Lance raced very well: he had the 10th fastest swim, 3rd fastest bike split and 8th fastest run. He had the finish line in sight . . . he was so close . . . could he have won? Could it be Lance lost the race with slow transitions?
Here's our analysis of Lance's race in detail to see where he might have saved precious seconds needed to win. (and for more, see our complete analysis of all Lance Armstrong's races in 2012).
Racing as a pro, Armstrong swam the 1.2 mile course in 19 minutes, 22 seconds. This swim split placed him in 10th place among the pros (on this and other Top 10 Charts, we're presenting splits for the Top 10 Finishers; pros with faster swims either dropped out or finished below Top 10). He sped through the transition area in 2 minutes, 9 seconds.
On the 56 mile bike course, Lance rode forcefully toward the front with Chris Lieto, but continued to trail Bertrand Billard by as much as 90 seconds a few miles from the finish. As the ride wore on, Lieto and Armstrong pressed the pace, caught Bertrand and had taken the lead.
Throughout much of the bike course, Armstrong has been content to let Lieto set the pace, often trailing Lieto by a few meters. When the pair took the lead, Armstrong still trailed Lieto intentionally, hanging back by 10 meters or so.
Our view: It did not appear that Armstrong was being forced, or even interested, to ride his Tour de France best in Panama. He seemed to be saving his energy for the 13.1 mile run course.
His final bike split was 2:10:18, 41.5k/hour, about 26mph. That's training ride speed for him; probably a slow training ride.
Splits After 1.2 Mile Swim, Transition 1 and 56 Mile Bike:
1. Chris Lieto 2:31:44
2. Lance Armstrong 2:31:49
3. Bertrand Billard 2:31:53
4. Oscar Galindez Santos 2:33:12
Could Lance's bike split have been faster to give him a greater lead when starting the run? Absolutely. But he probably held back in order to deliver a solid half marathon.
Our correlation between bike and run splits for all finishers at Ironman 70.3 Panama indicate that Lance struck an almost perfect balance between his bike and run performance. Of those with the top 3 bike splits, Lance had the fastest run.
Comparing Lance's 13.1 mile run performance against other Top 10 finishers on a pace per kilometer basis shows that Lance actually ran faster, the further he got into the run. He ran the first 3.8k relatively slow at 3:16/k, but then seemed to speed up and hold his own in the next 11k and 6.3k segments.
Of course, Docherty's splits in each segment were definitively faster than any other pro. That speed was essential to catching and passing Lance at the end of the race. Even if Lance ran the first 3.8k a bit slower to conserve energy, there's no doubt that by the end of the run, he had given it all he had in an effort to prevent Docherty's victory.
Which leaves the question of transitions. Did Lance lose the race in T2?
That 4 minute 14 second transition time: 2:09 for T1 and 2:06 for T2. Seems pretty fast. But winner Bevan Docherty beat Lance in transitions by 22 seconds, with a 3:52 total. Notably, Docherty's T2 was 1:46, 20 seconds faster than Lance's T2.
Lance finished 9th out of the top 10 in the transition race, in some cases by a wide margin. Richie Cunningham proved a 3:30 combined transition time was possible; Ivan Vasilyev clocked a 3:37, and Bert Jammaer raced through T1 and T2 in 3:51.
Wait a minute, you may say: Docherty beat Lance by 42 seconds. You could argue that even if Armstrong matched Docherty's transition time, he still would have lost by 20 seconds.
But triathletes competing at top levels know the difference seconds can make. Docherty ran an astounding 1:12:50 half marathon. Catching Lance in the last mile from behind was a phenomenal performance. But the key is: catching Lance from behind. And within sight of the finish line.
What if, with with the finish line so near, Docherty was at an additional 22 second disadvantage. Lance that much further ahead; that much closer to the sound of cheering spectators ready to greet the race winner.
Would Docherty have been able to close the additional gap? Would Lance have been able to fight a bit longer with that extra advantage?
We'll never know. But one thing's for sure. Every second counts. Triathletes who compete with the best fight for every moment that puts them closer to victory. And for Lance, moments lost in transition 2 may have made the difference between winning and losing. (And he was reportedly not an altogether gentlemanly second place finisher, brushing past Docherty without congratulating the winner, or even offering a handshake.)
More than 800 athletes registered for Ironman 70.3 Panama, but 24% did not start the race. Of those who started, 7% did not finish, indicating the race was a bit more difficult than average. Of the 551 who finished the Panama Half Ironman 70.3 triathlon, here's how these competitors fared by age group.