by T.J. Murphy
Photos by Jay Prasuhn
Germany’s Jan Frodeno, the 2008 Olympic triathlon champion turned 2015 World Ironman Champion, wasted little time, if any, going on the offensive in defending his title today on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2016.
After three-time champ Peter Reid, newly inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame, fired the starting cannon, Frodeno became the driving presence in the 2.6-mile opening swim. Circling the turn-around in 23 minutes, Frodeno, along with UK’s Harry Wiltshire, American Andy Potts, Australia’s Paul Matthews and Estonia’s Marko Albert, clocked swims at or near the 48-minute-flat mark.
Towing with them the balance of a 12-man group, the jostling for position exiting the water looked fairly similar to what you’d expect to see at an ITU race, with Wiltshire leading into transition, but Frodeno—an Olympic gold medal stashed back home—darted to the front as they took the dog fight onto their bikes, Palani Hill and eventually the remainder of the 112-mile bike leg.
Significantly, 2014 Ironman World Champion, fellow German Sebastian Kienle, exited the water with a 52:27 swim, starting the bike with nearly a four-and-a-half minute deficit on his key target.
The first 10 miles of the bike it appeared that Frodeno had the intention of employing a favored tactic he had talked about earlier during race week—that one of the best ways to avoid the various dangers presented by pace lines and getting tagged with a drafting penalty is simply to ride away from it all. But his cohort from the swim, plus Canadian Brent McMahon, continued to scramble with him for the lead. Frodeno appeared to assess the situation and opt for a different race plan: Let the others beat each other on the head while he sought out to stay no further than four to six places from the front. There, pedaling with alarming ease, he staked out a position some 20 meters from racers in front of him, a buffer on the 12-meter zone that officials, buzzing by on motos, are looking to enforce.
The strategy seemed particularly brilliant when four racers, including McMahon and Andreas Raelert, ended up spending five minutes in under the yellow penalty tent.
As Frodeno cruised along toward what would ultimately be a 4:29:00 minute bike split, he forced Kienle to use a lot of firepower to get into the game, which Kienle did. When all was said and done on the bike, Kienle took over the lead— with Andi Boecherer 10 seconds behind—entering T2.
The question posed as this: How much premium fuel did Kienle need to burn for the 4:23:56 split he needed to charge into the lead?
“The biggest threat [to racing well is] is egoism,” Frodeno said in a pre-race interview. When Frodeno tore out of T2 having regained the lead with some spectacular changing-tent speed, one might think that he was doing it out of an ego surge, but as the first 10 miles of the run suggested, it wasn’t so much about ego but trying to setting into a sub-6-minute pace without anyone in his sphere.
Kienle had other ideas, immediately charging back up to Frodeno’s shoulder and then engaged in friendly conversation. The two Germans flew up Ali’i Drive, the looked like tri club teammates in the first 10 minutes of hard tempo training run, bullshitting each other before things got hard.
Styles of energy management showed. Frodeno seemed to want to lose Kienle so he could get back to the lofty business of maybe breaking 8 hours. Kienle was more like a happy puppy that wanted to keep playing. Frodeno would seem to finally drop him going through an aid station, getting a break of five or more seconds on his countryman, but then Kienle would bound back up to his shoulder. They were clocked in the midst of 5:56 per mile pace.
By the time Frodeno ascended the Queen K, there was a visible sink in Kienle’s legs caused by fatigue and gravity. Frodeno took charge of the race from there, heading into the Energy Lab alone.
The remainder of the race became a survival fest for the podium between Germans Kienle, Andi Boecherer and Patrick Lange and Americans Ben Hoffman and Tim O’Donnell.
At 21.5 miles, Frodeno continued with his grip on the race, Kienle still in second four minutes back, Hoffman 7:46 back and Boecherer 8:06 back.
Lange was 8:28 back, but his stride was on fire, and he began picking guys off: Boecherer, then Hoffman.
At 7:56 into Ironman World Championship, the men’s race had become a traffic jam of Germans. The bleeding from Kienle’s stride was controlled.
Holding the finish line tape for Frodeno were the only two men to have ever won six Hawaii Ironman titles, Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Frodeno, with his second, may be setting his sights to join them.
He made it look easier than it actually was. “It’s both your best day and your worst day,” Frodeno said at the finish line. “I can’t remember when I last suffered so much.”
Ironman World Championship
October 8, 2016
Men’s Top 3
- Jan Frodeno (GER) 8:06:30
- Sebastian Kienle (GER) 8:10:02
- Patrick Lange (GER) 8:11:14