At just 24-years-old, Sam Laidlow won the men’s Ironman World Championship, which took place in Nice, France on Sunday. He swam the 2.4-mile / 3.9km leg in a time of 47:50, biked the (epic) 112-mile / 180km course in 4:31:28, and ran the marathon in 2:41:46, for an overall time of 8:06:22. It was an incredible achievement considering the extreme amount of climbing and descending on the bike course, and the uncomfortably warm temperatures for the run.
It was Laidlow’s first-ever Ironman win at the first-ever Ironman World Championship in France. And maybe home soil was an advantage because it was also the first ever French Ironman World Champion. Also, Laidlow is the youngest male champion ever.
The journey to so many firsts started off comfortable but humid, right around 67-degrees. At 6:30am the race announcers predictably declared that the water was 76-degrees, and thus no wetsuits would be allowed. The pro men were already in speed suits and ready to rock.
The beach in Nice is made up of pebbles that vary in size from about a quarter to a Clif bar. Painful to walk on, even worse to run on. The start was in the water, and for the return athletes had a thin carpet to dull the pain of the stones, but they couldn’t be avoided entirely. Overall the swim was calm and fast with the leaders out of the water in under 50-minutes. Matthew Marquardt had the fastest swim with a 47:46 (1:15 min/100m). He ended up 11th overall.
The bike was incredibly quick considering the epic amount of climbing and technical descending involved. Because of such a challenging course, the pro field was especially strung out by the end of the bike. Athletes expected to do well, like Joe Skipper and Matt Hanson, were more than 30-minutes back from the lead as they came off the bike. Hanson recovered a bit, to place 21st overall. Skipper just couldn’t put things together, placing 31st. Several pros dropped out completely during the ride. Laidlow had the fastest bike split and maintained that lead through the run.
To be able to run well after a brutal bike leg takes a different level of fitness and grit in general. Bradley Weis was having an excellent day until he received a 5-minute penalty for drafting, which always seems a bit arbitrary, but especially in this case. Those on the scene said he appeared to be riding fairly. He still managed to claw his way back and take 7th overall. Without the penalty he could easily have been in podium contention.
Patrick Lange had the fastest run, in 2:32:41, and came in second overall, passing Magnus Ditlev in the last lap of the 4-lap course. Ditlev rounded out the podium in an overall time of 8:11:43. The top American, Rudy von Berg, was 4th overall.
In his final race as a pro, Jan Frodeno didn’t have the day that he wanted, but still gave the people a show. In Transition Two he took time to kiss his kids, and by the second lap of the run he was already waving and giving high-fives to the incredibly enthusiastic crowd. Taking it all in, saying thank you for over 20-years of triathlon. He was 24th overall in a time of 8:48:42, but the day was about celebrating and thanking his fans. At the finish he gave an emotional adieu to his days as a pro.
Many athletes vocalized that this was the hardest race of their career. The heat soared above 85-degrees without a cloud in the sky and very little breeze for the run. The pavement radiated heat and the course offered almost no shade. That matched with such a draining bike course, and it seems very much like Nice might be an even bigger beast than the World Championship course in Kona.
Next year, for the women, the race will be held two weeks later, on September 24. Perhaps that will help ease the temperatures. It will be interesting to see if any tweaks will be made to the challenging course after the first iteration of this race.
Congratulations to all of the athletes out there—world class race in an incredible location.