In windy conditions, the powerhouse biker delivered in the style of compatriot and 2004 and 2006 winner Normann Stadler, by surging to the front in the saddle and opening up a gap with a blistering 4hr 20min 46sec split that was maintained on the marathon.
Kienle, 30, was joined on the podium by USA’s Ben Hoffman and another German, 2008 Olympic champion Jan Frodeno. In fact, the race echoed July’s Ironman Frankfurt – Kienle’s first full distance triumph – with Frodeno making the top three despite being plagued by bike problems, this time in the form of a puncture and a penalty.
After finishing fourth and then third in the last two years, Kienle was many people’s favourite, but doubt had been thrown on his chances with a niggling foot injury and a disappointing 18th place trying to win a third straight Ironman World 70.3 title last month.
“I’ve had Achilles problems, and you need to have nearly perfect preparation to win this race,” said Kienle. “It was absolutely awesome, I really can’t believe it. Today I was the best. I’m world champion, unbelievable.”
Hoffman, a surprise second, five minutes behind, was followed quickly by Frodeno and then a second American Andy Potts, making it a good day for the Stars and Stripes.
The race was billed as one of the most competitive ever and right from the start debutant Frodeno showed his intent by challenging Andy Potts’ superiority as the man who leads out the swim. The jostling pair were followed on to the pier by a large bunch of triathletes and immediately Andrew Starykowicz made for the front on the bike and was briefly pursued by Pete Jacobs.
It wasn’t to last for the 2012 champion and as the pace picked up along the Queen K highway towards Hawi, he steadily dropped back and would call it quits at the start of the marathon.
It wasn’t to be Starykowicz’s day either. The big American, whose clear goal was to lead into T2, found himself overtaken before the turnaround and lost more time on the way back to Kona.
Instead it was to be the Europeans with a smattering of other US contenders who would make the pace. Kienle made up his usual deficit out of the swim to bike to the front before halfway and he was joined by fellow German Maik Twelsiek, with Belgians Freddie van Lierde and Marino Vanhoenacker never far from the front.
As the pace-line splintered and the wind picked up, Americans Hoffman and Potts were also to the fore, but in the last 20 miles of the bike, Kienle hit the accelerator, putting three minutes on Twelsiek and eight minutes on the rest of the field.
Jersey’s Dan Halksworth had a much-improved bike ride from last year and came into T2 in eleventh, but in the company of some fleet-footed runners, he couldn’t hold his form on to the marathon and dropped out before the halfway mark. Harry Wiltshire, after his usual impressive swim, completed his eighth Ironman of the season and first in Hawaii, finishing a commendable 29th.
But this race was all about Kienle. He started with three sub six-minute miles on the run and despite the world-class talent behind kept the gap steady so no-one got within striking distance. Once news defending champion Freddie van Lierde was walking in the last five miles reached him, it was Kienle’s to lose and that was never going to happen.
(Main image: Paul Phillips)