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A relentlessly close swim, a controversial penalty, and a run battle for the ages – the pro men’s race at the 2022 Ironman 70.3 World Championship was a high-stakes, high-drama affair that had viewers on the edge of their seats from the very start to the very finish. The moment of catharsis came in the form of a Kristian Blummenfelt victory in a staggering 3:37:12 on one of the toughest courses on the 70.3 circuit.
2022 70.3 Worlds Men’s Race: The Swim
With water temperatures at 62 degrees F and air temperatures at 40 degrees F, the theme of the day was the same as the women’s race prior: managing the cold conditions of late fall in southern Utah.
From the gun, Aussie Aaron Royle set the pace, with Americans Ben Kanute and Marc Dubrick hot on his heels. Though the three looked poised to pull away at the turnaround, a sighting error by Royle required a course correction, allowing any small gaps that had formed to close. Instead of building a sizable lead, the super-swimmers in this race found themselves pulling a train of 20 down the final stretch of the 1.2-mile swim. It was only in the closing meters that the original trio was able to break away, putting forth a monster effort to try to build any gap they could on the super-bikers behind, knowing that precious seconds could make or break their race. Royle emerged from the water first in 22:20, followed by Marc Dubric and Ben Kanute. But what came next was a rare sight in middle-distance racing: In the span of only 20 seconds, a pack of 19 athletes rushed out of the water as if one unit.
T1 — A little busy 😳
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It was no surprise, then, that T1 was a bit of a circus, with athletes jockeying for position. The pack, which included Denmark’s Miki Taagholt and Magnus Ditlev, Norwegians Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden, Americans Eric Lagerstrom and Jason West, Germans Mikia Noodt and Frederic Funk, and Canadian Brent McMahon, rushed out of transition as quickly as they entered.
Two minutes down from the lead, another chase pack formed, this one containing Canadian Jackson Laundry and American Sam Long. In 34th and 40th place, respectively, it was clear that if they wanted a fighting chance at the podium, they were going to have to put in some big work on the bike to catch their competition.
2022 70.3 Worlds Men’s Race: The Bike
Blummenfelt had no intention of sitting in the pack and watching the race unfold in front of him. He pushed hard from the very start, setting out at a burning pace of 28 mile per hour in the rolling hills out of Sand Hollow. Behind him, the train from the swim continued rolling, and so did the congestion from the swim and T1. It was a game of musical chairs as athletes passed, dropped back, and re-passed to establish the pecking order early on.
Penalties, then, were inevitable. Sam Long, who had ridden his way from 40th to 8th place in the first 20 miles, was the one who took the hit. After getting caught in a tight spot during a pass involving Laundry, Long found himself with a controversial call-out from the referee and a five-minute stand-down in the penalty box. With a gap of 2:25 and an enormous chase pack of 18 athletes close together whizzing past the yellow penalty tent, Long was visibly upset. He knew the punishment had devastating consequences – would he be able to make up that lost time?
As the race barreled towards the halfway point, the large packs began to break up. Blummenfelt continued leading the charge, with Funk, Taagholt, Kanute, Ditlev, Iden, and Noodt close behind. Two minutes down, Denmark’s T.B. Madsen and Clement Mignon of France were joined by Royle and Laundry. Further back, super-runners West and Matt Hanson (USA) worked hard to stay within striking distance of the lead pack.
At the entry of Snow Canyon, Blummenfelt looked over his shoulder, signaling something big was about to happen. But as it turned out, Blummenfelt wasn’t the one making the moves – it was Ditlev with the pass. The Dane stood on his pedals and hammered up the steep grades of the toughest climbs, daring his competition to respond. And respond they did: Blummenfelt, Funk, and Kanute stood as well, refusing to let a breakaway happen in the most critical point of the bike course.
