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Ironman World Championships 2022: Women’s Race Preview

We’ve compiled an extensive guide to look at the course, the conditions, and the major players at each point of the women’s race in Kona so viewers know how it could go down.

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After discussing the favorites for the women’s pro Kona 2022 race, let’s have a look how the race might develop and who is likely going to be where at different points on the Kona course.

Looking for the preview of the men’s pro race? We’ll unveil our top picks and expert analysis on the men’s race tomorrow. Check back to our Kona Central hub for all the latest coverage from the Big Island.

RELATED: How to Watch the 2022 Ironman World Championship Races

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Ironman World Championship Women’s Race Preview: Course and Conditions

The Ironman World Championship women's pro race kicks off with the swim
(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Ironman World Championship course starts and ends on the “Kona pier” which is also the site of the single transition zone. The swim is a straightforward out-and-back 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean. The water temperature is about 80°F (25°C) all year round. Athletes are not allowed to use a wetsuit, but the saltwater increases buoyancy. The waves are variable— sometimes swells make the conditions harder, and there are often currents away from the pier, making the swim back feel much longer and also creating bigger gaps open up in the field in the second half.

The 112-mile bike ride starts with a short loop in Kona, followed by a long out-and-back through the lava fields to the turnaround in Hawi. Each year can be quite different from the next – there can be more than ten minutes variation in bike splits between windy races such as 2012 or 2016 and a fast year such as 2018 with almost no wind. Another Kona quirk is that the wind often changes direction during the day, and you may have tailwinds both on the way out to the turn in Hawi and then also a bit later on the way back to Kona. Fast conditions may allow the strong bikers to post a new bike record, but they usually prefer tougher conditions as they can build bigger gaps for the run.

When athletes start their 26.2-mile run around noon, temperatures and humidity are usually the highest—especially if it rained overnight or in the early morning, and it has evaporated with a cloud cover that traps the humidity. The Kona run is one of the hardest on the calendar. While the section along the ocean on Ali’i Drive usually has a lot of spectators and some cooling breeze, the meat of the run is on the Queen K and towards the Energy Lab and back which often feels as if you’re running in a blow dryer.

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Ironman World Championship 2022 Women’s Race Preview: How It Could Play Out

The Swim

(Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

It’s easy to predict that Lucy Charles-Barclay is going to lead after the swim. A few good U.S. swimmers such as Lauren Brandon, Rachel Zilinskas, or St. George swim leader Haley Chura might stay with her or be about one to three minutes back. The first of the top 10 overall finisher candidates in T1 (other than Lucy) should be Lisa Norden, Fenella Langridge, and Sarah True—about four to five minutes back.

Then things will be a lot closer together. A lot of the favorites will come out of the water about seven minutes back: Daniela Ryf, Anne Haug, Skye Moench, Sarah Crowley, and Chelsea Sodaro are probably within a minute or two of each other in T1. Are they coming out of the water in one big group or will there be some stragglers who had to drop back? Laura Philipp and Daniela Bleymehl are two strong riders who might be on the tail end or slightly behind this first bigger group.

Ruth Astle and Heather Jackson are probably the overall top 10 contenders with the biggest gaps after the swim. Based on their previous swims, they are expected to be about 12 minutes behind Lucy – anything closer than that would improve their chances for a good finish, while a larger gap might already take them out of contention for a top spot.

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The Bike

The Ironman World Championship women's pro race bike prediction includes Lucy Charles-Barclay
(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

On the bike, Charles-Barclay will continue to lead the field. There might be a smaller group behind her consisting of the strong swimmers who are also going to ride at least the first half well. Langridge and Norden should be among them, maybe Brandon. They may stay ahead of the chase group until the turn in Hawi.

The big question for the first half of the bike: Are we going to see the Daniela Ryf of Kona 2019 when she struggled with stomach issues and wasn’t able to ride well, or will she take control of the bike as she did in the years before (and in May in St. George)? It usually takes her 30 to 45 minutes to settle after the swim, but when she starts to work on the bike, you should see her ride away from the bigger chase group. Is anyone able (and willing) to go with her? Maybe an on-form Sarah Crowley? And will Daniela also start to take time out of Charles-Barclay’s lead, or will she be riding as well as she did at 70.3 Worlds in St. George 2021?

