The IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships certainly lived up to expectations over the weekend. With some of the fastest athletes on the planet racing and two world titles up for grabs, there was never going to be a dull moment. The women's race took place on Saturday morning with the men's the following day in two separately run races; a feature sort after for a long time by the PRO fields.
As expected Lucy Charles (GBR) led the way in the water and developed a gap of just over a minute to the small chasing pack over the 1900m swim. Fanella Langdridge (GBR) managed to get a sizeable gap in the last few meters after some skilful body surfing leaving the group including pre-race favourite Daniela Ryf (SUI) behind. Into T2 and through the first few kilometres of the bike Ryf had soon dropped those she exited the water with and was on the hunt for Charles. By the second bike split at 28k Ryf had made her way up to Charles and together they had established a gap of around 3.30 to the next pack including Anne Haug (GER), Radka Vodickova (CZE), Imogen Simmonds (SUI), Pamella Oliveira (BRA), Sara True (USA) and Jeanni Seymour (RSA).
The gap increased split on split, and the pair eventually entered T2 with a time gap close to 8 minutes on the dwindling chasing pack. After some impressive run displays from both athletes throughout 2018, it looked an impossible task for any of the chasers to challenge either of them. Ryf left transition first and then that position didn't change for the rest of the 21 kilometres. Ryf ran a 1.17 half marathon to secure her record fourth Ironman 70.3 World Championship, with Charles finishing 3.46 back. It was running sensation Haug who was best of the rest recording an impressive 1.15 run split to slightly narrow the gap. Oliveira (BRA) finished in fourth with Radka Vodickova (CZE) in fifth. The 5th to 9th positions were separated by little over 2 minutes showing the intensity of the racing.
The ITU stars led the way in the swim with Ben Kanute (USA) emerging first out of the water in 21.53 at the head of a group of 8, including pre-race favourites Javier Gomez (ESP), Jan Frodeno (GER) and Alistair Brownlee (GBR) along with Adam Bowden (GBR), the Australian pair of Ryan Fisher and Sam Appleton, and Kiwi Braden Currie. The first bike split at 15km showed that the group to some extent had stayed together, however they were joined by Belgium athlete Pieter Heemeryck who had ridden himself up into contention. It was clear this was the group to be in and for some of the athletes the pace proved too much and a ‘pack’ of nine soon became six. It was Brownlee and Frodeno that seemed to be the ones dictating things but all six athletes were able to match one another throughout the rest of the 90k.
Frodeno was best though T2 and it took Brownlee 2k to catch the German powerhouse. As Gomez managed the gap, Alistair tried to take the race by the reins and surged into a 5-second lead. However it proved too much too soon, and perhaps a lack of run training, as by 5k Frodeno and Gomez moved clear of the double Olympic Champion, Gomez had in fact bridged up to Frodeno and the pair stuck together up until the 15km mark. Brownlee was one minute back but seemed in control and pacing his effort well. It was then that Frodeno made his move and simultaneously it seemed Gomez came to a stop and looked to be suffering from stomach cramps. Frodeno settled back into his running and crossed the line with an incredible albeit questionable 1:06.34 HM run split to earn his second 70.3 World Championship. Brownlee managed to pass Gomez yet couldn’t close the 1.10 gap to Frodeno and finished a very impressive 2nd. Gomez was able to manage his stomach issue to complete the podium. Ben Kanute finished in 4th with Pieter Heemeryck in 5th. HUUB’s Elliot Smales finished in 16th place, a great performance for the young athlete in his debut year at the World Championships!
This was arguably the most competitive Ironman 70.3 World Championships to date and it is clear that the new generation of ITU athletes moving up to long distance has been the catalyst for this. It certainly looks promising for Kona where Gomez and Frodeno will do battle again. We will also see another showdown between Ryf and Charles, and no doubt this trend will continue into the future!