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Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee and Holly Lawrence were both impressive at Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St. George.
The pressure was certainly on two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee. Could the British star successfully translate his ITU speed and aggressive style to the 70.3 distance against one of the toughest fields we’ll see in 2017? The answer was a resounding yes. Thanks to a 23:18 swim, a 2:01:39 bike and a 1:14:49 half-marathon, Brownlee not only took the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship victory he also crossed the finish line in 3:41:58 to break the course record. On the women’s side, fellow British athlete Holly Lawrence continued to cement her status as the top 70.3 athlete in the world, leading from start to finish to claim the win in 4:12:07. The two were part of a stacked field that competed for their share of 1500 valuable KPR points and a $100,000 prize purse in the small town of St. George, Utah.
American Olympian Ben Kanute, who also came to St. George to see how he could handle the distance against a tough field, made sure Brownlee didn’t lead from start to finish as he narrowly beat him out of the water with a swim time of 23:16. Brownlee was next (23:18), with Great Britain’s Stuart Hayes (23:21) and Australia’s Sam Appleton (23:22) also close behind. Forty seconds later a large group of nine, including contenders Tim Don (GBR) and Brent McMahon (CAN), followed and went on the chase. After that group, the attention turned to when Germany’s Sebastian Kienle, a two-time 70.3 world champion, and Canada’s Lionel Sanders, the defending champion, would exit the water. Kienle emerged about two minutes back of the leaders, with Sanders following at about three minutes back.
With the athletes on the bike, the biggest question of the day was about to be answered. How would Brownlee handle a 56-mile non-drafting effort on a tough course with some of the best triathletes in the world chasing him? It turns out very well. Kanute kept pace in the very early miles, but that ended quickly and from there Brownlee rode the hilly bike course on his own. Behind Brownlee, both Kienle and Sanders worked their way through the field—but would the super bikers be able to catch Brownlee before T2? Not even close. Brownlee emerged from the bike with a three-minute lead over both Kienle and then Sanders. On top of that massive effort, he made it through T2 in about 45 seconds—something he clearly perfected on the ITU circuit.
Brownlee is known for his impressive run abilities and they appeared to be translating well onto the tough St. George half-marathon course. Through 2.45 miles, Kienle was struggling to keep up the same fiery pace—but Sanders was slowly cutting into Brownlee’s lead. Sanders continued to get closer and closer to Brownlee, but there simply wasn’t enough real estate to catch him. Brownlee crossed the finish line with that impressive 3:41:58 course record to take the statement victory. With a 1:12:19 split, Sanders outran Brownlee but it was only good enough for second today. He crossed the finish line at 3:42:31. Kienle was strong all day, rounding out the podium in 3:46:20.
As she has been in almost every recent 70.3 race, Lawrence was impressive across swim, bike and run today in St. George. She emerged first from the Sand Hollow State Park Reservoir in 24:56, giving her a small lead over both Australia’s Ellie Salthouse (24:59) and South Africa’s Jeanni Seymour.
From there, the race was all about Lawrence. She grew her lead with every pedal stroke and ultimately turned in a 2:17:46 bike split to enter T2 with a 7:27 lead over Salthouse and an 8:14 lead over Seymour. Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce was next off the bike at about 12 minutes back.
Seymour slowly gained on Lawrence throughout the run, but the gap was simply too much. Lawrence capped off her day with a 1:26:57 run to claim her first 70.3 North American Championship victory in 4:12:07. Seymour turned in the fastest run for the women (1:22:36) to earn the runner-up spot at 4:15:12. Salthouse maintained her position off of the bike to claim the final podium spot in 4:22:25.
2017 Ironman 70.3 North American Championships – St. George
St. George, Utah – May 6, 2017
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 3:41:58
2. Lionel Sanders (CAN) 3:42:31
3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 3:46:20
4. Tim Don (GBR) 3:48:26
5. Ben Kanute (USA) 3:50:29
1. Holly Lawrence (GBR) 4:12:07
2. Jeannie Seymour (RSA) 4:15:12
3. Ellie Salthouse (AUS) 4:22:25
4. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 4:25:46
5. Lesley Smith (USA) 4:27:44