Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Most championships races have strong favorites for the win and the podium. That’s certainly true for the men’s pro race at this weekend’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, but that doesn’t mean things are cut-and-dry. Sure, one of the Norwegians could win it all (as seems to be their M.O. these days) but so could Sam Long, Magnus Ditlev, or any of the six wild cards we note in our analysis of the contenders in this race. The configurations and possible outcomes are endless, but there are some likely ways we could see things play out on Saturday. Let’s take a deep dive into the men’s pro race, who will be moving and when, and what their tactical goals might be on the swim, bike and run.
In addition to streaming the free live coverage on Outside Watch, you should also follow the race with the Ironman Athlete Tracker app. That way you can keep track of how far back athletes are that are not (yet) at the front of the race.
The Kona Effect on St. George
For the first time since 70.3 Worlds have left Clearwater, the 70.3 World Championship race will take place after Kona – from 2011 to 2019, it was held five or six weeks before Kona, making it a great tune-up for the Ironman World Championship. This year, it’s three weeks after Kona. This has resulted in some Kona athletes deciding against racing in St. George, and it may also mean that some Kona athletes will still carry some fatigue from Kona. Potentially, this could impact pre-race favorites such as Gustav Iden, Kristian Blummenfelt, Magnus Ditlev or Rudy Von Berg. Sam Long decided to focus on 70.3 Worlds instead of Kona, as of course did half-distance specialists such as Aaron Royle, Frederic Funk, Ben Kanute, Miki Taagholt and Mika Noodt. In previous years, Kona-bound athletes racing at 70.3 Worlds were at the tail end of their volume-oriented Ironman preparation, so they may have been reluctant to add speed training, or to take the time for a full taper. We will see how much of an impact the change in timing will have on the race but it may add some extra twists, especially toward the end of the race.
Another difference between Kona and St. George will be the temperatures – especially in the morning. It will be much colder in St. George, and even if it does warm up during the day, it will still be much cooler and much less humid than in Kona. The energy demands of a colder race are higher than for warm temperatures, and it remains to be seen if the athletes adapted to the Kona heat can quickly change back into “cold weather mode.”
2022 70.3 Worlds Men’s Race Preview: How It Could Play Out
After stepping up from short-course racing, Aaron Royle has established himself as one of the top swimmers in the half distance. As he did at the PTO Open in Dallas, Royle should be leading out of the water. The hot temperatures in Dallas led to a more cautious swim by most, and we saw a huge group of 17 athletes within seconds of each other in T1. That probably wont happen in St. George. The pace in Saturday’s race should be a bit more aggressive, with Aaron on his own or leading a small group of five athletes or fewer. Ben Kanute is likely to be one of those athletes – as a strong swimmer, he will want to stay with Ryole and is probably going to be the first of the other favorites to exit the water.
Most of the contenders are likely going to lose time to Royle. Kristian Blummenfelt should be about a minute behind Ryle. On paper, Gustav Iden should be another 30 seconds behind Blummenfelt, but the exact gap between them will depend on how much the groups are breaking up. Magnus Ditlev, Frederic Funk, Miki Taagholt, Rudy von Berg and Mika Noodt should all be close to the Norwegians, and things will be crowded in T1.
Sam Long should be the only athlete with podium chances further behind in T1. He’ll probably lose more than three minutes to Aaron in the swim, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of contention just yet.
Typically, the first part of the bike leg will see the front pack get closer together. T1 gaps of a few seconds could get erased, and we may have one huge lead group with almost all the favorites after 15 miles. The strong bike riders may want to ride away from the other contenders before things settle down, especially if they have any sort of time advantage after the swim.
Most notably, Ditlev should try to get away from the other favorites, and the hilly course in St. George will give him good opportunities to push the pace. Who is going to risk riding with him? Funk will likely be interested in creating a gap. The good swimmers, such as Royle or Kanute will want to hang on to the front as long as possible, but they’ll soon find it hard once they’re caught by the fast-moving cyclists behind.
A major storyline to watch on the bike will be the Norwegians. Blummenfelt has now lost two run duels against Iden this year – the PTO Canadian Open and the Ironman World Championship. This is likely to affect his bike strategy. Will he try to start the run ahead of Iden? Will that result in a more aggressive bike pacing for him? And where is Iden going to be relative to the front group? In 2021, he bridged up to them before Snow Canyon, then rode away on the final climb and descent. Will this happen again, or will the pace at the front be quicker this year?
Pacing at the front will also be a factor for Long. Ideally, he wants to close the gap to the big chase group. If he’s able to get closer to the front and if he’s able to reach them before T2, he’ll be in a good position on the run. Tactical games at the front would make it easier for him to catch up, as continuous hard efforts after his swim deficit may prove to be too much of a burden to repeat his podium finish from last year.
After about two hours of racing, the leaders are going to hit the climb in Snow Canyon. This will be the final chance for strong bike riders to push the pace and create or extend the gaps. Some weaker bike riders, who may have been forced to burn all their matches staying with the group, will struggle. Everyone’s legs will start to get tired, and differences between the riders will be magnified. The last 15 miles of the bike in St. George is likely where the biggest time gaps will occur. How much is the race going to change in the last half hour on the bike? It should be a thrilling ride.
Who has been the most successful in setting up their race for a good result on the run? Who is leading after T2, and how much of a gap have they been able to create?
Ditlev and Funk will be in a great position if they are able to ride away from the lead group. But they are not quite running at the same level as Iden or Blummenfelt – they probably need a gap of three minutes or more in T2 if they want to beat them. Even that might not be enough – in Edmonton this year, Iden ran almost four minutes into Funk. It would be a surprise to see such a big T2 gap for Ditlev or Funk, so on paper the win should be decided in another run duel between Iden and Blummenfelt. if Blummenelt has been able to create a small gap to Iden in T2, it would add extra pressure and another level of suspense.
There is typically one athlete on the podium who manages to have a surprise performance when it matters most. This year, it could be Miki Taagholt, who was fourth last year with the fifth-fastest run of the day. Mika Noodt had the third-best run split to move into 11th place, and is another potential disruptor in the race. Where will these two be after the bike, and how well can they run this year? Is one of them ready to go head-to-head with the Norwegians?
Last year, Long had the second-fastest run split behind Iden – but will he have been able to reduce his swim gap so that a good run split will still matter? In 2021, he was able to start the run in the first bigger group behind the leaders, and was only seconds behind third place at the start of the run. It’s a tough ask for a repeat this year, but Long has pulled off some incredible bike rides this year to put himself back into contention. Will he still have the run legs for another podium finish at the 2022 70.3 World Championships?
The men’s pro race kicks off at 9:30 a.m. ET/7:30 a.m. MT on Saturday, October, 28. Here’s how you can watch the free livestream exclusively on Outside Watch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thorsten Radde runs Trirating.com and is one of the top experts in the sport for analyzing triathlon finishes and results.