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The 2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship featured calmer-than-usual conditions and exciting story lines in both professional races. In the men’s event, the importance of a fast marathon was minimized, with three stronger cyclists making up the final podium. Ultimately it was Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) who earned his first Ironman World Championship title. The opposite was true in the women’s race, with a new run course record giving Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae (AUS) her second Kona win and a new overall course record.
The day kicked off with the news that American Andy Potts would not be making the start due to nerve damage in his left leg. Potts watched from the pier, altering the dynamics of the 2.4-mile swim. With no super swimmer to push the pace, the first half of the swim saw a huge group stay together and slower swimmers like Sebastian Kienle (GER) keep contact. It finally broke up after the turn buoy, but it left little time for the faster swimmers to build a large gap.
American Brandon Marsh was first out of the water at 50:51 with Clayton Fettell (AUS) and defending champion Pete Jacobs (AUS) right on his heels. A large group of top contenders, including Van Lierde, Tim O’Donnell (USA) and Bevan Docherty (NZL), followed within a few seconds. The most notable swim times of the morning were Kienle and Andreas Raelert (GER), who started the bike at 3:20 behind the leaders. That time was stellar for super biker Kienle, but disappointing for four-time Kona podium finisher Raelert.
Jacobs had a fast transition and exited T1 in the front, much to the delight of the crowd. His early lead didn’t last long as uberbiker Andrew Starykowicz (USA) charged to the front within the first few miles.
Through 30 miles Starykowicz had built his lead to nearly two and a half minutes, with Jacobs pacing a large chase group of 21 athletes. That’s about as large as Starykowicz’s lead would get, as Kienle joined the main group and started to bridge the gap up to the American. Luke McKenzie (AUS) managed to stay on pace with Kienle, with Tyler Butterfield (BER), Van Lierde, Dirk Bockel (LUX) and Faris Al-Sultan (GER) chasing not far behind.
As Kienle and McKenzie caught up to Starykowicz, McKenzie passed both athletes and earned the lead in the race. Starykowicz’s down moment didn’t last long as he clawed his way back up to the front. Kienle struggled to keep pace with the frontrunners and found himself just under a minute down. Further back, respectable runners Butterfield, Van Lierde and Bockel earned more time on top runners like Alexander, Eneko Llanos (ESP), James Cunnama (RSA), Timo Bracht (GER) and Docherty as they reached the final quarter of the bike ride.
At the end of 112 miles of riding, Starykowicz came into T2 with the lead thanks to a race-best 4:21:50 bike split, with McKenzie in second at 59 seconds back and Kienle in third at 3:53 behind. Van Lierde was fourth onto the run course and looked the freshest of the early frontrunners. Would these super cyclists be able to hold off the faster runners behind them?
As athletes like Bockel, Al-Sultan, Butterfield, Cunnama, Docherty, Bracht and Llanos came off of the bike, many were left scratching their heads wondering where the two recent champions, Alexander and Jacobs, sat in the race. Both started the run more than 18 minutes behind the pace set by Starykowicz and looked to be out of contention for the win.
Out front, Starykowicz’s efforts on the bike caught up to him quickly, while McKenzie and Kienle looked strong. McKenzie set a fast pace early and earned a two-minute lead over Kienle by mile five. As the Australian maintained his lead, Van Lierde slowly cut into Kienle’s advantage and passed him on the Queen K. Next up on Van Lierde’s hit list was McKenzie, whom he flew by at around mile 17. With Van Lierde out front, McKenzie in second and Kienle in third well ahead the rest of the field, it looked like the podium was secured before the men reached mile 20. That’s exactly how the race finished.
Van Lierde put together a 51:02 swim, a 4:25:37 bike and a 2:51:18 marathon to claim the 8:12:29 victory and improve on his 2012 third-place finish. He’s the second Belgian to ever win the world title, with Luc Van Lierde (no relation) being the first in 1996 and 1999.
“I tried to be smart, and it worked out,” Van Lierde said at the finish line. “To be honest after last year I believed I could do it. The belief was there. After 17 years of doing triathlon, this is amazing. The best I could have ever hoped for.”
