Defending Ironman 70.3 World Champion Sebastian Kienle from Germany again powered away on the bike in cooler and wet conditions and ran well to repeat his title in Las Vegas. Aussie Melissa Hauschildt crashed during the bike segment but was too strong for the competition and also grabbed her second title.
The men's field in Henderson, Nevada was especially loaded and there had been suggestions leading up to the event that one or more of the fast short course Pros who recently converted to longer distances might steal the show. There was certainly validity in that thinking with fantastic performances by Jan Frodeno and Ritchie Nicholls at the recent Ironman 70.3 European championships, plus folks like Bevan Docherty had also shown that they had the goods to perform at this distance. But there were plenty of long course athletes who had a different idea about this topic. Universally though there was little doubt among the male contenders that Sebastian Kienle would attempt a similar feat as he had in 2012 and try to ride away from them during the bike segment, but when it happened there was no response.
Josh Amberger led the men out of the water in 23:22, but he had a fairly large bunch that included Andy Potts, Timothy O'Donnell, Paul Matthews and Jan Frodeno right on his heels. Kienle exited the water a little over 2 minutes down and he was likely not too unhappy with that effort.
Amberger set the pace on the bike too and that front group grew steadily with Docherty and Joe Gambles also joining the leaders. Amberger though pulled away and soon was alone in the lead, but Kienle had also moved up and was now with the lead group. Kienle then set off in pursuit of Amberger and quickly took over the lead just as he had in the previous year. By the time the German reached the bike-run transition he had an almost 3 minute advantage over a group that contained Potts, Amberger, Gambles, Ruedi Wild and Terenzo Bozzone.
With Kienle already away into his own time zone, most of the drama was devoted to the struggle for the runner-up slot. On the run, Gambles and Frodeno took off at lightning pace. "The first miles were at well under 5-minute pace and I thought 'Oh ,my God! This is ridiculous!" said Bozzone. "But I thought 'If I want it, it is now or never and I have to suck it up.' Then I looked at my heart rate and my stride rate and wondered 'Is this doable?' So I backed off."
Frodeno paid for the high pace and fell back but Terenzo Bozzone ran well and was in position to strike should the speedy bike monster Kienle have faltered. But the German looked great all day and in the end was a deserving champion - and a gracious one at that.
Post race he said winning the 70.3 World crown was better the second time around. "This was my most important win, because if you stop believing in yourself, you've lost your most important weapon."
Many eyes were on Melissa Hauschildt in the women's race, but with defending champion Leanda Cave and many other stellar Pros at the start, betting on any one Pro here would have been a fairly risky enterprise - even in Las Vegas.
Annabel Luxford led Leanda Cave, Tenille Hoogland, Kelly Williamson and Laura Bennett. Melissa Hauschildt was as expected over 3 minutes behind, but Lisa Norden and Svenja Bazlen were much closer to the leaders and only about 1:15 adrift.
Hauschildt tried hard to catch the leaders, but didn’t reach her goal until kilometer 68 of 90. Heather Jackson who had a similarly slow swim and equal ambitions, said it was tough catching the lead pack. "I pushed hard but the top 4 or 5 women worked well together," said Jackson.
Hauschildt once at the front worked hard to increase her lead but with 3k to go, she crashed and Annabel Luxford went by. "I got back to her by the transition and felt good starting the run," she said.
Surely the former internationally ranked 3000-meter steeplechaser did feel good as she posted a race-best 1:21:37 run split, and finished in 4:20:07. Hauschildt finished with a 5:12 margin of victory over fast-closing Heather Jackson, who advanced from 6th at T2 to the runner-up slot. "I've finished this race in 5th, 4th, 3rd and now 2nd," smiled Jackson, who called upon a poker metaphor to define her ambition. "I'd really like to complete a five card straight next year."
Luxford had a similar numerical consistency at top Ironman 70.3 races this year, with a win at the Asia-Pacific Championship, 2nd place at Wiesbaden 70.3, 3rd at Las Vegas and a 4th at Ironman 70.3 St. George.
Two champions fought hard against long odds created by illness and injury. Defending champion Leanda Cave, who struggled with leg injuries all year, started well with a 26:05 swim and hung tough on the bike until her day unraveled and she finished a brave 12th. Olympic silver medalist Lisa Norden, struggling with a recent recurrence of plantar fasciitis, was riding near the front until she incurred a position foul that cost her 4 minutes in the penalty box. She finished the run in a survival mode 1:29:06, which brought her home in 8th place.
Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Henderson, NV / September 8, 2013
1.2m swim / 56m bike / 13.1m run
1. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 3:54:02
2. Terenzo Bozzone (NZL) 3:56:06
3. Joe Gambles (AUS) 3:56:55
4. Andy Potts (USA) 3:57:36
5. Tim Reed (AUS) 3:57:42
6. Kevin Collington (USA) 3:57:48
7. Leon Griffin (AUS) 3:58:17
8. Timothy O'Donnell (USA) 3:59:36
9. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 3:59:42
10. Will Clarke (GBR) 3:59:56
1. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 4:20:07
2. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:25:19
3. Annabel Luxford (AUS) 4:25:59
4. Catriona Morrison (GBR) 4:27:50
5. Svenja Bazlen (GER) 4:27:52
6. Daniela Ryf (SUI) 4:28:46
7. Lisa Hutthaler (AUT) 4:29:58
8. Lisa Norden (SWE) 4:31:44
9. Kelly Williamson (USA) 4:32:30
10. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:33:43