Sebastian Kienle and Melissa Hauschildt take the victories on a dramatic day of racing in Frankfurt.
Race morning kicked off with news that would ultimately have a big impact on how the day played out. With a water temperature of 74.84 degrees F (23.8 degrees C), the pro athletes would not be allowed to race in wetsuits. (Age groupers were allowed to wear wetsuits, as the temperature cutoffs are different.) Many made it through the swim with no problem, but with the air temperature in the 50s F some struggled to warm up on the bike and had issues. Most notably, defending Ironman world and European champion Daniela Ryf (SUI) had to drop out on the bike after she couldn’t warm up.
Ultimately it was two athletes with multiple world championships to their names, Sebastian Kienle (GER) and Melissa Hauschildt (AUS), who overcame the conditions and claimed the Ironman European Championship titles, $30,000 winning prizes and automatic qualification to October’s Ironman World Championship.
Estonia’s Marko Albert led the men out of the 2.4-mile swim at 48:12, with France’s Denis Chevrot on his heels at 48:14. Right after those lead two it was a long string of athletes, including Johann Ackermann (GER), Youri Severin (NED), Ivan Risti (ITA), Tim O’Donnell (USA), Balazs Csoke (HUN), Alexander Schilling (GER), Christian Kramer (GER), Igor Amorelli (ITA), Bas Diederen (NED), Joe Gambles (AUS) and Andi Boecherer (GER). With that lead pack out onto the bike, the attention turned to when Kienle—who won this race in 2014—would exit the water. Kienle came into T1 after a 52:12 swim—putting him exactly four minutes back of the leader.
Ackermann took charge out front early on in the bike, with Boecherer pretty quickly taking over that top spot. Boecherer led a strong group of cyclists, with all of them no doubt aware that Kienle would be approaching soon. The 2014 Ironman world champion found his way to the back of a group of the lead five athletes at around the halfway mark of the race. Kienle settled into the pace of the leaders and at one point suffered a minor mechanical issue. He was quickly back on the road and decided to take control of the bike race. At the 90-mile mark, Kienle held the top spot with Boecherer and Llanos close behind and the next closest chaser four minutes back.
Boecherer gained the slight edge as the leader into transition, with Kienle and Llanos right behind. Albert was the fourth man into T2 at 5:41 back, with Amorelli as the fifth man off of the bike at a more-distant 14:57 deficit. The run quickly became a two-man battle between Kienle and Boecherer. The pace was fiery; with Kienle posting a 1:18:35 split for the first half of the marathon. With about 10K to go, Kienle solidified his spot out front and cruised to the finish line. Ultimately it was a 2:44:12 marathon that helped Kienle take the win in a blazing time of 7:52:43. Boecherer crossed the finish line just over a minute later at 7:53:40 to take the runner-up spot.
“I didn’t believe that Andi would be able to run a sub-2:50 or even next to 2:50, he absolutely proved me wrong today,” Kienle said at the post-race press conference. “My swim was not good today but I’m really happy with my bike and especially with the run. Time for holiday now.”
Despite some strong running behind him, Llanos held on for the final podium spot at 8:09:08. After finishing on the Kona podium last year, many had high hopes for O’Donnell but he had several issues on the bike, including a crash. He struggled to a 25th-place finish, validating his spot on the Kona start line.
Germany’s Caroline Fey led the women out of the water with a split of 51:05. Ryf was second at 53:45, with Germany’s Natascha Schmitt rounding out the top three into T1 at 55:57. Germany’s Katja Konschak (56:06), Spain’s Saleta Castro Noqueria (56:58) and Germany’s Daniela Saemmler (58:18) were the next closest pursuers with eventual winner Hauschildt finishing the swim in seventh at about eight minutes back.
Ryf started the bike, but it was quickly evident that she was not herself, with several athletes passing the usually dominant cyclist. She ultimately decided to drop out.
“The first few meters in the water were extremely good, but it got really really cold shortly after that,” Ryf said after the race. “My goal was to get as fast as possible out of the water because it was so cold. I haven’t been able to stay in the aero position. It was not my day. It was more about a survival than about a race.”
With the defending champion on the sidelines, the race became wide open. Schmitt took quick advantage, cycling her way to a 4:54:15 bike split and entering T2 with a lead of 5:11 over Saemmler and 6:32 over Hauschildt.
Schmitt started the marathon strong, but Hauschildt—who is known as one of the best runners in the sport—was quickly cutting into her advantage. The two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion took the lead just before the half-marathon mark and cruised to the victory. She used a 59:15 swim, a 4:57:10 bike and a 3:00:12 marathon to take the 9:01:17 win. Before this race, Hauschildt struggled with injuries and sat way down on the KPR list at 138. The win guarantees her a spot on the Kona starting line.
“I tried to pace myself, running not too hard,” Hauschildt said after the race. “I was only running for four weeks. I really wanted to win because I wanted to go to Kona. Daniela had a wonder of a swim, she was six minutes away. The black carpet on the way to the finish line was just amazing.”
Konschak turned in a 2:59:29 marathon to run from sixth off of the bike to second at the finish line in 9:09:58. Saemmler earned the final podium spot at 9:13:23.
2016 Ironman European Championships Frankfurt
Frankfurt, Germany – July 3, 2016
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 7:52:43
2. Andi Boecherer (GER) 7:53:40
3. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 8:09:08
4. Marko Albert (EST) 8:11:38
5. William Clarke (GBR) 8:14:56
1. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 9:01:17
2. Katja Konschak (GER) 9:09:58
3. Daniela Saemmler (GER) 9:13:23
4. Natascha Schmitt (GER) 9:16:40
5. Verena Walter (GER) 9:18:58