McKenzie was ecstatic with his second-place finish, crossing at 8:15:19. Kienle improved one spot from 2012 to earn third at 8:19:24. Cunnama came through on his hope to perform well in Kona, finishing fourth. O’Donnell was the top American, earning fifth.
Super swimmer Haley Chura (USA) led the women out of Kailua Bay in 53:55, with Jodie Swallow (GBR), Leanda Cave (GBR), Meredith Kessler (USA) and several others following close behind. A big second group came into T1 a full four minutes down and included Mary Beth Ellis (USA). Though Ellis would normally be a part of that front group, she was likely thrilled with that effort as she was competing just four weeks after surgery on an injured shoulder and broken collarbone. Also in that group with work to do were Carfrae, Caitlin Snow (USA) and Heather Wurtele (CAN).
A front group on the bike made up of Kessler, Swallow, Cave, Amanda Stevens (USA), Rebekah Keat (AUS), Michelle Vesterby (DEN), Gina Crawford (NZL), Caroline Steffen (SUI), Liz Blatchford (GBR) and Rachel Joyce (GBR) worked hard to keep other contenders back in the race. In a new dynamic to the women’s race, that group mentality stuck and several women took their turn at the front of the race building on a fiery pace.
Eventually that pack dwindled down to Joyce, Steffen, Kessler and Cave, who were all considered heavy contenders coming into the race. With those four finding a smooth rhythm, the gap to other favorites like Carfrae and Ellis, continued to grow.
As the women passed the 90-mile mark and started to get closer to town, the wind picked up a bit and Kessler, Joyce and a newly revitalized Swallow took advantage by building some time on Cave, Steffen and the rest of the women’s field. Ultimately, Joyce was first into transition with Kessler right behind her, and Swallow and Vesterby a bit farther back. Two minutes later, Blatchford headed into T2 with a four-minute penalty to serve. Steffen and Cave rounded out the top six off of the bike. The most interesting placement after that point was Carfrae exiting the bike eight minutes down from Joyce and Kessler. Would Carfrae break her own run course record (2:52:09) and push her way to the front?
Kessler maintained the top spot early, but was overtaken by Joyce before mile five. The story farther back was a blazing effort by Carfrae. By mile six she had cut the deficit down to just over five minutes. Joyce continued to keep her composure out front, but there was nothing she could do about the impending arrival of Carfrae.
Carfrae, the 2010 Ironman world champion, patted Joyce on the back as she passed her at mile 15 and she extended her lead from there. She crossed the finish line in 8:52:14 to take the win and break Chrissie Wellington’s 2009 course record of 8:54:02. Her 2:50:38 marathon also broke her own run course record, and gave her the third fastest overall run of the day – men and women.
“I felt amazing all day today,” Carfrae said after the race. “I can’t believe it. I didn’t know I had a performance like that in me. I thought I could run 2:50 if conditions were good. The bike set me up. Eight minutes is still a long way, but it was amazing. I’ll never forget this day.”
Joyce closed her race with a 3:03:37 marathon to finish second at 8:57:28. Blatchford rounded out the top three in her Ironman World Championship debut, posting a time of 9:03:35. Yvonne Van Vlerken worked her way throughout the field to finish fourth. Steffen held on to finish fifth. Snow was the first American in sixth, just ahead of Kessler in seventh.
2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii – Oct. 12, 2013
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 8:12:29
2. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 8:15:19
3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 8:19:24
4. James Cunnama (RSA) 8:21:46
5. Tim O’Donnell (USA) 8:22:25
6. Ivan Rana (ESP) 8:23:43
7. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 8:24:09
8. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 8:25:38
9. Timo Bracht (GER) 8:26:32
10. Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 8:31:13
1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 8:52:14
2. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 8:57:28
3. Liz Blatchford (GBR) 9:03:35
4. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 9:04:34
5. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:09:09
6. Caitlin Snow (USA) 9:10:12
7. Meredith Kessler (USA) 9:10:19
8. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 9:11:13
9. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:14:17
10. Linsey Corbin (USA) 9:17:22