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Spaniard Javier Gomez overtakes American Olympian razen Kanute to capture the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga. (See the photo gallery here)
Unlike the pro women’s race on Saturday, where newly re-crowned three-time world champion Daniela Ryf raced virtually uncontested following the unexpected abandonment mid-race by defending champ Holly Lawrence, the pro men’s race was a bit more combative.
In what was the second of two days of competition in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Sunday, Javier Gomez Noya ran down fellow 1.2-mile (1.93km) swim leg leader Ben Kanute mid-way through the half-marathon leg (13.1 miles/21km) to claim his second Ironman 70.3 World Championship in a time of 3:49:45.
Showing his all-so-familiar smooth and steady pacing that has won him seven previous triathlon world titles, Gomez, who exited second out of the water to 2016 Olympian Kanute before losing time on the brutal 56-mile (90.1km) bike leg, needed a strong kick to rally more than four minutes behind pre-race contenders and pass Kanute after the American had led the first 3:21:50 of the race.
In the end, it was Gomez that crossed the line in first 1:21 over Kanute and 2:15 ahead of Ironman record holder Tim Don (GBR).
“I really had to push hard. Ben was incredible on the bike, I tried to keep up with him in the beginning and at the top of the hill I saw my computer said 380 watts and this was not my pace,” explained the 34-year-old Spaniard. “I had to slow down, race a bit smarter and then I felt a bit more comfortable in the group and saving that energy for the run.”
On the run, Gomez used a 5:24/mile run pace to overtake Kanute on the first of two 6.55-mile (10.5km) run loops.
“I had to run to catch four minutes on Ben, which was really hard,” admitted Gomez. “The first lap I took my risks, but luckily I could keep up until the end.”
For the former collegiate champion at the University of Arizona, the second-place finish is a sensational first step in the world of non-drafting long course triathlon.
“I had a goal, or a zone, of what I wanted to hit, I was probably over that up and over the hill,” explained Kanute. “I didn’t look too much at my watts, I just tried to ride steady.
“When I hit the small little turnaround, I saw I had four minutes and that was the first time I was like ‘wow, I could actually do something at this race’ … that was totally surprising to me because there are so many good athletes here, and it was just an amazing day.”
From the gun, Kanute and Gomez tipped their form early exiting the water, with the Arizona alum swimming a 24:05 followed by the five-time ITU World Triathlon Series world champion four seconds later. Don’s third-place exit from the wet 55 seconds behind the leader was also prophetic.
Defending champion Tim Reed (AUS) entered the first transition (T1) 14th overall at 1:16 adrift.
From the start of the bike leg toward the ascent of Lookout Mountain, a climb averaging 6 percent gradient and peaks of more than 8 percent at the summit, Kanute took control pounding out punishing wattage to gap Gomez and a chase group led by Don.
With Don, Matt Chrabot (USA), Pieter Heemeryck (BEL), Maurice Clavel (GER) and Sam Appleton (AUS) all in pursuit of the leader, two-time 70.3 champion Sebastian Kienle (GER) began his assault on the field to nearly halve is 4:18 swim deficit to 2:40 behind Kanute.
Kienle moved through the pack into second overall with ease, with only 17 seconds separating positions 2nd through 11th at the 31-mile mark on the bike.
But just under four minutes (+3:30) was about as close as the 33-year-old German could muster on the American. From there the chase pack containing both Gomez and Don took over with Kienle eventually falling out of contention and finishing the day fifth overall (+5.00) behind Appleton (+3:48).
After leading for the entirety of the race, thanks in large part to a 2:08:11 bike split, only second to Kienle (2:07:46), Kanute donned an American ball cap and entered the run with 3:56 lead over Chavel in front of a throng of newly acquired ‘Kanutian’ supporters as Ironman Live commentators so labeled his new fanbase.
However, that lead would be short-lived with the 2012 Olympic silver medalist blistering the run right of the bike. Gomez ran an 18:57 for the first 3.5 miles (5.6km) and caught Kanute shortly before passing the leader with authoritative surge to finish with a race-best run time of 1:10:30.
“I didn’t expect a 1:10 either, but had to take some risks with Ben so far away and luckily I could keep up until the end,” reiterated Gomez. “I had my racing strategy in my mind knowing that Ben was there. You know he is a fast swimmer from ITU racing, so I warmed up in the water more than usual for a 70.3 race because I knew I needed a good start to stay with him.
“On the bike, it’s not like I didn’t want to go with him, I just couldn’t,” Gomez continued. “I thought the smartest thing was to slow down and try to recover a little bit until the group caught me and then try to stay there, which is not easy because I am not such as strong a cyclist as many of these guys so I was focused to try and keep up, but I knew I could run fast.
“I knew four minutes was going to be hard to recover all that time, but I just went for it from the beginning,” Gomez concluded. “I didn’t think much I just tried to find a hard pace I thought I could keep for pretty much the whole race.
“When I eventually caught Ben I didn’t have much left, but luckily it was enough to pass him and take the win.”
2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship
1.2 mile (1.93km) Swim / 56 mile (90.1km) Bike / 13.1 (21km) mile Run
Chattanooga, Tenn. – Sept 10, 2017
1. Javier Gomez Noya, ESP, 3:49:45
2. Ben Kanute, USA, 3:51:07 (+1:21)
3. Tim Don, GBR, 3:52:00 (+2:15)
4. Sam Appleton, AUS, 3:53:34 (+3:48)
5. Sebastian Kienle, GER, 3:54:46 (+5.00)