Last weekend in triathlon: A new Kona contender, the U.S. has a solidified triathlon hot spot, and a couple of veterans shine.
I was feeling good on Saturday night. I had watched the Kentucky Derby at a sports bar, where a grown man was brought to a level of tears I didn’t know possible after it was announced that Maximum Security had been disqualified. I have no idea how much money that very controversial decision cost that man, but watching him sob in his buddy’s shoulder for few minutes made my day.
So Saturday was going great. Then I got home and thought I better fire up the Twitter machine to see what was happening at Ironman Australia. As soon as I did, I nearly started sobbing like the degenerate gambler at the bar. Cam Wurf was absolutely smashing it and I had the stark realization that he could win Kona as soon as this year. If he does, I will never hear the end of it because Cam really likes to talk.
But it was still early in the run. Wurf was through 13 miles on pace for a 2:50 marathon. Surely he would crumble because he’d biked too hard. Tim Reed was running in second place, and of course “Timbo” would chase him down; he’s a world-class runner and a world champ.
But Wurf didn’t waiver—except for a brief respite to empty the contents of his stomach a few kilometers from the finish. He smashed the course record with a time of 8:06:17, which is particularly impressive given his swim was even slower than normal. With five months until Kona, the swim might be the one thing holding him back from breaking up the German win streak on the Big Island. He’ll also be lining up at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, where he could potentially race Jan Frodeno, Patrick Lange, and Sebastian Kienle, assuming all are healthy.
The women’s race at Port Mac was much more exciting, especially if you follow @witsupcom, which I hope all of you do. No one covers in-race action better than the legendary Stef Hanson, and she documented an epic duel between Laura Siddall and Caroline Steffen. Siddall won her third consecutive Ironman Oz title in unique fashion. She erased a six-minute swim deficit on the bike to take the lead at the start of the marathon, and then she was chased down by Caroline Steffen, before coming back to win. A late-race re-pass is a unicorn in Ironman, and it goes to show how badly Siddall wanted this one.
The highlight of the race for me was seeing how emotional both Siddall and Wurf were at the finish. This race means something again, and that was lost for a while. Wurf frolicked along the finishing chute like a 12-year-old after his first kiss, and Siddall had a heartfelt outpouring of emotion, like she’s been there before. Port Mac is back.
Ironman 70.3 St. George
Holly Lawrence is also back, and that’s terrible news for any women with aims of finishing second at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France, this September. I’m assuming Daniela Ryf will fix whatever little run ailment is going on and then unleash her unholy reign of terror once again when it’s time for the big races this fall. I think the race for the runner-up spot in Nice between Lawrence, Lucy Charles, and Anne Haug could end up being one of the most exciting of the year.
St. George was far from exciting, but as always, it made for some really nice pictures. Lawrence looks like she’s put in extra time in the pool, and she only trailed swim-phenom Haley Chura by three seconds out of the Sand Hallow Reservoir. It was a lonely day for Lawrence after that, as she went on to dominate the bike and run to win by eight minutes over Paula Findlay, who is having a nice second act of her career. While there’s a case to be made for pro races becoming too watered down, the spike in 70.3 races has made it possible for athletes like Findlay to make a decent living after it’s time to move on from ITU racing.
Heather Wurtele rounded out the podium another two minutes behind Findlay. She and husband, Trevor, are like the nicest people of all time, even though I hate standing next to them. They also love St. George, which is the single best triathlon venue the U.S. has to offer, in my opinion. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The courses they compete on over in Europe are way better. We don’t have anything like the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon on the same roads as the Tour de France, or the Bilbao Triathlon through the Basque countryside. Have you seen pictures from Norseman? We don’t have many courses that can compare in terms of scenic beauty and difficulty, but St. George comes close. I’m thrilled to see Ironman bring a full Ironman back there next year. The last edition, in 2012, was the hardest Ironman in history. You can say “such-and-such Ironman was harder” but you’d be wrong.
Anyway, Rodolphe von Berg is having a really good year and won by hammering the swim and bike and then hanging on for dear life on the run. His run was more than two and a half minutes slower than runner-up Bart Aernouts and third-place Jackson Laundry, but he still had a cushion of nearly two minutes at the finish.
While guys like Ben Hoffman (sixth) and Sebastian Kienle (seventh) didn’t have great days, it was good to see them returning to a venue where they both have fond memories, and hopefully there’s opportunity for a whole lot more. In addition to a full Ironman next year and every third year going forward, St. George will host the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in 2021. Ironman is building something special in southern Utah and maybe if we keep it around some of the cool kids from Europe will want to come over and play.
Craig Alexander is 45 and won Ironman 70.3 Busselton by more than a minute. It’d be a lot of fun if Macca got back in shape and those two had one more go at Kona. They might even be able to qualify on their own with the new system in place.
The ITU Long Distance World Championship was this weekend in Pontevedra, Spain. It might be one of the less glamorous triathlon world titles up for grabs every year, but I dig that guys like Javier Gomez and Terenzo Bozzone were game to chase another world title, even if it was difficult to fit into a busy season. Gomez won—obviously—and Bozzone finished all the way back in seventh. Gomez, 36, now has nine world titles and his aversion to Ironman means he’ll have the opportunity to double that number before he calls it quits.
Alexandra Tondeur of Belgium won the women’s title and is putting together a solid couple of seasons after nine years of professional racing. She also won the ETU Middle Distance European Championship in Ibiza last year. I think it would do the ITU some good to get rid of the “Middle” and “Long” distances and just use the 70.3 distance for all these races. We already have too many distances in triathlon; we could do away with the fringe ones.