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Billard defended his 2016 Pays D'Aix 70.3 title after prevailing by one second in a finish line sprint with fellow Frenchman Denis Chevrot.
Billard and Chevrot began a daylong duel on the swim where they emerged from the water in 3rd and 4th position, 19 and 20 seconds back of swim leader Robin Pasteur. After that equal moment, the two men exchanged knockout punches on the bike and run legs that improbably balanced out to the final meter and final second.
Billard fired first with a by-far men’s-fastest 2:10:55 bike split that gave the 2013 and 2015 ITU Long Distance World Champion a 5:33 lead on Arnaud Guilloux, 6:55 on Kevin Maurel, 6:57 on Markus Herbst and 7 minutes flat on Chevrot.
After a much better transition, Chevrot left T2 with a 6:38 deficit.
By 2.5 kilometers of the run, Chevrot dispatched Guilloux, Maurel and Herbst and cut 40 seconds from his deficit to Billard. After 10km, Chevrot continued his rapid 3:19 per kilometer pace and reduced Billard’s gap to 4:28 while Guilloux fell off the back and Herbst and Maurel receded to 5:38 and 6:04 behind the leader. At 16 kilometers, Chevrot kept attacking Billard with relentless purpose, drawing to within 2:44 of the leader as 2013 Ironman World Champion Frederik Van Lierde advanced to 3rd.
With just 2.5 kilometers to go, Chevrot drew ever nearer – 1:14 away from his prey. The race came down to a sprint on the blue carpet. Keeping his nerve in the face of Chevrot’s onslaught, Billard crossed the finish line in 3:55:18, one second in front of his rival. Chevrot recorded a 1:10:02 half marathon. Billard ran a sixth-best 1:16:38 for the 21.1 kilometers, surrendering 6:36 to Chevrot. But it was just enough for the victory.
Frederik Van Lierde recorded a 2nd-best 1:13:02 run split to take the final spot on the podium, 4:21 behind the winner.