Ritchie Nicholls (GBR) and Eimear Mullan (IRE) celebrated a double Team TBB victory at today’s IRONMAN 70.3 UK, in a tightly contested race amidst conditions that tested even the fittest of athletes on this notoriously tough course.
Nicholls, who was competing in his first 70.3 race, emerged from the 1.9m swim together with 2010 Champion Fraser Cartmell and Olympian Tim Don as they headed off on the bike, with fellow Olympian Will Clarke close behind in fourth place. Steadily breaking away from Clarke over the gruelling yet stunning 56 mile course, the lead pack built the gap to nearly 9 minutes as they entered T2.
Nicholls took the lead early in the half marathon run, pulling away from his closest rivals to power across the finish line in 04h15m04s not only 5 minutes ahead of Don and Cartmell who were tussling their way to the finish line, but smashing the course record in the process, by 54 seconds. Tim Don held onto 2nd place finishing in 04:20:07 just 21 seconds ahead of 3 time former Champion Fraser Cartmell.
On crossing the finish line, Nicholls commented, “Wow, that was tough. Eimear had warned me how tough the course it was but I thought she was exaggerating! I worked hard on the bike, but being in the lead pack and having a gap after the swim gives you a mental boost. The run was hard going, but I felt strong enough to slowly break away after 2km. It is a fantastic event and to win my first 70.3 race makes it all the more enjoyable.”
Fraser who was celebrating his 31st birthday today, commented “Richie had a fantastic race and has a great career ahead of him. I’m really pleased with my result today, it doesn’t get any easier, but I love this race and coming here, it’s so well organised. I’m sure being Scottish makes a difference in these conditions.”
In the women’s Pro race, it was Holly Lawrence who led the way, having exited the swim in a blistering 25 minutes, heading on to the bike course in 7th place overall, 2 minutes ahead of Susie Hignett and 4 minutes ahead of reigning Champion Eimear Mullan. Germany’s Kristin Moeller, who recently won IRONMAN Lanzarote, was chasing hard on the British trio.
As the women entered T2 Mullan was closing down on the leader having posted the fastest bike split of 02h55m and now headed onto the run course in 2nd place. With Lawrence 2 minutes ahead, it was everything to play for as Mullan embraced the 3 lap leg bursting run course. Hignett meanwhile was forced to pull out with a calf injury meaning Moeller was now also on track for a podium finish.
Eimear’s course knowledge and strength proved too powerful for Lawrence, overtaking her on the final lap and crossing the finish line in 04h56m59s, with a 1 minute lead over Lawrence whilst Kristin Moeller took third place in 05h02m33s.
On defending her title Eimear commented, “That was a really really tough race out there so I’m extremely pleased. I worked very hard the whole way round. This is my favourite race – I’m so happy to be back and to have won again.”
Some 1,400 athletes took to Wimbleball Lake as the race got underway at 7am for a 1.2 mile swim in cloudy yet dry conditions. If the 56-mile bike course, which incorporated 1,190m of climbing wasn’t tough enough, the soon deteriorating conditions added to their challenge, before heading off on the mixed terrain run course, cheered on by the thousands of supporters all the way to the finish line.