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Two Canadians top the podium at the 70.3 North American Championship.
Over the years, Ironman 70.3 St. George has earned the reputation for anything—and everything—happening on race day. From wicked winds to scorching heat to amazing come-from-behind victories, the 70.3 North American Championship venue often conjures up wild and thrilling conditions for athletes to battle. This year’s event was no exception, as cold rain added an extra challenge to an already difficult event.
Canadians Lionel Sanders and Heather Wurtele best managed the conditions—and the deep competitive field—to take their spots at the top of the podium. In addition to winning a share of the event’s $100,000 prize purse, Sanders and Wurtele secured a place on the starting line of the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Queensland, Australia this fall. This was Sanders’ first time winning in St. George, and Wurtele’s fourth overall (twice when it was an Ironman and now twice as a 70.3).
From the very beginning, the theme of the day was “intensity.” Short-course star Cameron Dye set the tone with a 23:09 swim split, with fellow American Tim O’Donnell and German Michael Raelert nipping at his heels out of the water. Upon leaving T2, however, Dye was able to shake off the competition by putting out a maximal effort on the bike.
As Dye was building on his lead, German Sebastian Kienle and Sanders were working hard to overcome underwhelming swims. Sanders, who exited the water in 31st place (almost five minutes behind Dye), eventually caught and passed Kienle, who was 24th out of the water with a time of 25:45. The two gradually chipped away at the competition until they found themselves within striking distance of Dye at the foot of Snow Canyon, an eight-mile stretch of unrelenting uphill with more than 1,200 feet of elevation gain. It was there that Dye had to pay the piper for his intense effort earlier in the race.
“I didn’t manage that ride well,” said Dye. “I’m still learning the distance and how to pace myself. It’s not like short course—it’s easy to go hard for a short period of time.”
It was a lesson that was hammered home when Sanders, then Kienle made the pass. The two went on to build a significant lead on the rest of the men’s field before T2. Sanders’ 2:03:57 bike split staggered many, including Sanders.
“After the swim I had, I wasn’t sure how the rest of my day would play out,” Sanders recalled.
Though the bike course is considered the toughest part of 70.3 St. George, it was the run where athletes seemed to suffer the most, thanks to a cold, steady rain beating down. Sanders, however, seemed to thrive in those conditions, turning in a day-best run split of 1:15:18.
“When I start to lose feeling in my hands and feet, it means perfect conditions,” Sanders joked after taking the win with a time of 3:48:18.
Kienle managed to hold on to second place, crossing the finish line in 3:51:10, while Australian Joe Gambles pushed his way to third place in 3:53:26.
“I just took third place behind two of the best 70.3 athletes in the world,” Gambles enthused at the finish line. “I’m feeling really good about that.”
Meredith Kessler and Holly Lawrence exited the swim together at 26:27, followed closely by a small pack containing Ellie Salthouse, Mary Beth Ellis, Emily Cocks, Jeanni Seymour and Magali Tisseyre. This particular chase pack never saw the two swim leaders for the remainder of the day, as Kessler and Lawrence pulled away early and convincingly on the bike.
“Holly absolutely hammers on the bike,” said Kessler of the pace her competitor had set. “It was such a good challenge and good competition.”
Though Wurtele was more than 90 seconds down from the lead in T1, she made quick work of blazing through the pack to catch up to Kessler and Lawrence, who played leapfrog for first place during the first 40 miles of the bike. At the top of Snow Canyon, Wurtele surged ahead of her competition and blazed her way into T2 with a 2:22:33 bike split. Lawrence responded; Kessler was unable to keep the pace Wurtele had set.
Wurtele and Lawrence began the run together, taking the first two miles to see who would make the first move. As the run course progressively became steeper, Wurtele maintained a steady pace while Lawrence faded slightly. The gap between the two grew, especially as the wet conditions saturated Lawrence’s shoes and caused minor discomfort.
“All day long, it was a battle. I was pushing max, max, max the whole time, plus it was pouring down rain.” Wurtele added with a laugh: “This course keeps you honest, I’ll tell you that.”
Wurtele broke the tape in 4:16:48, with Lawrence following over a minute behind. Though Kessler was worn down from the bike leg and dismal weather, she kept her third-place spot to cross the line in 4:22:02.
2016 Ironman 70.3 North American Championships
St. George, Utah – May 8, 2016
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
1. Lionel Sanders (CAN) 3:48:18
2. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 3:51:10
3. Joe Gambles (AUS) 3:53:26
4. Kevin Collington (USA) 3:54:40
5. Brent McMahon (CAN) 3:54:46
1. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:16:48
2. Holly Lawrence (GBR) 4:18:04
3. Meredith Kessler (USA) 4:22:02
4. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 4:24:36
5. Ellie Salthouse (AUS) 4:26:52