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There was no question that Gomez had the game to go up in distance and compete for the win against the best in the sport. But could he do so without special long course preparation and after a draining DNF at WTS Stockholm two weeks ago and one week after a hand-on-for-dear-life 3rd place finish at the Grand Final that gave him the World Title via season long points championship? Soon to be apparent, Gomez had plenty left in the tank.
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His day started with a race-best 22:09 swim that gave him a one second lead on his main rival Jan Frodeno and 12 seconds on non-drafting U.S. star Ben Collins. Also to the point, his swim put 4:27 on two-time defending Ironman 70.3 World Champion Sebastian Kienle - effectively erasing Kienle's potential best bike split advantage and knocking out any potential threat from Canadian newcomer Lionel Sanders' killer run. Sanders emerged from the waters of Lake Tremblant in 26:42 and discovered his was the last pro men's bike in the rack. and he had 46 men to pass if he wanted a medal.
Frodeno knew Gomez' run capabilities after years of duels on the ITU circuit and did not want to hand the Spaniard an easy title. "I knew Javier is a full purebred on the run. He wasn't that far behind on the bike, but I did really, really want to drop him before the run. At about 60k Josh Amberger, Ben Collins and I got away. Unfortunately we just didn't have enough hold it. Our lead went up to 30 seconds, then it went down to 20 seconds at T2."
Between 5k and 6k on the run, Gomez pulled up beside the German. "We ran together for a little bit," said Frodeno. "Then he ran away from me.." But there race wasn't over. "Gomez had 30 seconds on me, then I ran it back to 15," said Frodeno. "But that obviously hurt me. I felt a little cramp coming on and I had to back off a little bit. Then I had nothing left."
Gomez closed with a race-best 1:09:27 run, previously unimaginable given the reputation of Mont Tremblant's punishing hilly course. That brought Gomez to the line in 3:41:30, smashing Jesse Thomas's course record by 11 minutes and beating Frodeno to the line by 41 seconds.
"I did a really good job today because I know how tough these guys are, said Gomez. "This is one of my biggest victories -- especially one week after winning the ITU World Championship. I couldn't be happier."
Frodeno was disappointed but philosophical. "I can say I gave everything I have and this was good preparation for Kona [which Frodeno will tackle next month]," said Frodeno. "But this just marks his status as the greatest in my eyes. The greatest doesn't necessarily mean he wins the most races. Javier just rises to the occasion and wins the biggest races. He is a champion and a gentleman and that is why I consider him to be the greatest ever."
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Tim Don, the 2006 ITU Olympic distance World Champion, uncorked a 4th-best 2:05:18 bike split and a 4th-best 1:12:44 run to take the final spot on the podium. "My goal for the whole year was this race." said Don. "I knew it would be a tough ask when the field assembled was so good and the course was tough and fair. So I was super happy to get on the podium."
Lionel Sanders was equally thrilled with his 4th place finish after a disastrous swim. "Early this season I was very, very upset with my finish at St. George 70.3," said Sanders. [After several 70.3 wins and sub-1:10 runs, Sanders finished 18th at St. George - the only blot on a stellar 2014 season] I just put too much pressure on myself because it was the first time I was going against the big guys. Today, I just wanted to have aw good time and finish with joy in my heart." The prescription seemed to work. Sanders posted the race-best bike split [24:14] on a day of sizzling times. Sanders followed that with a race-best 2:04:14 bike split and a 3rd-fastest 1:11:21 run to comer within one spot of the podium.
And sometimes, even the best have an off day. Sebastian Kienle swam 2537, rode 2:07:28 and ran 1:17:11 to finish 18th in 3:53:59.
"I wish I had an excuse, but I was tapered, healthy, no mechanicals, did not lost my nutrition,... Others where just faster. Not my day," tweeted Kienle after the race.
Under the tutelage of coach Brett Sutton, rising Swiss star Daniela Ryf has won six-straight races at the Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman distances. But none were more impressive than her dismantling of one of the best and deepest in talent fields in this Ironman 70.3 World Championship's 9-year history.
Similar to Gomez, Ryf started with an excellent 4th-best 24:04 swim that put her 5 seconds behind Jodie Swallow, 3 seconds behind Mary Beth Ellis and 2 seconds behind Annabel Luxford, half a minute ahead of a talented group that included Meredith Kessler, Radka Vodickova, Svenja Bazlen, and Rebeccah Wassner.
Dangerous runners Melissa Hauschildt, Heather Wurtele, Lisa Hütthaler, Rachel McBride, and Catriona Morrison were 2:30 back.
Ryf simplified matters quickly with a race-fastest 2:16:46 bike split which gave her a 3-minute advantage on the only women with a chance to rain on the Swiss woman's parade. It would seem that the bike went smoothly, but amazingly, Ryf says that was not the case.
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"Next to Kona, this race was my big goal of the year," said Ryf. "But this race means a lot because with everything not going perfect, it meant a lot because I could adapt and change things around."
So what was not perfect? In the first 50k, Ryf said her pedals came a bit loose. "It was a bit of a shocker because my feet were moving and my feet hurt a lot," she said. "My feet were also not 100 percent because I hadn't recovered from a race I had two weeks ago. Finally, my legs came good and I could push harder and I was surprised how much I could gain on the lead in the final 40k." Her run started with a 3 minute lead and things went well for the first lap. "But then I got really sore hip flexors and I was hoping they would last to the end. Going uphill with tight hip flexors you try hard not to lift your legs so much. And on the downhills, it was very painful."
Ryf closed it down with a 7th best 1:24:30 run which was enough to finish in 4:09:19 with a 2:24 margin on Jodie Swallow and 5:36 on 3rd place Heather Wurtele, Canada's proud podium finisher.
"I wasn't expecting Daniela to be in the front pack," said Swallow. "But she had an awesome swim. That changed the race. Daniela and I pushed the pace on the bike because we weren't about to let the good runners back in there. People like Melissa Hauschildt and Heather Wurtele can run you down if you give them less than a three minute deficit. We made it a true triathlon race and I am glad because this was a great course and the best woman won."
Indeed, Wurtele admitted as much. "The two girls ahead were too far ahead to catch today," said Wurtele. "They had strong swims and strong bikes. But I was gunning for the podium. I was 5th coming off the bike and I was just focused on reeling them in and making the podium. I won a lot of races this year, but this trumps that. The best in the world were here."