and three in the ski but obviously they said otherwise as everyone did it properly and I didn’t,” Hurst said.
“It’s purely a mistake and it’s my mistake. Rules are rules and I’m not going to sit down and argue with them, and at the end of the day it is what it is.”
Defending Nutri-Grain Series champion Shannon Eckstein finished ninth and is in sixth place overall, 12 points adrift of Day.
In the IronWoman event Smith led from start to finish in the third and final race to claim victory ahead of fellow Northcliffe competitor Pluimers and North Burleigh’s Bennett.
The round got off in disastrous fashion for Series leader Courtney Hancock, who along with Candice Falzon, lost her ski in the second leg of the first race and was bundled out of contention after failing to make the top 14.
This paved the way for both Smith and Pluimers to take advantage of Hancock’s misfortunes and dominate the rest of the field.
Liz Pluimers looked in top form in all three races, taking out the first two before Smith edged ahead in the final courtesy of a sublime opening swim.
Smith, who just scraped into the final eight, used her expertise and knowledge to the maximum to tame the choppy 1.5m surf and overpower her rivals.
It is a welcome return to the winner's circle for the 29-year-old after falling victim to the bridesmaid tag for the last couple of years.
“It’s at least about three year’s since I’ve won so there’s been quite a few races in between wins, but these conditions really suited the experience of the older girls and it sort of showed as the top five were all over 25,” an ecstatic Smith said.
“I won’t be thinking too much about the leader’s jersey, you just have to go out there and give your best and not think about the overall picture.
“Looking at Perth, I’m just going to concentrate on the board and the swim and hope I have enough in the run to hang on and get another top finish.”
For Hancock, her 19th placed finish was a disappointment, but the 2010/11 Series champion said she was keen to get her campaign back on track with her third win of the summer at Perth.
"I’m definitely not happy with that, it’s one of the worst round results I’ve ever had and all I’ve really got to look forward to now is Perth," Hancock said.
"Basically I just got caught under a really big wave and lost my ski so there’s nothing I could really do about it.
"I’ve never really worried about the big picture, and even after winning in rounds one and two I was still just focused on the next race.
"This is now done, it’s gone in my mind and I now fly to Perth with Bonnie to have a full week to concentrate at the job at hand and get things back on track with a win in Perth."
Smith now leads the Series by 11 points over Liz Pluimers, with Hancock trailing in third a further two points behind.
The next round of the Series is the Marathon in Perth next Sunday where Caine Eckstein and Hancock are odds on favourites to win.