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It was an exciting morning of racing at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships as Tim Don (GBR) and Heather Wurtele (CAN) took top honors in St. George.
Don, who also won the 70.3 Latin American Championships earlier this season, was near the front of the pack for much of the race, but did not cement his victory until two miles from the finish.
The gauntlet was thrown at the very beginning of the race, when Australian Todd Skipworth set a blistering pace for the swim, exiting the water in 22:53. A large pack of swimmers, including Don, Canadian Brent McMahon, German Andreas Raelert, and former 70.3 U.S. Pro Champ Kevin Collington, exited the water within 30 seconds Skipworth and quickly went to work establishing a pecking order for the bike.
McMahon was a workhorse for much of the bike leg, leading for the majority of the ride. American Ben Collins briefly overtook McMahon at Snow Canyon, and the two rode neck and neck for the final 15 miles of the bike leg, pushed by McMahon’s strategy to wear down his competition.
“In a race like this, you have to go out hard and make a statement,” said McMahon. “I rode the last 15 miles of the bike hard to to make the others work a bit. Then I went for it right away on the run.”
McMahon and Collins exited T2 within seconds of each other, but Collins soon dropped back, opening the door for the hard-charging Don to move up in the ranking.
McMahon paid for his early effort, eventually succumbing to Don with two miles to go in the race. Don put an additional 90 seconds onto his second-place finisher in the final stretch, finishing in 3:51:56.
“I’m very happy—very, very happy,” said Don of his victory. “For most of the bike, I struggled, but on the run it all seemed to come together. St. George is such an amazing, challenging course where anything can happen.”
In the final mile, Andreas Raelert, who had the best run split of the day with a time of 1:12:46, caught up to McMahon for a sprint finish. McMahon collapsed with exhaustion immediately after edging out Raelert at the finish, 3:53:22 to 3:53:39.
Though the women’s professional race boasted many big names, including current Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) and returning North American 70.3 champion Meredith Kessler (USA), it seemed everyone was cheering for Wurtele at the finish.
Kessler and Swallow spent much of their day in close proximity to each other, starting with identical swim splits of 25:10. As they headed into T1, a chase pack containing Ellis, Kaye and Luxford nipped at their heels. This group would quickly merge and remain together for the first 40 miles of the bike leg, leapfrogging for first place until Swallow made a breakaway in Snow Canyon, causing Kessler to give chase. The remaining three were unable to bridge the gap after that move.
Behind the leading pack, Wurtele was mounting a steady gain, riding her way from 10th place and a three-minute deficit post-swim to a 1:41 deficit and sixth place upon reaching T2. From there, Wurtele made quick work of passing Ellis, then Kaye, then Swallow. By mile seven, Kessler’s lead was reduced to three seconds. Wurtele made the pass at mile eight and never looked back, going on to take the win with a 4:17:58 finishing time.
“It was a great competition, and at first I wasn’t sure how it would play out,” says Wurtele. “When I saw we had only a few miles to go on the bike, I hauled it all the way into town to put some time into the leaders. On the run, my legs really came around, especially once we passed the halfway point.”
Wurtele’s win was a sweet payoff after what she called a “frustrating” start to the season, with two second-place finishes in as many races. Her stellar run came on the tail of a high-mileage training week in preparation for Ironman Texas, giving her confidence she is ready for the North American Ironman Championships on May 16.
“That was racing,” said Kessler, who took second place a minute and a half behind Wurtele. “That was true racing, with the constant back-and-forth and not knowing what would happen next. All day, the Big 5—Heather, Jodie, Alicia, Mary Beth, and me—went after it. Really, a job well done by these women.”
Though Kessler hoped to come out on top today for the fourth year in a row, she was “at peace” with the loss: “I’m okay to let this one go.”
Swallow held on for third place with a finishing time of 4:21:32.
2015 Ironman 70.3 North American Championships – St. George
St. George, Utah – May 2, 2015
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Tim Don (GBR) 3:51:56
2. Brent McMahon (CAN) 3:53:22
3. Andreas Raelert (GER) 3:53:39
4. Tim Reed (AUS) 3:56:07
5. Ben Hoffman (USA) 3:56:21
1. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:17:58
2. Meredith Kessler (USA) 4:19:27
3. Jodie Swallow (GBR) 4:21:32
4. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 4:22:40
5. Alicia Kaye (USA) 4:23:12