The IM World Championships in Kona lived up to all the hype and expectations. Although the race didn't go exactly to script there was still some epic battles out on the course and near perfect race conditions allowed for incredibly fast racing as numerous records were obliterated.
The men started on Dig Me Beach at 06:35 AM and as we saw in 2017 Australia's Josh Amberger took charge in the water, however in contrast to the previous year he looked to control the pace as 8 other athletes went with him, this was a tactic talked about in the days leading into the event. Amberger emerged from the water in 47.39 (30 seconds slower than 2017), this pace although still very quick was slow enough to drag other significant athletes with him including Javier Gomez (ESP), Tim O'Donnell (USA), Maurice Clavel (GER) and HUUB's Anthony Costes (FRA). Many of the key names were within a couple of minutes of the leaders, with pre-race favourite Lionel Sanders (CAN) worst off at over 6 minutes down.
Onto the bike and three distinct groups formed, unfortunately for 2014 Champion Sebastian Kienle (GER) a mechanical put him back chasing with Sanders. Further up the road an incredibly strong lead group formed with Cameron Wurf (AUS), Andrew Starykowicz (USA), Costes and Amberger. Around 2 minutes back the first chase pack also featured some strong riders including Andreas Dreitz (GER), Braden Currie (NZL), O'Donnell, Gomez and defending champion Patrick Lange (GER).
Further behind a group of around 20 athletes featured the rest of the key names including HUUB's David McNamee (GBR). Throughout the 180k the gaps creeped out and packs shrank as the still conditions led to a ferocious pace. The leading four eventually splinted and ex-professional cyclist Wurf forged ahead eventually smashing the course record for the second year running with a 4:09:06 split. Four other athletes would go on to break the previous record.
The two chase packs somewhat merged together as the bike ended, but we had already started to see some athletes wilt towards the end of the 180km. Around 15 athletes would start the run between 6 - 8 minutes down and the majority of the rest of the field was in touching distance, gaps certainly attainable over the marathon. Within the first 10km, it was clear that the quick runners were going to make a massive impact on the race. Lange soon passed Wurf to take the lead and he never looked back.
Second fastest on the course at that point was HUUB's McNamee and he made his way through the field after starting the run in 19th, in the latter stages of the run he would pass five-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez and the rest of the early contenders into 3rd place with Bart Aernouts of Belgium holding onto 2nd. Lange went on to obliterate the course record in 7:52:39 with Aernouts 2nd and McNamme 3rd for a consecutive year.
As expected Lucy Charles (GBR) lead the way the water and she looked intent on causing as much damage she possibly could. Her 48.13 shattered the previous course record and would end up being one of the fastest of the day including all PRO men and AG athletes. There were some significant gaps to the rest of field and most notably to three-time defending champion Daniela Ryf (SUI) who was over 10 minutes back. It later emerged that she had been stung by a jellyfish in the warm-up. There was certainly going to be a chase on the bike, the question being, would anybody be able to go with Ryf as she sailed past in her pursuit of Charles.
At 40 miles Ryf was up to 2nd place with Sarah Crowley (AUS) in her wake, the pair were gaining time on the young Brit and putting more time into the group of athletes behind. By the climb up to the Hawi turnaround the gap between the Charles and the chasing two was down to 7 minutes, it was then that Ryf put the power down and by T2 not only had she bridged the gap to Charles, but she had ridden two minutes into her. The last 70k Ryf's split was 1:37:11 compared to the fastest of the day - Cameron Wurf with a time of 1:35:25. The men's champion Patrick Lange couldn't even match Ryf with 1:38:00! This was arguably the most dominant and impressive display of riding ever seen and it led her to shatter the bike course record by around 18 minutes, lowering the previous record of 4:44:19 to 4:26:07.
Onto the marathon and it was clear that Ryf was in form to better her previous course record from 2015. A 2:57:05 marathon split more than did that with a finish time of 8:26:16 surely putting the record out of touch for many years. Charles finished clear in second place just over 10 minutes back. Third place was a close fought battle between two past ITU stars, Sarah True (USA) and Anne Haug (GER). It was the German who prevailed in the last few miles with a 2:55.22 marathon split, meaning that we saw a replication of the IM 70.3 World Championship podium we saw back in September.
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