Ben Hill has led the way for Australia at the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship men’s race, in Nice, France, crossing the line 13th in his debut at the top level of the sport.
Canberra’s Hill finished the 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km run in 8:29:41, just over a minute clear of fellow Australian Cameron Wurf who was 14th, while Nathan Dortmann did not finish.
France’s Sam Laidlow claimed the World Championship title in 8:06:22, with German athlete Patrick Lange second and Denmark’s Magnus Ditlev rounding out the podium.
Hill’s 13th was impressive as he only became a professional triathlete exactly a year ago, and had only completed one IRONMAN before, May’s IRONMAN Australia which secured his spot on the World Championship start line.
“I’m over the moon, that went absolutely perfectly, I couldn't have dreamed of a better scenario,” said Hill.
“I have no idea what the front pack did, but I know I did a good time for me. I got in a group that I was happy with and I actually felt pretty comfortable in the swim and to do like under 53 minutes, that's a swim PB in a non-wetsuit race.
“The start was perfect and then I got in a group on the bike, which in Australia, you don't really get packs too much,” he said.
“It was an awesome pack dynamic, climbed up to some good people and had a good group through the undulations and then left them on the descent and the last hill and sort of bridged up. I don't know what position I was off the bike or how far down I was, I was just trying to do my best performance all day and sort of just kept working my way up.
“Even in the run, there's people everywhere. I don't know who's pros, who's not, I'm just running, I'm looking at my watch thinking am I really going this fast, what's happening? It just kept going perfect all the way through the day so really stoked with it.”
Hill, a former professional cyclist, put his experience on two wheels to good use, working his way through the field, setting the seventh quickest bike time of the day.
“On the bike I was sort of picking up people,” said Hill.
“I don't really know a lot of these guys, so I don't know I'm doing well or not. I assume they're all good so if I'm beating anyone, it's probably good.
“But then to come off the bike and I saw (Braden) Currie and (Jan) Frodeno in transition and I was thinking, have we made up that much time or are they not on a good day,” he said.
“Then to overtake Currie straight away and then overtake Frodeno, to be running next to Frodeno, I was just stoked to be on the start line with him, let alone pass him in the run. I know he wasn't on his best day, but that was an amazing feeling.”
Hill had a special message for his family back home in Canberra who supported him in his journey to the IRONMAN World Championship start line.
“They've been my biggest supporters for this, and this would not be possible without their support,” he said.
“It felt like real team effort to get me into this position, so this is just as much for them as it is for me.”
Tasmania’s Cameron Wurf was in the mix for most of the day, before slipping back through the field during the run leg.
Wurf exited the wated in 24th position and immediately set to working his way up the leaderboard on his favoured bike leg. The professional cyclist put his years of racing at the highest level to good use, powering through to set the third fastest bike time of the day and return to transition in fourth overall.
Unfortunately from there Wurf’s chance at a podium slipped away from him as he lost touch with the leaders, eventually crossing the line 14th.
Fellow Australian Nathan Dortmann retired from the race following the swim, with the Brisbane-based athlete suffering from the effects of a bike accident in training a handful of days out from the event.
Australian age-groupers also impressed in Nice with Sean Brunt (50-54) taking second, Steve Guy (45-49) securing fifth, with John Hill (65-69) and Clint Dow (35-39) both securing top-ten finishes in their categories - finishing 7th and 9th respectively.
Professional and age-group female athletes will take on the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship women’s race on Saturday 14 October in Kona, Hawai’i.