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Brownlee posted 2nd-best swim, bike and run splits to finish in a race-record 3:41:58 which gave him a 33 second margin of victory over Sanders, the Canadian who made it close with a race-best 1:12:19 half marathon that cut 2:30 off Brownlee’s 3 minute lead starting the run. Former Ironman 70.3 World Champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany took 3rd place, 4:22 off the leader, after a 4th-best 1:16:10 run.
Lawrence combined a women’s-best 24:56 swim, a dominating 2:17:46 bike split and a women’s 3rd-fastest 1:26:57 run to finish in 4:12:07 with a 3:05 margin of victory over fast-closing Jeanni Seymour of South Africa and 10:18 over Ellie Salthouse of Australia. Rachel Joyce of Great Britain, in one of her first races after the birth of her son Archie, took 4th, 13:39 off the lead.
With the triathlon world waiting to see what two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee would do against a topflight Ironman 70.3 field, the swim provided the first clue.
Brownlee finished three seconds behind U.S. Olympian Ben Kanute’s race-best 23:16 split, 2 seconds ahead of 2012 Olympian Stuart Hayes of Great Britain and 3 seconds ahead of 70.3 veteran Sam Appleton of Australia. The lead group opened a significant 42 to 48 seconds gap on 9 top 70.3 contenders, including Tim Don of Great Britain, Brent McMahon of Canada, Sylvain Sudrie of France, Kevin Collington and Matt Chrabot of the U.S., Antony Costes of France, Antoine Jolicoeur of France, and Mark Buckingham of Great Britain.
Most significantly, overall contenders Ben Hoffman of the U.S., Trevor Wurtele of Canada and previous Ironman 70.3 World champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany were just over 2 minutes back, and serious threat Lionel Sanders of Canada, with his much-improved swim, was 3:09 arrears leaving the water.
Once on the bike, Brownlee wasted no time pushing his renowned bike speed. After 11 miles, the two-time Olympic distance World Champion opened up a 47 seconds lead on Kanute, 1:16 on Appleton, 1:45 on Costes, 1:48 on Jason Laundry of Canada, 1:50 on Gambles, 1:51 on Don, and 2:23 to 2:27 on a tightly packed quartet including Chrabot, McMahon, Kevin Collington and Hayes.
Significantly, the only man to take time out of Brownlee was Canadian Lionel Sanders, who cut his deficit by 21 seconds to 2:48. Following closely were Sudrie (+2:49) and Sebastian Kienle (+2:51).
While Brownlee continued to push ahead, Costes advanced to 4th behind Kanute and Appleton. Coming up fast were Kienle and Sanders, who caught and sliced through the main chase group quickly and were holding pace with Brownlee.
Sanders and Kienle passed Gambles, Don and Laundry and just as they got clear, Kienle launched an attack in an attempt to leave Sanders. At 1:14 into the race, Kienle and Sanders were on top of Kanute and soon would have only Brownlee to chase. As the duo caught and passed Kanute, Sanders made a big push, opening a 5 seconds margin on Kienle and 7 seconds on Costes. Don and Appleton managed to stay in touch, 20 seconds behind Sanders and Kienle.
Up to mile 39, Brownlee plateaued a bit as his lead over Sanders and Kienle stabilized at 2:40 and 2:43 and left his margin on Appleton, Costes, Don, Kanute and Jackson Laundry ranging from 3:39 to 3:59. Falling further out of range were Gambles (+4:23) and Chrabot (+4:57), and off the back were McMahon (+7:02), Wurtele (+7:05), and Hoffman (+7:07).
After a 2nd-fastest bike split of 2:01:39 on a course reputed to be hilly and tough, Brownlee entered T2 with Sanders and Kienle arriving 3 minutes later. Next up were Tim Don (+4:35), Ben Kanute (+5:12), Antony Costes (+5:24), Jackson Laundry (+6:01), Sam Appleton (+6:10), and Joe Gambles (+7:57).
