Alistair Brownlee has produced one of the most impressive Ironman debuts of all time today in Utah. Facing a formidable and hugely experienced field at the Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship in St. George, the Brit double-Olympic Games winner stormed to victory ahead of Canada’s Lionel Sanders, with his 3:41:58 overall time breaking the course record to boot.
The win automatically qualifies Brownlee for September’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Tennessee, and silences anyone who doubted his ability to make the jump to middle-distance racing from ITU events.
The women’s race was won by fellow Brit Holly Lawrence, who dominated from the get-go to produce another commanding performance in 113km racing.
Brownlee made his debut at the 113km distance late last month at Challenge Mogan Gran Canaria, where he crossed the line in 4:03:09, beating the next man across the tape, Belgian Pieter Heemeryck, by over eight minutes.
Where Gran Canaria had a shallow pro field, the Utah contenders were daunting, with Germany’s former Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world champion Sebastien Kienle, the fastest official Ironman in history, Canada’s Lionel Sanders, fellow Brit and former ITU rival Tim Don (a man with plenty of 70.3 victories on his racing palmares, Canada’s Brent McMahon and South Africa’s recent Ironman African Championship winner Ben Hoffman.
Brownlee would need a win to automatically qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga in September, and he came second out of the 1.9km swim in 23:18 behind Ben Kanute and just in front of his Olympic 2012 domestique, Brit Stuart Hayes, and 42secs ahead of Don. Kienle was 2mins back and Sanders over 3mins, and Alistair would power into the lead over Kanute within 20mins on the 90km bike
THE CHASE IS ON
Kienle and Sanders were the key chasers on a course that Ironman tout as one of the hardest on the 70.3 circuit, with 1,077m of total elevation gain over the 90km duration. At the 65km mark, Brownlee was 2:40mins ahead of Kienle and Sanders, with Brownlee actually extending his lead over Kienle by 40secs since the start of the bike. But could he maintain it? Oh yes he could, finishing with a 90km bike split of 2:01:39 to enter T2 with a three minute lead over Kienle and Sanders, 4:35mins over Don.
The half marathon run featured 386m of total elevation gain, includes scaling Red Hills Parkway and through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, with Sanders gaining 20secs in the first 4km on Brownlee. By 15km, Brownlee’s lead had been reduced to a minute by the fast closing Sanders (who would clock a 1:12:19 run split) but it was too late for the Canadian as Brownlee triumphed in 3:41:58 to win by 33secs after a 1:14:49 half marathon. Kienle would finish third over 4mins behind Brownlee, with Don another 30secs back.
Brownlee’s time was a St. George course record and qualifies him for the 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga, where hopefully we’ll see a face-off between Sanders, Kienle and his old ITU rival Javier Gomez.
The women’s race saw California-based Brit Holly Lawrence exit the swim in first in 24:56 and gain a comfortable 5min lead by the 65km mark on the bike. At the halfway stage on the run, the reigning 70.3 world champ Lawrence was 6mins ahead of Jeanni Seymour and she hold on for another impressive win, finishing in 4:12:07 to make it a famous day for British long-course tri.