Middle-distance racing’s finest pro and age-group athletes descended on Zell-Am-See in Austria today for the tenth edition of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and its debut sojourn in Europe. And, after wins for Germany’s Sebastian Kienle in 2012 and ’13 and Spanish superstar Javier Gomez in 2014, Europe’s hold on the men’s title was maintained, with 2015 being Germany’s Jan Frodeno’s turn to top the podium.
In the women’s race, reigning champ and Swiss star Daniela Ryf went into the race as the favourite and was dominant throughout, leading on the bike leg and run to cross the line in 4:11:34 (and 30th overall) to maintain her grip on the 70.3 world title.
Under blue skies and in increasingly oppressive heat, the World Championship race kicked-off at 10:45am in the crystal blue Zell-Am-See lake, flanked by mountainous peaks, thousands of local and international spectators and Ironman Hawaii royalty Paula Newby-Fraser and Heather Fuhr on the starting pontoon, and 48-year-old Natascha Badmann on the race course.
The men’s field had the biggest strength in depth, with 2008 Olympic champion and the current Ironman Europe title holder, Germany’s 194cm Jan Frodeno, towering over his race rivals on the lakeside starting ramp. Alongside him were two fellow former ITU stars, the reigning 70.3 world champ Javier Gomez and Britain’s great hope for the men’s title, Tim Don. After five wins from six middle-distance races in 2015, Don was looking to go better than his 70.3 worlds bronze in 2014, but his prep was disrupted by a nasty bike crash in Boulder last week which left him with 30 stitches in his face and a thumb split in two.
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Don, nonetheless, exited the 1.9km lake swim on the coattails of Gomez and Frodeno, with the reigning Ironman world champion Sebastian Kienle a couple of minutes in arrears. Onto the bike, however, and the Germany’s two-wheel tri dominance was asserted, with the top six spots halfway through the 90km bike leg all occupied by the nation (Andi Bocherer leading Frodeno, Andreas Drietz, Nils Frommhold, Michael Raelert and Kienle).
After America’s Lauren Brandon broke the 70.3 Worlds swim record in 22:53mins, the women’s race saw Ryf lead throughout the bike leg, entering T2 with a wide deficit over the field. Brit hopes were pinned on Jodie Swallow, who suffered a training ride crash on Saturday while recee’ing the bike course. It was left to Holly Lawrence, Susie Cheetham, Parys Edwards and EK Lidbury to carry the Brit flag.
As the men approached Zell-Am-See after 90km of riding in the Austrian hills, Drietz and Frodeno had over a 2mins advantage over the chasers (Frodeno’s 2:09:04 bike split was 50secs faster than Kienle’s). The two loop half-marathon run hugged the Zell-Am-See lakeside for nearly all the duartion, with a brief interlude into the town. With his run speed honed from years of ITU racing, once Frodeno was in front there seemed to be only one victor, with the race compere pretty much handing Frodeno the victory 20mins before the Cologne born Olympic champ crossed the line after 3:51:19 of racing. After his Ironman Europe win over Kienle, here was another major statement from Frodo ahead of October’s Ironman worlds in Kona.
Following Frodo home were Kienle and a visibly dejected Gomez (who’d been ill during the week) in a day to remember for Germany’s middle-distance stars. The women’s race for victory also turned into something of a procession, with Ryf dominant throughout and never looking like giving up her 70.3 world title. The Swiss would cross the line in 4:11:34, some 10mins ahead of Canada’s Heather Wurtele and Anja Beranek of Germany, and again lay down a marker for Ironman worlds glory on 10 October.
For the famous Brit names it was a day to forget in Austria, with Swallow dropping out early on the bike and Tim Don suffering a puncture and two penalty cards before dropping out. How the day of woes affects their Kona preparation is unclear, but both are well-versed in getting knocked down and picking themselves up again. Top Brit male was Ritchie Nicholls in 27th.