The pack emerged from Snow Canyon and descended with reckless abandon, barreling toward T2 at 39 miles per hour. Ditlev tucked in tight and tried to get any advantage he could, entering T2 with a bike split of 1:49:59, nine seconds ahead of Blummenfelt and Funk. But that advantage was erased in transition as Blummenfelt moved from bike to run in a seamless 29 seconds while Ditlev floundered for nearly twice that amount of time. In the end, it was Blu who started the run first. Would this mistake cost Ditlev the race?
2022 70.3 Worlds Men’s Race: The Run
Though Blummenfelt set out at a 5:47 minute-per-mile pace, his lead didn’t last long. At mile 2, he had company in the form of Kanute, who was throwing down 5:16 splits. As he passed Blummenfelt, Kanute turned the screws even more, dropping the pace to a staggering 4:55 minutes per mile. But this didn’t shake Blummenfelt, who stayed right on his heels and let Kanute drive the pace for the next eight miles.
The effort allowed the two to pull away from the rest of the field. At the five-mile point, the pair had build a 40 second lead over Ditlev and more than two minutes on Funk, Noodt, and Taagholt. But bridging the gap to the front was not the priority for the chase pack – instead, it was holding off a hard-charging Laundry, who was making quick work of moving from eighth off the bike to fifth place. Could he run his way into a podium spot?
And then, a dramatic twist: At mile six, Iden simply stopped, sat on the curb, and said “No more.” As he removed his race bib and exited the course, the residual fatigue from his Ironman World Championship victory three weeks prior was evident; defending his 70.3 title was simply not in the cards this year. It would be up to his friend and countryman to bring home the win.
Blummenfelt stepped up to the challenge. With only three miles to go, he made his move, taking two steps around Kanute and forging ahead. This time, there was no looking over his shoulder – Blummenfelt was laser-focused on the finish line. His stride opened up, and he pulled away, opening up a gap of more than 20 seconds in less than a mile. All the shell-shocked Kanute could do was watch the Norwegian disappear into the horizon.
With a half-smile, half-grimace on his face, Blummenfelt thundered to the finish line at a pace of 4:36 minutes per mile. It was only in the final stretch to the finish line that he relaxed, offering waves and high-fives to the crowd on his way to a run split of 1:11:39 and a final finishing time of 3:37:12.
Kanute finished in second with a time of 3:38:01, and Ditlev was third in 3:39:52.
“I wasn’t sure where we were coming out of the water,” Blummenfelt said after the race. “I decided to take the first 20 minutes to push the pace. My goal was to try to put pressure early on the bike. We were pushing quite hard all the way, and I was surprised Ben was able to hold on as long. And then you just have to go for it.”
The race was a satisfying conclusion for Blummenfelt, who finished third in Kona three weeks prior to St. George. But he’s already got his eye on next year: “You can’t get a revenge from racing Kona outside of Kona, so it’s still on my mind. It’s been on my mind every day for three weeks now, so I have to go back there and finish business there.”
Kanute, on the other hand, was simply happy to have a good day in St. George. “This year has been really hard overall,” Kanute said after the win. “I started off strong, but just had some sickness and having to recover in the middle of the year. I knew what I was capable of, but the execution just wasn’t there. I put all my focus on this race. I wanted to go out there and see what I could do, and I’m just so happy with the result. It’s been six plus months where I’ve actually gotten to race a race in instead of just survive. That’s the most fun I’ve had on long course in a long, long time. I did everything I could on this race, and I just had fun.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever ridden that hard on the bike,” said Ditlev. “I was surprised that I didn’t create a bigger separation on the Snow Canyon segment. But we all kept together in Snow Canyon, so then on the downhill, I tried to put some pressure on the group there but just couldn’t manage it.”
Like Blummenfelt, Ditlev is happy to have a solid race in St. George after a disappointing Kona performance: “I felt I had some redemption after getting a penalty in Kona, so I feel like this is the best way to get after it again.”
2022 70.3 Worlds Men’s Race: Results
|8||Thor Bendix Madsen||25:01||2:03:02||1:14:14||3:44:42|