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A master class in racing was held in St. George, Utah this morning during the women’s pro race at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. The instructor: 24 year-old Taylor Knibb, who delivered a confident and commanding swim, bike, and run to take the win in 4:03:20.
2022 70.3 Worlds Women’s Race: The Swim
After much speculation about whether or not the swim would be shortened after a cold front moved through southern Utah on race week, race morning arrived with 63 degree F water temperatures and the full 1.2-mile swim. Naturally, many assumed this would work to the advantage of defending champion Lucy Charles-Barclay, who is known for building a considerable lead in any swim leg she races. But instead of surging to the front as usual, she found she had company: Lotte Wilms of the Netherlands and American Taylor Knibb were on her feet. At the halfway point, Wilms surged to attempt a pass, and Charles-Barclay matched her speed; Knibb held on in the draft, eventually reeling the two back in. The trio powered through to the swim exit, with Charles-Barclay’s 23:50 swim split just barely edging out Wilms’ 23:51 at the first timing mat; Knibb followed in 23:54.
Meanwhile, a chase group of five, led by Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, exited the water 30 seconds down. The group included Brit Holly Lawrence and Australia’s Ellie Salthouse; a minute down from the lead saw a third pack, which included Emma Pallant-Browne (GBR), Paula Findlay (CAN) and Julie Iemmolo (FRA).
2022 70.3 Worlds Women’s Race: The Bike
With air temperatures hovering around 38 degrees F at the start of the bike leg, it was clear the race would belong to the one who could best manage the cold. Clad in gloves and thermal cycling attire, Knibb wasted no time taking charge on the bike leg, moving to the front within the first mile. With an average speed of 28.2 MPH in the first 20 miles, Knibb’s lead only grew: one minute at mile 10, 2:30 at mile 20.
But Knibb wasn’t the only one moving quickly. Duffy also pushed hard in the initial miles of the bike, shooting out of the rolling hills of Sand Hollow with laser-like focus to move into second place by mile 10. Behind her, India Lee (GBR) and Findlay were the only athletes to match Knibb’s blistering pace, and they were each rewarded with a Duffy pass and a turn at second place before mile 30.
But speed wasn’t the only storyline to follow in the chase pack, as Lawrence showed tactical smarts in making aggressive passes. The effort paid off in the form of a five-minute penalty for Lee, who was called out for blocking when she failed to drop back during an overtaking attempt by Lawrence. With Lee counting precious minutes in the penalty box, the chase pack of Findlay, Duffy, Charles-Barclay, and Lawrence were left to battle for position.
At mile 40, Charles made her move, pushing back into second place with Findlay and Duffy close behind as they entered Snow Canyon. Lawrence, spent from the cold and the early charge, was unable to respond and fell behind.
Within the walls of Snow Canyon, Knibb’s lead only grew. With almost five minutes on the chase pack, the young American sailed up the notoriously steep climbs; behind her, Findlay, then Duffy, then Charles-Barclay (again) attempted to drop the hammer, but no one was willing to give up the fight. As the three crested Snow Canyon and powered to T2, they were greeted by Knibb, who was already well into the run course. The message was unspoken, but clear: Knibb’s impossibly fast 2:14:41 bike split had given her a lead of six minutes and 44 seconds. Would anyone be able to bridge the gap?
2022 70.3 Worlds Women’s Race: The Run
From the first steps out of T2, it was clear that Knibb saw the run as a mere formality to the win. With a consistent 5:58 min/mile pace, Knibb’s lead grew – and grew, and grew. By mile 4, she had more than 7:30 over her closest competition.
Though the victory was all but decided, there was still an intense race going on to see who would get boxed out of the podium. Duffy, Findlay, and Charles-Barclay ran as a pack, each daring the others to make a move.
At the halfway point, Charles-Barclay began to fall back, and Duffy’s form began to show signs of fatigue. Findlay, sensing it was time to make a move, began to slowly pull ahead. Over the course of the next three miles, she was able to put in more than 40 seconds on Duffy and Charles. But an out-and-back section of the course revealed that those two weren’t the only competitors Findlay had to worry about – a hard-charging Pallant-Browne was clocking 5:56 min/mile splits in hopes of running her way from ninth place off the bike and onto the final podium. She made easy work of it, overtaking Duffy and Charles in the final mile of the race.
In the end, Knibb’s 1:21:48 run and 4:03:20 finishing time was more than enough to stamp her name on the history books as the youngest woman to win the title of Ironman 70.3 World Champion. Findlay followed in 4:08:57, and Pallant-Browne rounded out the podium with a run split of 1:17:45 and an overall finishing time of 4:10:45.
“I’m just grateful to have executed a good swim, bike and run. I just wanted to get to the finish line…and I can’t believe I made it,” Knibb said after the race. “I’m like, ‘Just follow your plan, because this will get you to the finish line fastest, safest, and best.”
“I felt surprisingly great on the run, which doesn’t happen often,” said Findlay. “I just tried to stay in the moment. Taylor was amazing, and everyone I raced with, I respect so much.”
“I’ve had really bad world championships, and you start to question yourself,” said Pallant-Browne. “So it’s good to be on the podium again.”
Ironman 70.3 World Championship: Pro Women’s Race Results