The 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga kicked off the first of the major world championships over the next few weeks. Next week all eyes will be on Rotterdam where the ITU world champions will be crowned and finally the triathlon world will be captivated by the exploits of those heading to Kona.
Every year the 70.3 World Championships attract an incredible line up of athletes and ever increasingly we are accustomed to seeing some ITU athletes mix up their seasons and take on the non drafting race. With a 1900m swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run, it is essentially double an Olympic distance race. However most notably in the past couple of years, five time world ITU champion Javier Gomez has managed to succeed in both ITU and 70.3 championships thus opening the door for other ITU athletes to make the move.
Unlike in previous editions of the 70.3 World championships, the women's event was actually held separately to the men’s on the Saturday, meaning they were the first to take on the challenging and hot course. Key names on the start-list were defending champion Holly Lawrence, two times previous winner Daniela Ryf and ITU athletes in the likes of Sarah True, who competed at Rio 2016. The American trio of Lauren Brandon, Haley Chura, and Sarah True lead the way in the swim along the Tennessee River, the most notable absence up at the front of the race was 2016 Champion Holly Lawrence who came out of the water with a 2.17 minute deficit. Early on in the bike it looked like Daniela Ryf had put her injury troubles behind her as she began to work her way through the field and lap up the hilly and technical bike course. By the end of the 90km bike Ryf had close to 9 minutes on the next competitor; Germany’s Laura Philipp. The chase pack consisted of around 10 athletes who must have all known they were competing for second and third.
Although Holly Lawrence managed to claw her way up the field and into the chase pack, it was evident that she would not be able to repeat her success of last year, and by mid way through the bike she pulled out. Possibly favourite heading out onto the run from the chase pack was another British talent, Emma Pallant, known for her incredible run pace having competing for Great Britain on the track and cross country scene back as a junior and U23. Pallant has also claimed numerous National, European and World Duathlon titles. She did not disappoint and delivered the days fastest run split (1:19.48), an impressive feat after a tough bike course in hot conditions. Laura Philipp rounded out the podium with Sarah True in fourth; perhaps an indication of what is to come from this multiple WTS medallist. Helle Frederiksen finished in fifth, a result perhaps not indicative of her form a few years back, but with various set backs in the the last two years, it shows she is once again becoming a force to be reckoned with.
The men’s race got under way on the Sunday morning, and again there was an impressive line up. Unfortunately for the spectators, Lionel Sanders chose to miss the race in favour of preparing for Kona next month, he had been the in form athlete for the majority of the year scooping up many of the top honours this year so far. Nevertheless, the field still contained a past Ironman World Champ, an Olympic Silver Medallist, and the current World record holder for the Ironman, among many other stars of the 70.3 circuit.
As expected it was the ITU stars that lead the way in the swim, with Ben Kanute and Javier Gomez establishing a minute gap over a large chase group. Even with Gomez being a previous winner of the race, you wouldn’t find many one wanting to put money on him being able to hold off some of the sports strongest cyclists. However it wasn’t Gomez who went at it alone, American Ben Kanute proved to be the man of the moment and increased his lead up to over four minutes over Gomez and the chase pack. Gomez seemed to control his pace and was eventually reeled in by the likes of Sebastian Kienle, Sam Appleton, Maurice Clavel and Tim Don. Onto the run and the chase pack had four minutes to make up on the American. Within the first few kilometres it was clear that Kanute was going to struggle on the run after demolishing the bike course. Gomez passed Kanute around the 13k mark and at this point you could imagine Kanute slipping back further down the field, however it was evident that this revitalised the American and he found his legs again. Kienle at first looked like he could challenge for second place, however he began to fade towards the end of the run and it was the current WR holder for the Ironman, Tim Don who took up the charge, followed by Sam Appleton. Gomez eventually clocked a 1:10.29 to claim his second 70.3 title, with Kanute holding on for second, Don in third, followed by Appleton and Kienle.