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Athletes awoke to calm conditions and crystal clear skies in Boulder, Colo. for this morning’s Ironman 70.3 event, and with temperatures predicted to reach 89 degrees, a decidedly hot day was in store. With more and more pros flocking to Boulder for its high altitude training grounds, the field was unusually deep at today’s race, and it was anyone’s guess which athletes on both the men’s and women’s sides would ultimately triumph.
The Men’s Race
First out of the swim was Brian Fleischmann (USA), followed in rapid succession by a flurry of men, including Marcus Fernandes (BRA), Joe Umphenour (USA), Bryan Rhodes (NZL), Matt Reed (USA) and Joe Gambles (USA). Less than a minute separated these men from the next group, which featured Jordan Jones (USA), Leon Griffin (AUS) and Ben Hoffman (USA), among others. While the bike course may have seemed crowded with so many contenders exiting T1 en masse, Gambles made quick work of the field, obviously intent on making a bold move in defense of his 2011 title. By mile 20, Gambles’ lead was reported to be two minutes over the chase group, an advantage that continued to grow over the second lap of the bike course. Gambles’ eventual 2:00:21 bike split (an average 27.92 mph pace) was the fastest of the day and earned him a 3:30 cushion by the time he reached T2.
Next into transition was the trio of Griffin, Hoffman and Brazil’s Santiago Ascenco, all starting the hot half marathon together. By lap two of the run, Gambles had further distanced himself from his pursuers, leading by more than four minutes. Griffin had dropped slightly back from Hoffman and Ascenco, who ran through the mid-point crowds in tandem until Hoffman made a move to pull ahead. Somewhere during the second lap, however, a hard-charging Jordan Jones, after falling slightly back on the bike, crashed their party with the day’s quickest run (1:15:02), cruising into second place. Hoffman, using the race as a fitness gauge in his build toward Ironman Wisconsin in one month’s time, stayed strong to finish third. Umphenour upped his run pace to the second fastest of the day, enabling him to claim fourth, while Ascenco completed the men’s top five.
Year-round Boulder resident and men’s champion Joe Gambles credited his commanding lead to the home course advantage. “I live at the three-mile mark on the bike course, so I know it like the back of my hand. That’s definitely an advantage,” said Gambles, who is most often acclaimed for his run prowess.
The Women’s Race
Liz Blatchford (GBR), best known for her talent on the ITU circuit, led out of the water with Leanda Cave (USA) hot on her heels. Up and coming pro Mandy McLane (USA) followed in third, just over two minutes down from the leaders. A minute later two pre-race favorites, Melanie McQuaid (CAN) and Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) made their way to T1.
While reports from the course had Blatchford heading up the early miles of the bike, Cave carved a slight lead by the time the women’s field returned to the Boulder Reservoir to begin their run. Cave exited T1 1:38 ahead of Blatchford, who maintained almost a two minute gap over reigning Ironman 70.3 World Champion Melissa Hauschildt. By lap two of the half marathon, Blatchford had kicked into high gear, opening up a :45 advantage on Cave. Next up, Hauschildt passed the halfway mark a mere :30 back from Cave, thus setting the stage for a fierce fight in the final miles of the race between these powerful female athletes. With Blatchford and Hauschildt running nearly identical splits (1:24:27 and 1:24:28 respectively), the pair ultimately claimed the first and second podium spots, with Cave rounding out the women’s top three.
Today’s victory was particularly poignant for Blatchford, who spent much of the past four years focused on making a different race start this weekend. Blatchford, who was ranked among the top ITU athletes in the world as a representative of her native Great Britain (though she claims residence in Australia), felt confident she’d make the U.K.’s Olympic triathlon team. She was shockingly passed over, however, in favor of newcomer Lucy Hall, chosen to serve as a team domestique in hopes of helping to secure Olympic gold for pre-race favorite Helen Jenkins. A deeply disappointed Blatchford requested a review of the Olympic selection process, but the decision stood firm. Rather than wallow in bitterness, Blatchford absorbed the news, then turned her focus toward the future, opting to embrace the non-drafting 5150 and Ironman 70.3 race formats – thus she landed on the Boulder start line.
By her count, Ironman 70.3 Boulder marked Blatchford’s fifth race at the half-ironman distance, the other four scattered over a span of 10 years. Following her finish, the newly crowned champion admitted to struggling at times throughout the race, not fully knowing how to pace herself over the longer distance. Asked what it meant to her to post a win on the day following London’s Olympic race, Blatchford replied, “There were a few points in the race I was just really hurting, and it was something in the back of my mind that I could draw on. While I didn’t get to go to the Games, I‘m going to make the most of everything else I do from here on in. It was a bit of extra fuel for sure.”
Ironman 70.3 Boulder
Boulder, Colo. – Aug. 5, 2012
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Joe Gambles (AUS) 3:44:04
2. Jordan Jones (USA) 3:47:41
3. Ben Hoffman (USA) 3:48:22
4. Joe Umphenour (USA) 3:49:10
5. Santiago Ascenco (BRA) 3:50:49
1. Liz Blatchford (GBR) 4:07:48
2. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 4:09:44
3. Leanda Cave (GBR) 4:10:55
4. Elizabeth Lyles (USA) 4:20:52
5. Uli Bromme (USA) 4:24:21