Photo of Bart Aernouts by Bert Stephani
The Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Wiesbaden, Germany, is one of the last big 70.3 races before September’s big dance in Mont Tremblant at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. As a regional championship, there are double the number of slots available for next year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in nearby Kraichgau—and the stacked age group fields in this year’s race reflected this. The course is challenging and historically scenic, but for those looking to qualify at this year’s race it’s likely that the town’s architectural splendor was the last thing on their minds as they pushed themselves to the limit. Let’s look at how the pros fared on this course on this record-breaking day, and what it took to break the magical “5-hour barrier” for some of the faster age group athletes.
The men’s race belonged to 2014 Ironman France champion Bart Aernouts of Belgium, who showed once again that hilly, technical bike courses are his forte. Aernouts exited more than two minutes behind swim leaders Manual Küng, Swiss Ruedi Wild, Germany’s Maurice Clavel and the Netherlands’ Pieter Heemeryck. Clavel led the bike for the first part of the day until Aernouts finally charged to the lead around the 60km mark, biking a race-best 2:22:23 and netting a strong three-minute lead heading out of T2. Aernouts pulled out an impressive 1:15:26 half marathon to hold his lead and grab the title, followed by Australian Peter Robertson who ran a blazing-fast 1:13:16, passing Clavel in the final few kilometers.
The women’s race saw defending champion Daniela Ryf surpass her own 2013 race record for back-to-back European 70.3 championship titles. The 2012 Ironman world champion Leanda Cave led out of the water, followed by Kona contender Liz Blatchford of Great Britain and Ryf less than a minute behind. Ryf showed off her powerful biking skills by staking her claim in front after less than 15 kilometers. A race-best 2:36.42 women’s bike split saw Ryf head out of T2 with a comfortable 5+ minute lead on Blatchford and Cave. Ryf slowly increased her pace throughout the half marathon to finish first in 4:26:12—roughly five minutes faster than her record-breaking performance here last year. Cave would hold on for second and Germany’s Laura Phillip would run her way up to the last podium position in a time of 4:36:23.
For full race results click HERE.
Wiesbaden, located in Southwest Germany, is known as one of Europe’s oldest “spa town,” and is filled with hot springs that no doubt came in handy as part of the athlete’s post-race recovery plans. The course is challenging, but offers plenty of views of stunningly beautiful European architecture, rolling countryside and a fan-filled finish in downtown.
The swim begins in Lake “Raunheimer Waldsee” and is a calm, out-and-back loop. The bike is also one loop, and takes athletes through a series of hilly climbs with very steep descents—perfect locations for strong climbers to make their move. The largest climb comes just before the 40-kilometer mark, and heads up almost five miles with varying gradients between 4 and 11 percent before reaching the “Platte.” The athlete’s work isn’t done yet, however, as they make their way through a series of small rollers before a final 6-mile long descent into T2 for a total course elevation change of 1450 meters or 4,750 feet. This descent offers athletes a good chance to spin out their legs and prepare for the run, which is a largely flat four-loop course around the town. Several loop courses have their good points—typically there is stronger spectator support and a good chance to see if you’re being chased down—and bad points being they can get rather boring. The Wiesbaden run course takes place largely along the city’s main park and waterfront area and past several historical buildings so, hey, it could be worse.
There are obviously many different ways to go sub-5-hours across 70.3 miles, but 24-year-old David De Grooff of Belgium did a pretty solid job of it. De Grooff exited the Raunheimer Waldsee in a time of 23:59 for a 1:14/100 meter pace and in third place in his division. De Grooff averaged 30 km/hour over the 56-mile bike course, finishing in a race-split time (including transitions) of 2:59:18 and in 55th place. De Grooff’s Strava upload shows a total moving time of 2:38:47 for 55 miles, which indicates either some delay in starting his watch or some extra time in transition. He averaged 272 watts across the course, and made his way up the five-mile climb to the Platte in roughly 18 minutes, pushing well over 320 watts for much of the climb. You can see an analysis of his ride HERE.
Once out onto the run, De Grooff really put the gas pedal on, averaging a 6:21 minute mile to make up any lost time on the bike course, and finishing the run in a time of 1:22:58. The key for De Grooff’s stellar run split was his consistency, he never dropped above a 7-minute mile the entire time. Part of this was due to the consistently level nature and multi-loop course design, but full kudos should go out to De Grooff who finished in a total time of 4:49:59 for 35th in his incredibly competitive 25-29 age group category. You can see an analysis of De Grooff’s run HERE.