The IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships were arguably the most competitive we have ever seen, including last year’s epic battle between Alistair Brownlee (GBR), Javier Gomez (ESP), and Jan Frodeno (GER) - three of the all-time greats of the sport.
The spectacular course in Nice attracted stars from both the ITU and long course circuit and was the perfect test for both types of athletes. Alongside the PRO men and women, thousands of Age Group athletes also headed to the south of France to try and claim a World title on a somewhat unconventional championship course.
Josh Amberger (AUS) was the first of the 67 PRO men out of the water, just behind him was HUUB’s Alistair Brownlee along with a dozen or more strong swimmers. The first 15 athletes were separated by only 15 seconds, a testament to the depth and quality of the field.
There were two distinct packs as athletes filed through transition, with some of the biggest names in long-distance racing losing a much as 3.45 to the like of Brownlee.
Out onto the bike course there was a long procession of athletes that tackled the initially flat course, at the spearhead of that was Brownlee and Ben Kanute (USA) who both knew they would benefit from an aggressive ride.
As the course headed upwards, gaps began appearing, and this was before the main ‘climb’ of the day started. As expected, it was Brownlee who applied the pressure and eventually pulled out a gap of 45 seconds to Kanute, Rudy von Burg (USA), and Gustav Iden (NOR) - the only three athletes that looked capable of trying to stay with the double Olympic Champion.
As the course headed back down the Col de Vence, von Burg along with Iden bridged up to Brownlee and took up the charge downhill. It was clear growing up in the area had its advantages, as he took no hesitations along the technical descent. All three athletes would enter T2 together with some sizeable gaps to those behind. With at least 3 minutes back to the next athlete and considerably more to those that could challenge on the run, it looked almost certain the three up front would contest the podium.
Similarly, as on the bike, it was Brownlee that attacked first as he put daylight into Von Burg and then Iden. By 6km Iden had made his way back up to the front and then began to apply pressure himself. Coming off the back of a 4th place finish at the WTS Grand Final (just the week before), Iden began to put time into Brownlee. It was clear his 10k speed was playing off over the 21km run compared to Brownlee who’s focus has been on getting ready for the Ironman World Championships in October.
Iden went on to run a 1.08 half marathon, an incredible time considering the challenging bike course. Brownlee finished second again as he did in 2018, with Von Burg in third. Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) who was amongst the top 5 for nearly all the race was best of the chasers in 4th, with Sebastian Kienle overturning a 3.45 deficit on the swim to bike and run his way into fifth place.
Lucy Charles (GBR) led the way in the water and by the time she entered transition, her lead was up to one minute on the chasing pack led by Brazil’s Pamella Oliveira.
The field was fairly strung out, but the chase pack contained some very strong athletes including four time 70.3 World Champion Daniela Ryf (SUI) as well as Holly Lawrence, also a past winner. It wasn’t long into to 90km bike that some of the chasers bridged up to Charles and as they began to climb a small pack formed including Charles, Ryf, Lawrence, Amelia Watkinson (NZ), and Imogen Simmonds (SUI).
Lawrence and Simmonds looked to be putting a lot of effort into the climb trying to break up the race, but it seemed to be playing into the hands of Ryf who was looking comfortable and in control. As the race crested the top of the Col de Vence Ryf made her move, using her strength and descending skills she began to open significant gaps on the chasers.
Heading into T2 she had opened a gap of around 2.30 on Lawrence and 3 minutes on Simmonds. Further back Charles was handed a 5-minute drafting penalty, putting an end to her chances of a podium.
Onto to the run and it looked like it was Ryf’s race to lose. At first Lawrence managed to claw back some time, but her challenge was short-lived as the multiple World Champion picked up her pace and stamped her authority on the race, running her way to her 5th 70.3 World title. Lawrence announced her comeback from injury with second place while Simmonds finished in 3rd. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) ran her way through to 4th with Charles suffering from her penalty in 5th.