The young Norwegian had only a few smaller World Cup wins to his credit and he was leaving T2 with a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a two-time ITU World Champion, a recent Ironman winner and a Commonwealth Games champion.
When the Ironman 70.3 World Championship Elite Men’s race at Nice, France was over, 23-year-old Gustav Iden’s race-best 1:08:10 half marathon had outpaced the run of legendary 31-year-old Brit Alistair Brownlee by 2:33 and earned the Norwegian $45,000 for his first major victory.
Lending luster to the win was the challenging nature of the course’s bike leg through the daunting climbs and sharp corners on narrow roads of the Maritime Alps – and the depth and quality of the stars who were left in Iden’s and Brownlee’s proverbial dust. They included WTS star and fellow Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt in 4th place, two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion and 2014 Ironman World Champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany in 5th place, 2018 Ironman World Champion runner-up Bart Aernouts of Belgium in 6th place, five time ITU World champion and two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion and Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez of Spain in 7th place, and Sam Appleton of Australia who has a dozen Ironman 70.3 titles under his belt, in 8th place.
“It feels so amazing," Iden told Ironman media. "I was joking on Instagram that I was just going to go out and go do it, but to be here as a World Champion – it's unbelievable, and it's amazing. I was just thinking about staying in the front pack and maybe pushing a bit on the downhill. The race tactics changed during the race though! To be World Champ right now is so amazing and now I’ll be focusing on the Olympics next year. I’d love to go long-distance and do an Ironman , and then I’ll try really, really hard to win the Ironman World Championship in Kona one day too."
Not to forget the strong 3rd place performance of 26-year-old Rodolphe Von Berg, a U.S. citizen who spent a good deal of time growing up riding Nice’s serpentine roads, experience which stood him in excellent stead on this sunny Sunday in September.
Iden (who alone among the pro men chose clip-ons on a road bike, above) was not a total dark horse. In addition to his three ITU World Cup wins, he had 3rd place finishes at the 2017 and 2018 WTS contests in Bermuda, and 4th place finishes at the Tokyo Olympic test event two weeks ago and at the WTS Grand Final in Lausanne last week. Nor was he a total neophyte at the middle distance – he placed 2nd at the 2018 Bahrain 70.3 in December.
Iden began his day with an 18th-best 23:55 swim, then a 2nd-best 2:17:25 bike split which placed him at T2 in a three-way virtual tie with Brownlee and Von Berg. Still fresh after his near-miss at the podium at the Lausanne WTS Grand Final last week, Iden ran down Brownlee in the second kilometer of the run and never looked back on his way to a 3:52:35 finish that gave him a 2:44 margin of victory over Brownlee and 4:10 on Von Berg, who earned the final spot on the podium.
Josh Amberger of Australia led the swim with a 23:15 split which gave him a 2 seconds lead on Alistair Brownlee, 4 seconds on Sam Appleton, 6 seconds on Ben Kanute, 7 seconds on Javier Gomez of Spain, 8 seconds on Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, 9 seconds on Adam Bowden of Great Britain, and 16 seconds on Rudy Von Berg of the U.S. With a minute gap, Patrick Lange and Andrew Starykowicz trailed by 1:16. Perennial 70.3 contender Sebastian Kienle of Germany lost 3:45 with a 45th best swim split.
At the beginning of the gradient at 10km, Alistair Brownlee took a 50 meter lead on Ben Kanute, and 25 meters back were Sam Appleton and Rudy Von Berg riding 3rd and 4th. At 27km, where the gradient increases to 6 percent, Brownlee had a 3 seconds lead on Kanute, 31 seconds on Appleton and Von Berg, 57 seconds on Blummenfelt and countryman Gustav Iden, then Amberger and Gomez 1:05 arrears. Edging closer to contention, Starykowicz and Pieter Heemeryck of Belgium and Bradley Weiss of South Africa advanced to 1:41 back.
By the top of the climb - 1,367 meters - at Mile 36.3, Brownlee led by 40 seconds, Kanute by 45 seconds, Von Berg by 58 seconds, Blummenfelt by 1:32, Weiss by 2:06, Appleton by 2:12, and Gomez by 2:17 in 10th place. Making time after a slow swim, Andreas Dreitz of Germany was charging on the bike, in 3:14 in 14th place.