It’ll also be interesting to see what happens in the chase group. Will there be a bigger group or will we see athletes ride alone or in pairs? There are a few strong bike riders from the first swim group such as Moench or McCauley—will they take some extra risks and try to ride away before Philipp or Bleymehl are able to join them? Or did Philipp have a great swim, and is she able to stay in the swim chase group so she can now push the pace herself? What about the stronger swimmers who had to drop back—will they be able to ride with the group? It would be a good development for True if she’s able to ride with the big chase group as she was able to do in her 2018 Kona debut. And where will Kona 2019 champion Haug be? In her last full-distance races in St. George and Roth it seemed to take her a while to get up to speed after the swim. Athletes who want a gap to her for the run might work hard from the start to isolate her on the bike.

In every year that Ryf won the Ironman World Championships, she was first off the bike – including 2017 and 2018 when she surged in the second half of the bike to overtake Charles-Barclay before T2. Is 2022 going to be the year that Lucy is able to hold on to the lead on the bike and Daniela has to show that she is also able to overtake others in the marathon?

The most likely scenario has Ryf and Charles-Barclay in first and second place in T2. Regardless of their order, who will be their closest chaser? Has anyone been able to ride with Ryf? There could be Norden – she was third off the bike in St. George, but already nine and a half minutes behind Ryf. (Second in T2 in St. George was Kat Matthews who unfortunately isn’t able to race.) With the bigger groups and the less challenging course, the gaps in Kona could be a bit smaller than in St. George.

The strong German runners Haug and Philipp are the other main contenders. If they want to win, they need to be closer than the fifteen minutes Anne lost on the bike in St. George to Ryf. This year, they could be pushing the pace in the chase group with Moench and others—likely reaching T2 with a deficit of just over ten minutes to Ryf.

From a U.S. perspective, how are True, Sodaro, and McCauley doing? Can they start the run still in contention for the first U.S. podium since Heather Jackson in 2016? In order to do that, they would have to run around three hours after riding at least with the chase group.

The Run

(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The first part of the run will give a good indication of who is running well, who is still in podium contention and who is unlikely to match the pace of the front runners. Both Haug and Philipp have been able to run sub-2:50 marathons this year; they are at least strong contenders for the fastest Kona 2022 run split.

Usually the time gaps don’t change too much in the first ten miles when athletes are still relatively fresh, but we should be able to see if Norden, McCauley, or Bleymehl are on course to improve on their recent marathons (3:13 for McCauley and 3:11 for Bleymehl. after taking time off for pregnancy and childbirth, a run PR of 3:15 for Lisa), and if True is able to rediscover the magic of her 2:57 marathon from Kona 2018.

In the second half of the run, the stronger runners should make up more ground to the T2 leaders – will they be able to catch them? Based on the pre-race numbers, the top five should finish within six minutes, and there are always a few late position changes in Kona. After her dominating win in St. George, Ryf is the favorite for her second 2022 title (and sixth Ironman World Championship overall), but she will probably need a sub-3 marathon to take the win in Kona as well.

Charles-Barclay could still be in the lead when she enters T2. Her best Kona marathon so far is 3:05; she almost ran the same split in 2018 and 2019. She will need to improve on that to be a contender for the win. Will she be able to do that after her injury break at the start of the year?

If Haug and Philipp are close together in the later stages of the run, they may push each other to a fast run split. I think at least one of them will run in the low 2:50s, maybe even challenging Mirinda Carfrae’s 2:50:26 run course record—which she set in 2014 when Carfrae was running down then-Kona rookie Ryf.

There are likely going to be other strong runners, but the main podium contenders are Daniela, Lucy, Anne and Laura. But then there is usually one surprise on the Kona podium.

Can’t get enough Ironman World Championship coverage? Visit our Kona Hub for news, analysis, history, photo galleries, and so much more – new stories added daily from our team on the ground at the Big Island.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thorsten Radde runs and is one of the top experts in the sport for analyzing triathlon finishes and results. His Kona Rating Report can be downloaded for free through his website.

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