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Jackson Laundry Surprises and Taylor Knibb Dominates in Oceanside

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It’s always hard to know what to expect at the first long-course race of the North American season—and Ironman 70.3 Oceanside in southern California delivered even more drama than usual this year, with a few breakout performances and a sprint finish.

The drama was all in the men’s race—where the unheralded Jackson Laundry took the lead with less than a mile to go and charged hard for a win that looked like a shock even to him.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It doesn’t really sink in until you’re right there and there’s no one left to catch you.”

And then behind Laundry, Lionel Sanders and Rudy von Berg sprinted to the line in one of the closest finishes we’ve ever seen at long-course.

Until that final mile it actually looked like an event that would be locked up by double gold medalist Alistair Brownlee. Out of a large (very large) group on the swim, a bike pack slowly whittled down until at T2 it was Brownlee, Laundry, von Berg, and Ben Kanute. The pace on the run was blistering—and behind them, after losing his nutrition on the bike, Sanders was running even faster.

Ultimately, it became a race of seconds. Laundry and von Berg raced neck and neck, until the Canadian put in a surge for what seemed to be a lock on second. But he didn’t stop, he kept going faster and faster—catching Brownlee and putting down a sub-5:00 mile at the end of the 13.1. Behind him, Sanders had caught the suddenly struggling Brownlee and then reached von Berg with just hundreds of meters to go. They sprinted; Sanders outleaned.

It was a 1:10:11 run for Laundry v. a 1:10:55 run for von Berg and a 1:08:29 run for Sanders to come to the line shoulder-to-shoulder and collapse. In fourth, Brownlee slowed and came home with “just” a 1:11:04 run. That’s how close the day was.

Jackson Laundry took a surprise win over a stacked field. (Photo: Donald Miralle/IRONMAN)

In the women’s race, it was maybe less about the drama and more about a coronation. The 24-year-old Knibb controlled the swim, according to her competitors, clocking the fastest of the day (23:33 in choppy conditions); she got to the front of the bike after a slower transition to put on socks and then had the fastest bike of the day too (2:20:17); and then took out of T2 nearly three minutes in the lead and had only the 4th fastest run of the day (1:17:48) to win handily.

“Every time I do this distance, every race I learn something new,” said Knibb—who joked it took her a little while to learn to ride her new TT bike this winter. She’ll now head back to WTCS racing for the next few months, before hopefully returning to the long-course circuit in the fall and 70.3 Worlds—which she will likely enter as a favorite.

Of note: Knibb’s finish time of 4:06:32 was just 8% off of Laundry’s time (a rare feat) and would have placed 22nd in the men’s field.

RELATED: US Olympian and Collins Cup Star Taylor Knibb’s Workouts

If there were no surprises upfront, there were a few behind Knibb. In second place, riding a road bike and making the shift from draft-legal to mid-distance (and looking a lot like a young American doing the same last year) Luisa Baptista held her own consistently in second most of the day and held off Holly Lawrence on the run.

As for the nine-time world champ, Daniela Ryf: She finished originally around 10th with a 1:29 run—and conceded it was a warm-up for the Ironman World Championship in St. George next month, though she was “hoping for a bit of a faster warm-up than today.” But she was later disqualified for exceeding the speed limit on a downhill section of the bike course where race officials cap the speed and institute a “no passing zone” for safety reasons.

“It’s a tough race,” she said after, noting the women’s competition is getting tighter and tougher. “I did get a bit slower and I think the others got a bit faster.”

Want to watch the full race? While it was available live on Outside Watch, it will also be available on-demand to Outside+ members (as soon as it’s processed and uploaded) on the Outside Watch app and hereNot an Outside+ member? Become one today!

Stay tuned for more short interviews from the finish line on this week’s Triathlete Hour podcast.

Women’s 70.3 Oceanside results

  1. Taylor Knibb (US): 4:06:32
  2. Luisa Baptista (BRA): 4:08:45
  3. Holly Lawrence (GBR): 4:09:17
  4. Ashleigh Gentle (AUS): 4:12:21
  5. Jackie Hering (USA): 4:13:46

Men’s 70.3 Oceanside results

  1. Jackson Laundry (CAN): 3:45:00
  2. Lionel Sanders (CAN): 3:45:33
  3. Rody von Berg (USA): 3:45:33
  4. Alistair Brownlee (GBR): 3:45:55
  5. Ben Kanute (USA): 3:46:32

Full results will be available here.