Sanders had the fastest bike split of 2:01:24, 15 seconds faster than Brownlee, 30 second faster than Kienle, and 4:03 better than Tim Don. Still, Brownlee’s ITU honed transition speed – race best 45 seconds – gained him some more seconds heading into the run.
With the first clue that Brownlee was at all vulnerable, Sanders took back 20 seconds from the leader 2.4 miles into the run, while Kienle gave back another 20 seconds. At that point, Brownlee was averaging 5:48 per mile in one of the sections with demanding hills. At mile 6, Sanders stayed at an even pace with Brownlee, 2:44 back, while Kienle fell to 4:16 arrears. Ben Kanute held even with Tim Don at 6:25 back while Costes (+8:36), Appleton (+9:13), Laundry (+9:43) and Brent McMahon (+10:10) stayed in the top 10 but out of contention for the win.
With 2 miles to go, Sanders made one final push and was 1:04 back with 2 miles to go while Kienle held third at 4:08 deficit.
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At the end, Brownlee surrendered more real estate but finished with a 2nd-fastest 1:14:49 half marathon to finish first in 3:41:58. Sanders ran a race-best 1:12:19 to take the runner-up position, 33 seconds behind Olympic distance ITU royalty. Kienle ran 4th-best 1:16:10 to finish 3rd in 3:46:20.
In a women’s field missing many top contenders - 2nd through 10th place finishers at the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship including Melisa Hauschildt, Heather Wurtele, Daniela Ryf, Caroline Steffen, Annabel Luxford, Laura Philipp, Alicia Kaye, Radka Kahlefeldt and Magali Tisseyre - current Ironman 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrence of Great Britain led the field with a 24:56 split that gave her a 3 seconds lead on Ellie Salthouse of Australia, 7 seconds on Jeanni Seymour of South Africa, and 1:24 on Jackie Hering of the U.S., and 2:23 to 2:46 back were Rachel Joyce of Great Britain, Lesley Smith of the U.S., and Ewa Bugdol of Poland. From 3:00 to 3:15 were U.S. contenders Lauren Capone and Skye Moench.
Just 11 miles into the ride, Lawrence was already blowing apart the field, carving out a 1:45 lead on Salthouse and 2:10 on Seymour. Fast fading were Rachel Joyce (+4:35), Jackie Hering (+5:15), Skye Moench (+6:05), Leslie Smith (+6:55), Ewa Bugdol (+6:58), and Jen Annett (+7:09).
While Lawrence continued to expand her lead, Seymour and Salthouse rode together, taking turns at the front while Joyce held 4th but dropped more than 5 minutes back of the leader.
After 40 miles of the ride, Lawrence was dominating the women far more conclusively than Brownlee was dealing with the men. Lawrence increased her lead over Salthouse and Seymour to 5:20, with Joyce residing in 4th, 8:23 back and the rest of the field more than 12 minutes arrears. Still, barring a mechanical issue or physical problems, the race for the win was not theoretically over as Seymour ran 1:17 to win at Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou and Lawrence ran 1:22 while winning Ironman 70.3 California.
After a by-far women’s-best 2:17:40 bike split, Lawrence hit T2 with a 7:27 lead on Seymour, 8:14 on Salthouse and nearly 12 minutes on Joyce. Seymour posted the next best women’s bike split of 2:25:00; Salthouse clocked a 2:25:40 split and Joyce 2:26:15.
Halfway through the run, Seymour chopped Lawrence’s lead to 6 minutes. At the 7-mile mark, Seymour cut her deficit to 5:08. Salthouse continued to drop back, 10:02 arrears, with Rachel Joyce 12:31 behind. With two miles to go, Seymour chopped her deficit to 3:42 while Salthouse remained 10:19 down.
In the final miles, Lawrence stiffened her resistance and crossed the line in 4:12:07 with a 3:06 margin of victory over Seymour and 10:18 over 3rd-place Salthouse.