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North American Champions: Wurtele and Sanders continue their winning streaks at Ironman 70.3 St. George

Credit: Paul Phillips/Competitive Images
Credit: Paul Phillips/Competitive Images
Credit: Paul Phillips/Competitive Ima
Credit: Paul Phillips/Competitive Ima

Canadians Heather Wurtele and Lionel Sanders battled rainy conditions and relentless hills for remarkable come-from-behind victories at this morning’s Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championships in St. George, Utah. Both athletes have earned straight wins at all of their 2016 races so far this year (three for Wurtele and four for Sanders), but this victory is arguably the most important yet as it secured them each a spot at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and piece of the $100,000 USD prize purse.

Canada had four additional male and female athletes in the top 10 of their respective fields this morning. Magali Tissyre narrowly missed the podium, finishing fourth after Holly Lawrence and Meredith Kessler. Brent McMahon, Trevor Wurtele and Cody Beals finished fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Women’s race

Wurtele wasn’t in the lead pack of swimmers coming into T1, but Lawrence and Kessler led a smaller group out of the water and would remain at the front of the race til the end.

Though down 90 seconds, Wurtele hammered down on the bike and got herself into the lead, finishing the tough, climbing course in 2:22:23 and entering T2 with Lawrence just slightly behind her.

Wurtele and Lawrence ran the first four kilometres together before Lawrence dropped back as the course steepened. Wurtele stayed steady and crossed the finish line in 4:16:48, about a minute before Lawrence and almost six before Kessler. Tisseyre finished fourth in 4:24:36. New Canadian pro Alexandra Gordichuk finished eleventh in 4:45:43. Malindi Elmore dropped from the race after the bike.

This was Wurtele’s fourth time winning St. George — twice when it was a full distance and now twice as a half distance race.

“One thing that is the most satisfying thing as an athlete is going to races where it’s super hard and competitive and all these amazing athletes push you to elevate your game,” Wurtele said after the race. “There’s something inspiring about the environment here at St. George… it’s an incredibly great vibe.”

Men’s race

Sanders came out of the water in 31st, nearly four minutes behind the lead pack of Cameron Dye, Tim O’Donnell and Michael Raelert.

Dye held onto his lead after T1 but Sanders and Kienle worked hard to make up their deficits on the bike. It wasn’t until well into the bike leg that they would both pass Dye. Sanders, known for his blazing fast cycling ability, pulled off a remarkable 2:03:57 split on the relentless, uphill course despite a frustrating swim.

Sanders ran well for the entire run leg, not letting the rain hold him up and posting a 1:13:30 split. Kienle maintained his second place overall standing, crossing the finish line in 3:51:10 behind Sanders’ 3:48:18. Australia’s Joe Gambles rounded out the podium, followed by American Kevin Collington and then the three Canadians. Beals, who finished seventh, had the second fastest run split of the day behind Sanders but wasn’t close enough behind the front men to crack into the top five today. All top 10 men finished in under four hours.

For Sanders, the victory was especially meaningful as he had unfinished business with the race after finishing 18th in 2014.

“I love pushing myself to the absolute limit and fortunately there were the top guys in the world here to help make that happen,” he said after the race.