Maurice Clavel ran down fellow German Sebastian Kienle in the closing stages to win IRONMAN South Africa 2021 on Sunday.
For a long time it looked like the 37-year-old Kienle would begin his two-year countdown to retirement in style with victory at Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth. The popular German recently announced that he will stop racing at the end of 2023.
After being a couple of minutes down after a shortened swim, Kienle made up ground on the bike and then built a lead of over a minute-and-a-half early on the run.
Clavel though started to cut significantly into the deficit as they went into the final third of the marathon, and made the pass around 7km from the finish line before surging clear for his first IRONMAN victory. He also claimed a coveted qualifying slot for the 2022 IRONMAN World Championship in Kona next October.
Swim – short circuit
Brutal conditions for the swim is nothing new right now – remember the PRO field exiting the water in Florida about 10 minutes slower than expected?
This time they didn’t even get to complete the full course, with officials making the decision to halve the swim leg to 1.2 miles.
Swede Jesper Svensson led the field out of the water, with just 25 seconds separating the top 12 in the field. Right with him was Sam Laidlow of France – second to Joe Skipper at IRONMAN UK in Bolton back in July – and home favourite Kyle Buckingham, seeking to end an emotional year on a high note, was just 18 seconds behind Laidlow. Eventual winner Clavel was just ahead of him.
Kienle meanwhile was around two minutes off the pace as the race entered T1.
Bike – Laidlow hauled in
It was Laidlow who made the first significant move of the race, blasting clear early on the bike leg and by the time the field went through 60km he had an advantage of almost four minutes from Buckingham. Behind Kyle there was a large group of riders who were all in pretty close proximity. Laidlow’s gap to Kienle at this stage was more than four-and-a-half minutes.
From this stage on though Laidlow’s advantage started to diminish as the chasers cut away at his lead. By 90km it was down to under three minutes.
Into the final quarter of the bike and a chasing group of four had caught Laidlow, headed by Swede Rasmus Svenningsson. German trio Clavel, Marcus Herbst and Kienle completed that group – all within 10 seconds of the race lead.
Laidlow continued to lose ground in the closing stages of the bike, and by the time T2 arrived it was Svenningsson at the front, 13 seconds clear of Clavel with Kienle 21 seconds off the lead. Laidlow by now was more than a minute-and-a-half back.
The front three had pretty much matched each other for bike splits – all in the 4:43 territory.
Run – Clavel too strong for Sebi
It was all change in T2 as Clavel came out with a 16-second lead to Kienle with Svenningsson now almost a minute back in third.
Clavel held his advantage steady for the first few km of the marathon, but Kienle soon bridged the gap and took over at the front.
It was great to see Sebi running solidly after all the Achilles problems which have beset him in recent years, and he gradually built on his lead. It was 39 seconds at 17km, and almost a minute-and-a-half by 22km.
That break by Kienle had not been decisive though, and Clavel showed he was not out of it by any means as he cut the advantage back to just 36 seconds by the 28km mark and then a mere 16 seconds and shrinking fast as they headed into the final 10k. Could Sebi hang on and was he holding something in reserve?
The answer appeared to be negative to both of those questions as Clavel made the pass 7km from home and then surged clear. He led Kienle by just under a minute by the time they entered the final 3km.
At the line the margin of victory for Clavel was just over two minutes after he produced a 2:45:16 marathon to finish with an overall time of 7:30:30. Svenningsson completed the podium by taking third sport.
Buckingham just missed out on what would have been a special podium as he finished fourth while two-time XTERRA World Champion Bradley Weiss claimed fifth.
IRONMAN South Africa 2021 Results
Sunday November 20, 2021 – Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth
PRO Men – 1.2m swim, 112m bike, 26.2m run
- 1. Maurice Clavel (GER) 7:30:30
- 2. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 7:32:32
- 3. Rasmus Svenningsson (SWE) 7:34:35
- 4 Kyle Buckingham (RSA) 7:39:30
- 5. Bradley Weiss (RSA) 7:44:49