Alex Zanardi: Champion racer, handcyclist, and now, Ironman

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The inspiring tale of Alex Zanardi has had another chapter added to it.

The former CART champion and Formula One racer that lost his legs in 2001 – only to return to the track in touring cars and become a Paralympic gold medalist in handcycling – completed the Ironman World Championship triathlon last night in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Zanardi ranked 272nd out of 2,187 competitors that finished the competition, which begins with a 2.4-mile swim, continues with a 112-mile bicycle ride, and ends with a 26.2-mile marathon run.

With no legs, Zanardi utilized a wet vest for the swimming portion that allowed him to keep his body floating and in the right position. He finished the swim in 1 hour, eight minutes, 43 seconds.

Then came the biking portion, which he tackled with his self-developed handcycle and completed in six hours, seven minutes, and 51 seconds.

Lastly came the marathon. Zanardi used an Olympic wheelchair to travel that course in two hours, 24 minutes, and 50 seconds – adding up to an overall Ironman time of nine hours, 47 minutes, 14 seconds.

After crossing the finish line, Zanardi expressed his happiness on Twitter:

In a release from BMW (for whom Zanardi races for in touring cars), he said he would “treasure this day in my heart for the rest of my life.”

“I am very proud of my performance,” he added. “The last 300 meters were worth everything, they were worth being here for. I don’t know if everybody got cheered the same way, but when I passed down that narrow lane, I have never experienced anything like that. It was amazing.

“I was always close to crying. I am not an emotional guy for these types of things, but this was very special.”

As you’d figure with the Ironman, it wasn’t easy. Zanardi said he was knocked around a bit during the open water swim, and once he got to the handcycle, he had to deal with ever-shifting winds along a course he regarded as one that “goes forever, forever, and forever.”

“It is terrible,” Zanardi explained about the cycling portion. “In the marathon, you think ‘Okay, I am there. ‘Every kilometer, you look in your little computer and you say ‘Yes, one less, one less, one less’. But to go 180 kilometers with the handcycle and to count down the kilometers takes forever. I did not know what to do to keep my mind busy.”

The challenges continued for Zanardi on the Olympic wheelchair during the marathon.

“The running part, which I completed with the wheelchair, was not that bad considering the fact that I had to do it after such a long race with the handcycle,” he said. “I was having problems climbing Palani Road, because my sweat dropped on the rims and so I had no grip on the gloves and my hands were sliding. But I can be satisfied with my time.”

However, even though he’s proud of his efforts, Zanardi revealed that he would be lying if he said he wasn’t hoping to finish the triathlon in under nine hours.

We wouldn’t be surprised to report that he accomplished said goal following his next Ironman, whenever that may be.

But for now, Zanardi will go back to being a racer again. He’ll be competing in next week’s Blancpain Sprint Series event at Zolder in Belgium.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.