Alistair Brownlee bested the professional field and adverse weather conditions to claim the win and the sole Ironman World Championship qualifying slot at Ironman Cork.
In his maiden Ironman, the dual Olympic gold medalist from Great Britain overcame a cancelled swim, rain, and 14-degree Celsius temps as well as a strong challenge from Irish hometown hero Bryan McCrystal.
Brownlee led through the first half of the 180-kilometer cycle leg after a staggered start for the pros, but McCrystal laid down a scorching bike split to take over the lead. By the bike-to-run transition, Brownlee was in third place only a few seconds behind Markus Thomschke, but with 13:26 to make up to McCrystal.
And make up the gap he did. Brownlee ran the first 10 kilometers of the marathon in 38:02, was through 20 kilometers in 1:16:04, regained the lead at the 30th kilometer, and crossed the finish line more than five minutes ahead of McCrystal.
“It was a tough, long day,” said Brownlee. “I actually would have preferred to swim, to be honest. I think it would have made the race a bit easier for me… I thought I was riding pretty well and I went out pretty hard to try and catch everyone in front of me but I was just never catching this guy [McCrystal]. And then he started putting some big time on me in the back end of the bike.”
He added, “To be honest, I set off [on the marathon] and thought, ‘Oh, I’m not sure I’m going to do this here.’ But I just kind of got into a rhythm… Until the last 10K I was quite enjoying it — and the last 10K were not fun at all.”
Even with a guaranteed start in Kona, Hawaii in October, Brownlee was realistic about his expectations. “That was one of the reasons I came today. I’ve hopefully got a few years in me and now I’ll be going to Kona this year for very much a bit of a learning experience and see how it goes.”
Compatriot and fellow Bahrain Endurance 13 teammate Holly Lawrence took the victory at the Ironman 70.3 European Championship Elsinore. This is now her fourth straight continental title after winning the Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in Vietnam, Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George, and Ironman 70.3 Middle East Championship in Bahrain. It is also her first European title.
Lawrence led out of the 1.9-kilometer swim in 26:29 and built on this over the 90-kilometer bike with a 2:45:26 split. Running the final half-marathon in 1:19:45, she stopped the clock in 4:06:24 with a winning margin of three minutes, the race plan flawlessly executed.
In the men’s race, Javier Gomez backed up from racing WTS Leeds last week to claim silver. A mere 12 seconds separated him from the top step in a hard-fought race. He emerged first out of the water and rode with the lead group, coming into transition a little more than three minutes behind the leader Rudy von Berg. He then went to work and reeled in all but one of the six competitors in front, the race to the gold medal ending when he ran out of road.
The Spaniard has found enormous success this season balancing WTS and 70.3 racing. So far he has won the ITU Long Distance world title and risen to 4th in the WTS world rankings in his quest for Olympic qualification, alongside this silver in Elsinore to add to his gold from Ironman 70.3 Geelong.
Photo credit: James Mitchell