ST. GEORGE — Ironman 70.3 competitors Tim Don and Heather Wurtele have spent too much time on the lower steps of the podium. But on Saturday, the top step belonged to them with Don (men’s professional) and Wurtele (women’s pro) winning the event amid cheering crowds and bright, sunny weather.
Don, from Great Britain, passed three other pros, including perennial contender Brent McMahon, on the third leg of the race after having mechanical difficulties toward the end of the bike ride.
“I was riding with him on the ride and with two kilometers to go I had to stop on the bike because I had a mechanical,” Don said. “My chain came off and got tangled up and I had stop and put it back on and lost about a minute and a half. I know he’s a world class athlete and I thought, ‘Oh, I might not be able to catch him.’ Last year I nearly died on the last 5 kilometers of the run. So this year I saved some.”
But he did, finishing with a time of 3:51:56, walking the last two steps of the race and grabbing the finish tape with both hands. He then pumped his fist in triumph and waved to fans and friends in the crowd. His time was 1:26 ahead of McMahon (from Canada) and 1:43 ahead of third-place Andreas Raelert (from Germany).
Like Don, Wurtele finished in third place a year ago. But she was not going to be denied this year, passing local favorite Meredith Kessler, who lives and trains in St. George.
“She was the person to beat and I’m sure she’s not happy when I beat her, just like I’m not happy when she beats me,” Wurtele said. “It was a hard day. I was back a ways coming out of the water. I made up some ground on the bike, but I’ll tell you, I was just happy I could see the leaders coming out of transition (from bike to run).”
Wurtele was almost two minutes behind the leader Kessler at the transition, but was very strong on the 13.1-mile run. She made up the ground just past halfway and then pulled away for the victory with a time of 4:17:58, 89 seconds ahead of Kessler and nearly four minutes ahead of third-place finisher Jodie Swallow (from Great Britain).
Wurtele looked pretty fresh at the finish line, stopping after she won to talk with fans and some of the race volunteers.
Both champions praised the community support for putting on a top-notch event.
“This community is something really special,” Wurtele said. “Everyone embraces the race here. It’s just brilliant.”
Don echoed the sentiment.
“We don’t get much time to look around when we’re racing, riding up Snow Canyon, when you look up you go, ‘Yeah, this isn’t bad. I’m doing OK here.’ And this race has more volunteers than athletes. Until you do a race like this, you don’t realize how much that really means.”
Ben Hoffman (Colorado) was the top American men’s winner, placing fifth among men’s pro competitors. Hoffman won the last full Ironman competition held in St. George May 5, 2012.
The race transitioned from the full Ironman to the current 70.3 format a couple of years ago and the racers say the distance is a perfect fit for the heat and rugged terrain in Southern Utah.
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