The 23-year-old from Norway turned in a gutsy performance to leave everyone, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, in his dust.
Though there were many surprises to come in the men’s race exactly no one was surprised when a massive group came out of the water and stumbled up the rocky beach together. The depth and caliber of the field is such that by massive we mean 17 men exited the water within 16 seconds of each other. That included a few of the big names—Alistair Brownlee, Ben Kanute, Sam Appleton, Javier Gomez, Kristian Blummenfelt. A minute later, another large group of over 15 followed, with Patrick Lange in the mix.
Maybe it’s fitting that the live tracker initially failed to pick up Norwegian Gustav Iden’s swim exit, somewhere on his own a bit in between the two groups. It’s as if not even the computer expected him to do what he did next, which is ride to the front.
Let’s not get into all the aggressive details of the back-and-forth on the bike, except to note by the time the large groups hit the major portion of the climb Alistair had taken the lead and broken things up. That seemed like it might be it; house money was on the Brit for the win. But one of the things about big championship races like this is the unexpected can happen and athletes who weren’t in anyone’s betting pool, who were waiting for their opportunity, can grab it when it comes.
Iden—riding a road bike with clip-on aerobars and no water bottles on the uphill (which he later grabbed at an aid station at the top)—went decisively off the front. He appeared to have a very specific plan and was going to execute it, expectations be damned. Then it was Rudy von Berg’s turn to take his shot, tucking and passing Brownlee as the descent narrowed and twisted. Racing is racing, Brownlee said afterwards, and Rudy did what he had to do. The American grew up 30 minutes away from Nice, France, riding these roads until he left for college in Colorado. His card was to bomb the familiar descent and he played that hand to the best of his ability. “I would have done the same,” said Brownlee.
Commentators made much of both Iden’s choice to ride a road bike, which evidently was influenced by the fact that his time trial bike is from 2011, and they made more of Rudy’s choice to ride a disc wheel. But maybe it’s not so much about the specifics of the decision as it is about making a choice and believing in it.
The three of them hammered—center line rule blissfully forgotten—dropping Ben Kanute and gapping the groups behind. They came into T2 together with three minutes on Ben, five on Kristian Blummenfelt and just over six on a big group. How fast can they run now? Was it enough?
I’ll be honest, I thought the race was Alistair’s at this point. Yes, Gustav has won some ITU World Cups, made a couple of podiums at WTS races, and was fourth last week at the ITU Grand Finale (which he claims was his “A” race and Nice was just a nice bonus), but he’s 23 and never really taken a major win. How could he possibly outrun the double gold medalist? And at first it looked like I—and pretty much everybody else—was going to be right. Alistair pulled ahead.
Except there’s only one person who needs to believe Alistair could be outrun. And that was Gustav.
He ran a race-best 1:08:10 to take his first world title and Alistair ultimately simply hung on for second. Rudy, who doesn’t always have the same kind of leg speed as the ITU guys, managed to impressively hold off Kristian for the last podium spot.
And what about all our long-course guys? Sebastien Kienle made up for a truly not good swim with an impressive 1:09:31 run to take fifth. He was caught by Javi at one point, as the champions ran shoulder-to-shoulder, and then surged again and dropped the tired Spaniard. More than anything it was a day of depth and speed. Ten minutes separated fifth and 22nd—with Lange behind that line. Even more so than the women’s race yet, the men’s event has become a specialty focus. You can not simply show up on your way to Kona. There is no margin for error. Someone else is waiting and will take their moment.
2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship
Nice, France – Sept. 8, 2019
1.2-mile swim, 56.7-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Gustav Iden (NOR) 3:52:35 (23:55, 2:17:25, 1:08:10)
2. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 3:55:19 (23:17, 2:17:38, 1:10:43)
3. Rudy von Berg (USA) 3:56:45 (23:31, 2:17:24, 1:12:15)
4. Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) 3:59:21 (23:23, 2:22:10, 1:09:59)
5. Sebastian Kienle (DEU) 4:00:18 (26:50, 2:19:57, 1:09:31)