Van Lierde has the race of his life to take the GoPro IRONMAN World Championship.
by Jennifer Ward Barber (press release from :http://eu.ironman.com)
Belgium’s Frederick Van Lierde was crowned champion today at the 35th anniversary of triathlon’s most respected event: the GoPro IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Toppling a six-year Australian winning streak, the hard-working, patient competitor benefited from unflinching patience that eventually delivered him into the lead over an incredibly competitive field—making his victory that much sweeter.
The island of Hawaii delivered a 35th anniversary gift to today’s competitors—record-low temperatures, winds not seen by historians of the sport in over 30 years and even a pod of dolphins during the age-group swim. It was against this unspoiled canvas that the pro men began their swim and it didn’t take long for the calm to translate to the first leg of their race.
With American Olympic swimmer Andy Potts pulling out of the race early this morning due to a nagging nerve injury, the field was wide open for Australian super-swimmers like defending champion Pete Jacobs and Clayton Fettell. Jacobs quickly and confidently took his place at the front of the pack, and thanks to what commentators called “easy water,” swimmers of varying skills were able to draft off stronger feet. By the halfway point, the giant pod of men was still intact—the pace approximately a minute slower due to Potts’ absence. Race-favorites, Germans Andreas Raelert and Sebastian Kienle, missed the group at the turnaround, but ended up only 45 seconds worse for wear.
Jacobs jostled for the lead during the latter stages of the swim, and headed into T1 in third, behind Brandon Marsh (USA) and Clayton Fettell (AUS). (Swim times were only seconds apart, with Marsh clocking the fastest of the day, 50:51.) Jacobs headed onto the bike course first after a rookie blooper in T1 left Fettell searching for his bike. Jacobs’ race-week confidence, however, would soon be tested.
Andrew Starykowicz (USA), whose 4:04 2012 IRONMAN Florida bike split holds the IRONMAN record, overtook Jacobs almost immediately, as if determined to set a course record here too. With 26 men within a minute and a half of each other going onto the bike, the men faced a tough decision on whether to try to push the pace to keep Starykowicz in check.
With the gentle push of a tailwind, the early stages of the bike delivered no obvious podium predictions. Competitors as diverse as Starykowicz, Faris Al-Sultan (DEU) and Jacobs were part of the lead group, with Craig Alexander, Ben Hoffman (USA), Frederik Van Lierde and Brandon Marsh (USA) all making confident moves towards the front of the group. By the turnaround at Hawi, however, the persistence of a few key players started to hint at what was to come: While Starykowicz was able to hold his lead for the majority of the bike, Australia’s Luke McKenzie was zeroing in on him, as was running threat Frederk Van Lierde, and Kienle—who moved more steadily through the pack all day, but wasn’t able to gain the time expected of him.
Cracks began to show around mile 70, as Starykowicz’s lead on McKenzie and Kienle shrunk to 1:05. At mile 75, McKenzie, a veteran Kona competitor, overtook the American Kona rookie, and the rest of the bike became a cat and mouse game between the two strong cyclists. Starykowicz headed into T2 a minute ahead of McKenzie, clocking the fastest bike split of the day in 4:21:50. Kienle came into transition 3:53 back.
It was almost immediately evident on the run that McKenzie, a six-time IRONMAN champion, was much more comfortable than his closest contender. With relaxed shoulders and a quick turnover, McKenzie began to lay down what he’d later call the run he knew he was capable of on the Big Island. Strategy also made a statement: he and Kienle flew through the opening stages of the run, moving at a sub-2:40 marathon pace that showed smart pacing on the bike.
Showing a streak we’ve not seen on the island in the past, McKenzie held onto his lead until mile 17 of the run. Drama continued to develop behind him, however: Kienle and Van Lierde’s pace was starting to cut into his lead, and pre-race favorites Jacobs, Alexander and Raelert had fallen out of contention well into the bike.
Just after the Energy Lab, Van Lierde overtook the Australian, who suffered what he later called “a bad spot for about three or four miles.” But the day was not over for McKenzie, who used his strength and newly lean physique to stave off fading, keep up his pace, and not lose too much time to the Belgian.
As the clock struck 8:12:29, a smiling, fist-pumping Van Lierde came across the finish line for the 2013 GoPro IRONMAN World Championship win—bringing the title back into European hands. With none of the fastest splits of the day, he showed a consistent effort and skill across all three, putting together a 51:02 swim, 4:25:37 bike, and 2:51:18 marathon to claim the win and the banner performance of his career.
“I tried to be smart, and it worked out,” said the second Belgian to win this event (his coach Luc Van Lierde—no relation—took the title twice). “After last year I believed I could do it,” he said at the finish line. “I worked hard this year—I’ve never worked this hard. I’ve never had such a feeling. It’s the best I could have hoped for.”
In a breakthrough performance, Luke McKenzie crossed the finish line three minutes later in 8:15:19.
The six-time IRONMAN champion remarked at the finish line that it had been a dream to lead this race for as long as he did. “I’m a bit disappointed not to hold on for the win, but, seriously, second? I’ll take that. That was the best day of my life.” For someone who’s been dreaming of this day since volunteering at IRONMAN Australia as a young boy, McKenzie will hold on to this victory with a tight grasp.
“I saw what I was capable of today,” McKenzie said after the race. “Everyone who’s had a win here has also had a second here, and I can see how one day I can win it now.”
Kienle had a tough day, but managed a strong 2:58 marathon to move up one spot on the podium compared to last year.
Top 10 Men
1. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 00:51:02, 4:25:37, 2:51:18, 8:12:29
2. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 00:51:17, 4:22:27, 2:57:20, 8:15:19
3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 00:54:13, 4:22:35, 2:58:38, 8:19:24
4. James Cunnama (RSA) 00:51:13, 4:34:22, 2:52:39, 8:21:46
5. Tim O’Donnell (USA) 00:51:04, 4:35:39, 2:51:07, 8:22:25
6. Ivan Rana (ESP) 00:51:06, 4:40:36. 2:47:54, 8:23:43
7. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 00:51:24, 4:30:12, 2:58:22, 8:24:09
8. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 00:57:26, 4:39:48, 2:44:03, 8:25:38
9. Timo Bracht (GER) 00:51:21, 4:34:47, 2:56:07, 8:26:32
10 Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 00:51:19, 4:29:58, 3:05:46, 8:31:13