It marked a triumphant comeback after the birth of her second child for Germany’s Daniela Bleymehl (pictured at Challenge Roth in 2018), while Kyle Buckingham managed to top an all-South African men’s podium at the Ironman African Championship today. As seems to be the norm these days in Nelson Mandela Bay when it comes to Ironman events (last year’s postponed November edition saw the swim shortened to 1.9 km), the swim was shortened to 700 m today thanks to cold weather and choppy water conditions. The shortened swim helped create a dramatic men’s race that saw 65 seconds separate the top three, but made little difference in the women’s race as Bleymehl rode clear of the field and never looked back to take the women’s title.
Bunched group after the swim
The 700 m swim did little to break up the men as Germany’s Nils Frommhold led the way out of the water in 7:55 with 15 men within a minute as they ran to T1. That set up a big group on the bike, with 11 men riding in a line just 27 seconds apart through 36.5 km. Halfway through the bike pre-race favourite Joe Skipper was in front, but there were still 10 men within 17 seconds of each other.
By the end of the bike the group was down to seven, and separated out a bit more as Sweden’s Jesper Svensson led the men into T2 with Skipper right behind. South African Matt Trautman led a group of five (he was joined by Frommhold, South Africa’s Buckingham and Bradley Weiss, along with Switzerland’s Samuel Huerzeler) into T2 22 seconds behind the leaders. American Collin Chartier hit T2 4:54 behind the leaders.
By 7 km into the run Buckingham had opened up a small lead on Trautman, with Svensson hanging on to third and Weiss sitting in fourth, 44 seconds back. Skipper was down by a minute at this point. Through the halfway point of the marathon Buckingham remained in front, 32 seconds ahead of Trautman and Weiss, with Skipper still 1:37 back. Buckingham managed to pad his lead to a minute by the time he hit the 34 km timing point, but Weiss started to push hard at that point and closed the gap to just 11 seconds with just under 3km to go. Buckingham found enough of a gear to hold off the push, though, taking the win in 7:16:31. Weiss would end up 19 seconds back, finishing in 7:16:51, with Trautman rounding out the podium in 7:17:37. Skipper would hang on for fourth (7:19:43), with Chartier rounding out the top five in 7:26:43.
Bleymehl blasts the bike
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After dropping out of Ironman 70.3 Dubai a few weeks ago, Bleymehl appeared to have bounced back from her maternity leave in style today, taking the lead early on in the bike and steadily pulling away from the rest of the women in the field for the rest of the race. South Africa’s Jade Nicol was first out of the water in 9:41, with Bleymehl hitting T2 20 seconds later.
By the halfway point of the bike the German was 4:29 up on South Africa’s Magda Nieuwoudt, with Switzerland’s Emma Bilham riding in third place, 5:05 behind the leader. By the end of the bike Bleymehl’s lead was up to 11:55 over fellow German Katharina Grohmann, with two more Germans – Margrit Elfers and Elena Illeditsch – hitting T2 about 13 minutes behind the leader.
Once on the run Bleymehl continued her domination – she was 13:33 up on Illeditsch through 23 km, with South African Natia van Heerden moving herself to third, 15:31 behind. Over the last half of the run Illeditsch would gain a bit of time, but was never close to threatening Bleymehl for the win. Bleymehl got to the line in 8:22:35 with Illeditsch taking second in 8:34:00 and Nieuwoudt (8:37:46) managing to pass van Heerden (8:38:34) in the last 10 km of the run to take the final spot on the podium.
While she might have enjoyed a solid lead, the win was anything but easy – “The last time I suffered that much was when I had my second child,” Bleymehl said after the race.