Once on the long, twisty downhill which demands and rewards great nerve and bike handling skills, Brownlee charged first and opened a minute lead. But at 1:55 race time, 51 kilometers into the bike leg, Rudy Von Berg, who grew up riding these hills, flew past Brownlee with sudden shocking alacrity. A minute later, Gustav Iden advanced to the back of Brownlee’s wheel.
By 61.7 kilometers, Brownlee came back on Von Berg’s wheel 5 seconds arrears with 14 seconds on Iden. By this point, Kanute fell 1:30 back with Blummenfelt 3:02 arrears, and Andreas Dreitz advanced to 5th place 4:00 down. Further back lay Gomez in 11th (+4:06), Starykowicz in 12th (+4:13) and Amberger in 14th (+4:34). Two-time Ironman 70.3 champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany stood 16th (+5:24) and Bart Aernouts of Belgium, the 2018 Kona runner-up, was 17th (+5:25).
After a race-best 2:17:24 bike split, Von Berg arrived at T2 leading Brownlee and Iden by a few seconds with Kanute 3:20 back and Blummenfelt and Starykowicz just under 5 minutes back. Among those with a long shot chance were Sam Appleton (+5:44), Javier Gomez (+5:37), Bart Aernouts (+6:13), and Sebastian Kienle (+6:15) in 14th place.
Alistair Brownlee burst out first on the run, followed 50 meters later by Iden and a few more yards back by Von Berg. On the second kilometer of the run, Iden slid smoothly past Brownlee while Von Berg held his pace at 1:24 behind the new leader.
Lest anyone think this was a definitive changing of the guard from Brownlee to the Norwegian, a little context is in order. While Iden was training and racing at the Olympic distance, Brownlee has been deep into Kona preparations and his training load was far higher than Iden’s and in dire need of a taper. Even more pertinent, Brownlee recently won Ironman Ireland and two weeks ago won Ironman 70.3 Dun Laoghaire.
Notable run splits included Kristian Blummenfelt’s 1:09:59 on his way to 4th place, Sebastian Kienle’s 1:09:31 which brought him to 5th place, Javier Gomez’s 1:10:09 which advanced him to 7th place, and Bart Aernout’s 1:10:36 which elevated him to 6th place.
Ironman 70.3 World Championship
September 8, 2019
S 1.9k / B 91.3k / R 21.2k
1. Gustav Iden (NOR) 3:52:35 S 23:55 T1 1:53 B 2:17:25 T2 1:14 R 1:08:10 - $45,000
2. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 3:55:19 S 23:17 T1 2:17B 2:17:38 T2 1:27 R 1:10:43
3. Rodolphe Von Berg (USA) 3:56:45 S 23:31 T1 2:14 B 2:17:24 T2 1:23 R 1:12:15
4. Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) 3:59:21 S 23:23 T1 2:16 B 2:22:10 T2 1:35 R 1:09:59
5. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 4:00:18 S 26:50 T1 2:27 B 2:19:57 T2 1:35 R 1:09:31
6. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 4:01:14 S 27:00 T1 2:28 B 2:19:46 T2 1:26 R 1:10:36
7. Javier Gomez (ESP) 4:01:30 S 23:22 T1 2:22 B 2:24:07 T2 1:33 R 1:10:09
8. Sam Appleton (AUS) 4:02:15 S 23:19 T1 2:33 B 2:23:01 T2 1:29 R 1:11:56
9. Bradley Weiss (RSA) 4:03:09 S 24:39 T1 2:24 B 2:21:51 T2 1:35 R 1:12:43
10. Ben Kanute (USA) 4:04:36 S 23:21 T1 2:11 B 2:20:57 T2 1:17 R 1:16:53
11. Florian Angert (GER) 4:05:08 S 23:28 T1 2:23 B 2:23:03 T2 1:28 R 1:14:48
12. Yvan Jarrige (FRA) 4:05:18 S 24:33 T1 2:20 B 2:22:56 T2 1:18 R 1:14:13
13. George Goodwin (GBR) 4:05:44 S 24:36 T1 2:32 B 2:22:44 T2 1:30 R 1:14:25
14. Andrew Starykowicz (USA) 4:06:05 S 24:31 T1 2:31 B 2:21:05 T2 1:37 R 1:16:23
15. Pablo Dapena Gonzalez (ESP) 4:06:55 S 23:27 T1 2:24 B 2:29:05 T2 1:32 R 1:10:29