Bertrand Billard of France and Emma Bilham of Switzerland won the elite titles at Ironman 70.3 Pays D'Aix.
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.
Bilham led the swim with a 26:05 split that gave her a 4 seconds lead on Maria Czesnik of Poland, 1:21 on Manon Genet of France, 1:44 on Natalie Seymour of Great Britain and 2:26 and 2:27 on Asa Lundstrom of Sweden and Jeanne Collonge of France. Swift runner Gurutze Frades of Spain trailed by 3:50.
After 20 kilometers of the ride, Bilham had a 30 seconds lead, which Seymour trimmed to 6 seconds by the 28 km mark. By 30.8 km, the order was shuffled as Czesnik assumed the lead. with Seymour 6 seconds back and Bilham trailing by 17 seconds. Following the leaders, Genet trailed by 2:44, Lundstrom by 4:14 and Collonge 5:18 arrears.
After 70 km, Czesnik plateaued her pace, establishing a 1:53 lead on Seymour, 2:10 on Bilham, 3:07 on Lundstrom and 3:47 on Genet. After a women’s-best 2:35:19 bike split, Czesnik arrived at T2 with a 52 seconds lead on Bilham (2:36:34 bike split), 2:02 on Seymour, 2:42 on Lundstrom and 3:49 on Manon.
With three 7 kilometer loops through the Aix en Provence city center with 130 meters of elevation gain ahead, Czesnik maintained her lead through 3 kilometers. But at the 5 kilometer mark, Bilham took a 24 seconds lead on Czesnik, 52 seconds on Seymour and 3:39 on Lundstrom.
After a women’s 2nd-fastest 1:21:52 run, Bilham finished in 4:29:36 with a 2:04 margin of victory over Czesnik, 4:27 on 3rd place finisher Seymour and 5:44 on 4th place Lundstrom. After a women’s-best 1:19:45 run, Gurutze Frades took 6th place, 4 seconds behind 5th place Manon Genet.
Ironman 70.3 Pays D’Aix
Aix en Provence, France
May 14, 2017
S 1.2 mi. / B 56 mi. / R 13.1 mi.
1. Bertrand Billard (FRA) 3:55:18
2. Denis Chevrot (FRA) 3:55:19
3. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 3:59:39
4. Kevin Maurel (FRA) 4:00:16
5. Markus Herbst (GER) 4:00:50
6. Jan Van Berkel (SUI) 4:02:06
7. Yvan Jarrige (FRA) 4:02:50
8. Albert Moreno Molins (ESP) 4:05:06
9. Julien Pousson (FRA) 4:05:28
10. Anthony Pannier (FRA) 4:05:51
1. Emma Bilham (SUI) 4:29:36
2. Maria Czesnik (POL) 4:31:40
3. Natalie Seymour (GBR) 4:34:03
4. Asa Lundstrom (SWE) 4:35:20
5. Manon Genet (FRA) 4:37:20
6. Gurutze Frades (ESP) 4:37:24
7. Jeanne Collonge (FRA) 4:39:09
8. Sylvia Gehnböck (AUT) 4:45:45
9. Emma Graaf (SWE) 5:20:58