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Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierde and Great Britain’s Jodie Swallow earned the victories at today’s Ironman African Championships in South Africa.
The Ironman African Championships served as the second of five championship-level Ironmans for the 2015 season. In a new-for-2015 twist, each of these races offer guaranteed Kona slots to both the male and female winners. With a high offering of Kona Pro Ranking points available—and the potential to earn a locked-up Kona slot—several big names made the start in Sunday’s South Africa race. Ultimately it was two athletes who already had a solid grasp on a Kona slot that took the victories. Van Lierde (who as the 2013 Ironman world champion simply needed to validate to get to Kona) turned in a monster effort on the bike and backed it up with a solid marathon to take the men’s win, while Swallow (who finished fourth in Kona last year, giving her a wealth of KPR points) turned in a stellar all-around effort to earn the victory on the women’s side.
France’s Sylvain Sudrie led the strong field out of the 2.4-mile swim with a time of 51:05. Switzerland’s Mike Aigroz was on his heels at four seconds back, with a large group that contained many of the pre-race favorites—including Van Lierde and Rana—following only a few seconds later.
The athletes jumped onto the bike course under ideal conditions that would eventually shift to hot and windy. After some shuffling a front group of Van Lierde, Sudrie, Kyle Buckingham (RSA) and Bertrand Billard (FRA) was established as others struggled to keep pace. At the midway point of the 112-mile ride, that group remained in tact with Eneko Llanos (ESP), Bas Diederen (NED), Cyril Viennot (FRA), David McNamee (GBR), James Cunnama (RSA) and Rana chasing at 5 minutes down. With speedy runners like Cunnama and Rana in that chase pack, Van Lierde and the others continued to build on the gap through the second half of the ride. As the winds picked up, Van Lierde made his move and established a lead of his own. By the time bike turned to run Van Lierde had established a monster gap of over 14 minutes over hometown favorite Buckingham. Van Lierde’s overall bike split of 4:32:45 was by far the fastest of the day—for perspective Belgium’s Bart Aernouts turned in the second fastest of the day at 5:44:30.
Like he did when he won the Ironman world title in 2013, Van Lierde backed up the stellar bike ride with an impressive marathon. The 2:49:45 run split was enough for him to hold the huge lead all the way to the finish line. He crossed at 8:16:35 to earn the Ironman African Championship and validate his Kona slot. Rana had the fastest marathon split (2:48:44) to finish second at 8:30:44, with Aernouts rounding out the top three at 8:35:58.
Swallow kicked off her day by earning a sizable lead out of Nelson Mandela Bay thanks to a 55:22 swim split. Denmark’s Camilla Pedersen was next into T1, but at nearly three minutes back she would have her work cut out to catch the former Ironman 70.3 world champion. Swallow and Pedersen were the only two to clock sub one-hour swim splits as Lucie Reed (CZE), Susie Cheetham (GBR) and Diana Riesler (GER) followed at just over the hour mark.
Once on the bike, Swallow and Pedersen initially both maintained similar paces, with Swallow holding onto her three-minute lead at the midway point of the bike. Pedersen was ultimately able to catch up to Swallow, with the two riding up front together by the 80-mile mark. The effort to catch Swallow proved to be too much for Pedersen as she eventually had to let Swallow go. At T2, Swallow’s lead stood at just over two minutes with Pedersen starting the run in second. Riesler also exited the bike well in contention at three minutes back.
As the trio started the marathon, Swallow pushed a steady pace with Pedersen and Riesler not able to match. With a solid lead for Swallow the attention turned to how the rest of the women’s podium would pan out. Pedersen and Riesler maintained a reasonable pace, but behind them Lucy Gossage (GBR) and Cheetham were making up significant time. Ultimately, Swallow turned in a 3:10:56 marathon to claim the 9:26:56 victory and grab the automatic Kona spot. Gossage’s 3:06:04 marathon propelled her from fourth off of the bike to second at the finish line. Cheetham turned in a race-best 3:03:38 to earn the final podium spot.
Ironman African Championships – South Africa
Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa – March 29, 2015
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 8:16:34
2. Ivan Rana (ESP) 8:30:44
3. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 8:35:58
4. Matt Trautman 8:37:20
5. Eneko Llanos (ESP) 8:37:49
1. Jodie Swallow (GBR) 9:26:55
2. Lucy Gossage 9:31:19
3. Susie Cheetham 9:33:01
4. Camilla Pedersen 9:35:24
5. Diana Riesler 9:38:15