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With the week leading into the 2014 Ironman World Championship presented by GoPro featuring the windy conditions that the Big Island is known for, speculation was high that this year’s race would be even more brutal than usual. Those concerns came to fruition, and Saturday’s event saw a rough-water swim, an extremely windy bike ride and a hot and humid run. Two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Sebastian Kienle (GER) established a lead on the ride and carried it through the entire marathon to earn his first Ironman World Championship title. In the women’s race, Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae came off of the bike over 14 minutes down and ran her way to her third world title, once again establishing a new marathon course record.
The pro men kicked off the action at 6:25 a.m. to fairly rough conditions in Kailua Bay. After 2.4 miles of battling, a huge group of 24 men came into the first transition within 53 seconds of each other. American Andy Potts regained his title of first man out of the water in Kona with a time of 50:56, but his lead was minimal. Kona rookie 2008 Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno followed just one second behind with Igor Amorelli (BRA), Marko Albert (EST), defending champion Frederik Van Lierde (BEL), Tim O’Donnell (USA), Daniel Halksworth (GBR), Ben Hoffman (USA) and Pete Jacobs (AUS) making the front part of that group. The most notable name missing from the front pack was 2013 Kona runner-up Luke McKenzie, who came into T1 nearly four minutes down. Kienle kept the damage to a minimum, also coming out of the water at about four minutes down.
Once on the bike, that front group stayed pretty well together through the early miles. In an early dramatic moment, Frodeno took his turn out front and suffered a flat tire, forcing him to take time on the side of the road. Starykowicz inherited the lead and worked to build a gap. He couldn’t find the momentum that he forged in 2013 and eventually dropped back into the group. As the athletes reached Hawi, the winds started gusting and Kienle excelled, with fellow German Maik Twelsiek going with him. Kienle used the ride back on the Queen K to build a commanding lead over his chasers. Kienle’s 4:20:46 bike split gave him a 3:15 gap over Twelsiek, 4:54 over Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) and just over eight minutes on Van Lierde and Hoffman into T2. Next off of the biker were Germany’s Nils Frommhold (9:58 back), and France’s Romain Guillaume (10:37 back) and Cyril Viennot (10:44 back). Positions nine through 13 into T2 saw the fastest runners of the race with Potts, Tim Van Berkel (AUS), Andreas Raelert (GER), Frodeno and Tim O’Donnell all getting off of the bike at around 12:40 back.
The big question at this point of the race was: how would Kienle handle the pressure of a big lead out front? The two-time 70.3 world champion ran steady throughout the marathon, giving up little time to his pursuers. With Kienle running solidly up front, the race behind him for podium positions featured the biggest question marks. Through the early miles, Van Lierde and Hoffman both stayed steady in second and third respectively, with traditionally strong runners like Van Berkel, Frodeno and Potts not making up a significant amount of time. Van Lierde struggled after the Energy Lab, giving Hoffman the second position. Frodeno worked his way up and looked like he might be capable of catching Hoffman.
Despite showing some fatigue in the final miles after the Energy Lab, Kienle’s lead was more than enough. His 2:54:37 marathon nabbed him his first Ironman world title in 8:14:18. Behind him the race for second came down to the final mile. Hoffman was able to hold off Frodeno, coming down the finish line as the top American in second at 8:19:23. Frodeno overcame a flat tire and four-minute penalty with a 2:47:46 marathon to finish in third at 8:20:32. Potts ran his way to fourth with a run split of 2:48:18, putting two Americans in the top five. France’s Cyril Viennot had a breakout performance, rounding out the top five.
The 37 women started their day at 6:30 a.m. Super swimmer Amanda Stevens (USA) was first out of the water at 54:25, with Jodie Swallow (GBR) and Meredith Kessler (USA) exiting a few seconds later. From there, the women continued to exit in small groups, with many of the main contenders, including Rachel Joyce (GBR), Caroline Steffen (SUI) and Daniela Ryf (SUI), starting the bike just over two minutes back. With the strong swimmers out on the bike course, the attention turned to when Carfrae would start the ride. She finished the swim at just over an hour, putting her nearly six minutes back. (For comparison, she was five minutes back in 2013).
A front trio of Swallow, Kessler and Ellis got organized quickly and rode up front for the early miles of the bike. Through 30 miles, their gap ahead of Joyce, Ryf, Steffen and 2013 third-place finisher Liz Blatchford (AUS) stood at just under two minutes. Swallow then received a four-minute penalty, removing her from early contention.
As the women approached Hawi, they battled the gusting winds and Ryf used her cycling strength and started putting together a decent gap on the others. At 50 miles her lead stood at 1:39 over Joyce in second, and 1:41 over Ellis in third.
Ryf’s momentum continued all the way back into Kona and by the time bike turned to run, her gap stood at 2:01 over Joyce, 3:29 over Ellis and 5:48 over Swallow. After that front four there was a significant gap with Steffen (10:29 back), Canada’s Heather Wurtele (12:29 back), Kessler (14:28 back) and Carfrae (14:32 back) making up the rest of the top eight into transition. Would Ironman marathon course record holder Carfrae be able to pull of a monumental performance and take her third title?
At the midway point of the marathon, Ryf continued to run strong with Carfrae sitting in fifth at nine minutes back. As the women went through the Energy Lab, Ryf started to struggle as Carfrae continued to motor her way through the women’s field. Carfrae passed Ryf on the Queen K headed back toward Kona.
Carfrae carried the lead from there into town, posting a 2:50:26 marathon to wear the coveted Kona crown for the third time in 9:00:55. She becomes only the fourth women in history to win three Ironman World Championships, behind Paula Newby-Fraser (eight), Natascha Badmann (six) and Chrissie Wellington (four).
Ryf was able to compose herself after being passed by Carfrae, crossing the finish line in second. Joyce earned a podium spot for the second year in a row, claiming third.
2014 Ironman World Championship presented by GoPro
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii – Oct. 11, 2014
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 8:14:18
2. Ben Hoffman (USA) 8:19:23
3. Jan Frodeno (GER) 8:20:32
4. Andy Potts (USA) 8:21:38
5. Cyril Viennot (FRA) 8:22:19
6. Nils Frommhold (GER) 8:22:29
7. Tim Van Berkel (AUS) 8:23:26
8. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 8:24:11
9. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 8:28:28
10. Romain Guillaume (FRA) 8:30:15
1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 9:00:55
2. Daniela Ryf (SUI) 9:02:57
3. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 9:04:23
4. Jodie Swallow (GBR) 9:10:19
5. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:12:43
6. Julia Gajer (GER) 9:16:58
7. Liz Lyles (USA) 9:18:11
8. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:19:21
9. Mary Beth Ellis (USA) 9:20:46
10. Liz Blatchford (AUS) 9:23:34