Arguably the most anticipated day of the season for triathlon fans, Kona embodies everything that is good about triathlon, from the collective belonging of PRO's and age group athletes to the tough and brutal course. Not only does the word Kona resonate through the sport, but there are many non triathletes out there that know it's significance. Every year there are many patient... or should I say proud partners that have to be as dedicated as the athlete themselves, with the commitment that is required for training. Merely to qualify is an achievement in itself. The only downside. It does clog up your twitter feed for the month surrounding the race!
The race began on Dig Me Beach and as anticipated the Aussie, Josh Amberger laid down a ferocious pace. Before the race had even began there was talk of the young Australian, who is known for his swim speed, and the swim course record was certainly there for the taking. It was soon clear that he would be heading back into T1 solo. Not even HUUB's Harry Wiltshire who lead out in 2016 could keep up with the pace. Amberger lead out in 47.09, just seconds shy of the course record, however he had established a gap of around 80 seconds to the next group of athletes including Wiltshire, Frodeno and a host of other big names. Within the next minute around 25 athletes excited the water, but perhaps more noteworthy for those looking for the 'big names' was Kienle, and Sanders' 6.30 deficit to the front of the race, a gap yes, but not one riders of their calibre couldn't close.
By no means did Amberger look like he wanted to wait for the chase pack. However it seemed the group of Frodeno and McNamee et al were doing all they could to keep the train of Sanders, Kienle, Wurf and Stein at bay, and the Aussie was soon swallowed by the chasers. By the turnaround at Hawi it looked inevitable that the 'uber' bikers would take the lead heading back down into T2 and Sanders headed an impressive line up in the leading group. The group was whittled down in the second half of the bike and as in the swim, it looked like the course record could be broken. Cameron Wurf looked intent on being the guy to do so and eventually clocked a mightily impressive 4:12.54, smashing the previous record of Norman Stadler. Sanders soon took control on the run and with Frodeno hampered by injury, it looked like the race was his. The fastest guys on the course however were HUUB's Dave McNamee (GBR) and Germany's Patrick Lange, the race was far from over at the midway point. Lange was hunting down the front runners and he eventually eased into the lead with just a few miles to go. McNamee also surpassed Kienle in the closing kilometres, but the gap to Sanders was too much. However the hard working Brit will be more than happy with his podium finish - The first British male to do so. Lange added to the record breaking day, with a 8:01.40 clocking, eclipsing the previous record held by Craig Alexander (8:03.56). Harry Wiltshire finished 21st which is an epic result for him considering the lengths at which he went to even make the start line! For HUUB's Tyler Butterfield, Kona proved to be a tough day, but like a true professional he toughed it out and made it to the finish line. Kona can be like that, it happens to the best athletes, that's the nature of these world championships.
The women's race was an equally exciting affair even though Switzerland's Daniela Ryf was favourite going into the race after her dominant display at the 70.3 World Championships. As expected Britain's Lucy Charles and Lauren Brandon (USA) lead out of the water, even passing some of the back markers of the men's PRO field. The next best was over 3 minutes back with the main group including Ryf over 4 minutes down on the leaders. Charles looked to take on the bike course with as much aggression as she did in the swim. Many assumed that she would be caught by the faster riders, and she was, but not many people would have put money on it being at the 160km mark. Brandon also managed to ride with Charles and was only passed by a fast finishing Ryf who lead into T2 with a 40 second gap to the early leaders. Also up at the front of the race was Heather Jackson, Sarah Crowley and Annabel Luxford, however they were still 5 minutes down on the leading three ladies.
Ryf looked like she would pace the run as she did the bike and looked extremely relaxed throughout despite clocking an impressive 3:00.02 run split. The real excitement was the battle for the places behind. One may have thought Charles would suffer after leading the majority of the bike, however she held on for second place. Perhaps the battle for the final podium spot took away the impetus of the chase. Crowley eventually broke the American and as soon as the gap established it grew out to nearly 1 minute. For Ryf this was the second time she had won the 70.3 World Championships and Ironman World Championships in the same year. She is certainly the dominant force in women's racing at the moment!