Middle Distance win #4 for the double Olympic Champion? Probably…
As I highlighted a few weeks back, Alistair Brownlee has broken up his journey back from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia by stopping off in China to race IRONMAN 70.3 Liuzhou, tomorrow (Saturday).
The Commonwealth Games didn’t go completely to plan, with a calf injury ahead of the race severely restricting his run training, and that certainly showed up on race day. In the Individual race – coming off the bike having driven the lead pack through the 20km bike leg – he finished the race in an uncharacteristic tenth place. Should we be concerned that he is racing a 70.3 just over a week later? Probably not.
While his run pace (Alistair finished with 16:05 run split, versus the 15:00 of Gold medallist Henri Schoeman, and the race best 14:36 of Silver medallist, Jake Birtwhistle), was well below par for a normal Brownlee effort, Alistair said post-race that his calf wasn’t a problem – it was his lack of training pre-race that meant he didn’t have the speed required). That he raced the Mixed Relay two days later, suggests – hopefully – that injury is behind him.
What the race DID show was that his swim and bike form is absolutely on the money, and that we can be pretty confident there is not too much wrong with his aerobic fitness. Leading out the swim, he was clearly by far the strongest rider in the race too. That shouldn’t be a surprise – he has been the best cyclist in ITU racing for many years.
Those assets should – in my opinion – leave him in a more than comfortable position come T2 on Saturday. To date, Alistair has been the leader off the bike – solo – in all four of the Middle Distance / 70.3 races that he has started. That is unlikely to change this week.
“After some fast and furious racing on the Gold Coast, I’m looking forward to racing over the middle distance in Liuzhou. I’m swimming and riding as well as I ever have, but we’ll have to see how my running legs hold up over 21km.”
Alistair’s Middle / 70.3 race record:
- Challenge Gran Canaria 2017 – WIN
- IRONMAN 70.3 St. George 2017 – WIN
- The Championship, Samorin 2017 – DNF
- IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai 2018 – WIN
Looking at the start list (HERE), competition is likely to come from Sam Betten (AUS) and Justin Metzler (USA), who finished a close first and second respectively at IRONMAN 70.3 Xiamen in China last year, following a close sprint at the finish.
Three-time IRONMAN World Champion Craig Alexander, now aged 44, is due to wear #1. He recently finished fourth at IRONMAN 70.3 Davao, Philippines, recovering from a broken shoulder and four ribs from a bike crash in November.
Training partner – and speedy runner – Mark Buckingham, is also racing. He finished third to Alistair last year in Gran Canaria.
Haven’t been to China before so thought I’d take my mate Al to enjoy the sights & carry some bags https://t.co/qXfSmzHfxu
— Mark Buckingham (@TriBucko) March 22, 2018
What will happen?
I don’t think we will see a complete swim / bike / run masterclass – as we saw in Dubai in February – but I’ve little doubt that Alistair is more than capable of winning. When you can run 16 minutes for 5km, off the bike – on a bad day – you are still in pretty good shape.
His aim will surely be to combine a fast swim (dropping the majority of the favourites), with a fast bike (dropping everyone else, quickly, by many minutes), and then to come off the bike with a healthy enough lead to be able to have, by his standards, a modest run home to win.
I wouldn’t be expecting fireworks of the 1:10 / 1:11 run splits we saw last week from Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside – but, that shouldn’t be needed. A comfortable win, World Championship qualifying points on the board, a solid day of training (and a $5,000 cheque for the win), would represent ‘job done’. It’s difficult to see anyone else spoiling that party, and Brownlee adding the British flag to the winners list alongside that of the 2017 champion, Tim Don.