Alistair Brownlee heads to Utah next month with perhaps the best chance of winning an Ironman World Championship he’s ever going to have.
The double-Olympic champion, who turned his full focus to long course racing after a failed bid to qualify for a fourth Games in Tokyo last summer, is among the favorites lining up in St George for the rescheduled 2021 event.
A hillier course and less humid conditions compared to the event’s usual home in Hawaii should be more suited to the 34-year-old (who turns 35 on Saturday 23 April) as he looks to improve from his only previous appearance at the race, when he wilted on the marathon to finish 21st in 2019.
Brownlee will also have fond memories of winning an Ironman 70.3 race at the same location and time of year in 2017, where he defeated Lionel SandersSebastian Kienle and fellow Brit Tim Don in a frontrunning performance.
Having battled injury for much of the past few years, preparations for 2022 looked to have gone somewhat smoother – highlighted by leading a high-calibre field into the final two miles of Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in California at the start of the month.
But set for a commanding win, the race changed in the closing stages as Brownlee was passed by eventual winner Jackson Laundry and faded to trail in fourth.
When asked how he would rate the performance, Brownlee hinted at an explanation for the outcome.
“[I’d give it] six out of 10,” he said. “Training has gone well, but I was very ill the week before the race. Considering that, I’m happy that I managed to get through it. [There are] still a few things I can improve on. But that’s why I was keen to get a race in pre St George.”
Neither was he fazed at being overtaken so close to the finish. “I felt like I was hanging on all race, and it caught up with me in the last few kilometers.”
A unique opportunity
Heading to St George, the men’s race is packed with talent, including Norwegian duo Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav IdenBrownlee’s long-time World Triathlon nemesis Javier Gomezand a slew of powerful cyclists including Sanders, Kienle and Joe Skipper.
But one rival Brownlee won’t have to worry about is reigning Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno. The German, now 40, last raced in the inaugural Collins Cup in August and withdrew from St George after struggling with injury since the start of the year.
Neither will two-time Ironman champion Patrick Lange be in attendance having not had enough time to regain fitness after a bike crash led to a broken right shoulder in February.
Brownlee, though, is retaining the singular focus that led to victory in an astonishing 37 of 75 starts during his short course career.
“If I’ve learned anything in Ironman, it’s race your own race,” he said. “It took me a week to recover from the race [Oceanside] and being ill. But I think I’m fully recovered now and training hard to prepare for St George.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to win an Ironman world title. It’s impossible to know how the race will pan out, but I think it will be different from any other Ironman. The course and competition will make it unique.”
Brownlee will not only line up against Blummenfelt in St George, but also four weeks later in the unique Pho3nix Foundation Sub7-Sub8 contestwhere both men will try to break seven hours for the iron distance – and beat one another.
“Rivalries are good. It’s what sport is for,” Brownlee added, explaining that the support athletes are now finalised, and he’ll be aiming for time splits of around 45min (swim), 3hr 45min (buke) and 2hr 30min (run).
Asked whether it’s more important to beat the Norwegian or go under seven hours, his answer was predictably Brownlee-esque: “Both!”
Top image credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for Ironman