Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierde ran his way to his first GoPro Ironman World Championship title today, seizing the lead in the Energy Lab and bringing the men’s crown back to Europe for the first time in seven years. Van Lierde took advantage of some of the calmest Kona conditions in recent memory, finishing in 8:12:29, the tenth fastest time in the history of the race.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the runner-up finish of Aussie veteran Luke McKenzie, who finished 2:50 behind Van Lierde after leading the run up until the crucial section through the Natural Energy Lab. Reigning Ironman 70.3 world champ Sebastian Kienle rounded out the podium, finishing just over four minutes back of McKenzie.

With Andy Potts deciding to sit the race out due to an injury, the pace was slowed on the swim and defending champion Pete Jacobs took up the pace making along with American Brandon Marsh. Last year’s race winner exited Kailua Bay second in just under 51 minutes, with a large group including Van Lierde and McKenzie only a few seconds behind.

Once the leaders were on two wheels it was American super-cyclist Andrew Starykowicz’s turn to set the pace, as he made an attempt to break Normann Stadler’s bike-course record of 4:18:30. The conditions were nearly perfect on the bike, with a slight tailwind on the way up to Hawi and relatively mild temperatures. The American built a lead of more than two minutes by the turnaround before McKenzie and Kienle bridged up and the trio began to build a massive advantage on most of the top contenders.

Starykowicz put in a late surge to enter T2 first after a bike split of 4:21:53, with McKenzie reaching transition 2:30 later and Kienle another minute back. The three leaders had a comfortable lead on major contenders like Jacobs and three-time winner Craig Alexander to start the run, but Van Lierde was only a minute back of Kienle and clearly had the best legs during the early miles of the run.

Van Lierde moved from fourth to second by the time he made the turn back onto the Queen K Highway at mile 10 of the run and then made the decisive pass of McKenzie shortly after the two turned into the Energy Lab at mile 16. Once he made the pass the win was never in doubt, as both McKenzie and Kienle fought to maintain their podium positions.

The win makes Van Lierde only the second Belgian athlete to win in Kona, joining two-time champion Luc Van Lierde. While the two are not related, Luc is currently Frederik’s coach.

Jacobs struggled with a nagging hip injury on the bike and was forced to walk late in the run, eventually finishing well back in 42nd (9:06:39). Alexander also struggled with back issues on the bike and was never in contention, finishing in 23rd (8:43:59).

Men’s Top 10

1. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 8:12:29
2. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 8:15:19
3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 8:19:24
4. James Cunnama (RSA) 8:21:46
5. Tim O’Donnell (USA) 8:22:25
6. Ivan Rana (ESP) 8:23:43
7. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 8:24:09
8. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 8:25:38
9. Timo Bracht (GER) 8:26:32
10. Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 8:31:13