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Your In-Depth 70.3 Oceanside Pro Race Preview

Alistair Brownlee? Lionel Sanders? Daniela Ryf? Taylor Knibb? Triathlete's editors share their picks for the deepest pro race of the 2022 North American season so far.

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2022 is going to be an unusual year. The pro race calendar is not only condensed, but also multiplied due to two Ironman world championships—St. George in May and Kona in October. This means pros will be looking sharper, earlier than almost any other year in the history of the sport. As a result, 70.3 Oceanside has one of the deepest fields ever for an early season race.

See the full start list here. Some notable names like Ben Kanute, Lionel Sanders, and Alistair Brownlee (just to name a few)—alongside Daniela Ryf, Paula Findlay, Holly Lawrence, Heather Jackson, Ashleigh Gentle, and Taylor Knibb—will undoubtably make this a race to remember. In such a deep field, who should you watch? Don’t worry, the four editors at Triathlete are here to help with their picks and best-guesses on how the race will play out.

Want to watch the race? It’s being streamed live on Outside Watch starting at 6 a.m. PT on Saturday.

Kelly O'Mara

Kelly O’Mara

Editor-In-Chief

How It’ll Play Out: The Women

Yes, there are super swimmers like Lauren Brandon in the mix here, but since the race start got moved back to the ocean-side (get it?) of the harbor a few years ago, conditions can be choppy and rough through the first half. And that always makes it interesting. I expect the ocean swim to level the field a bit more than we usually see, and the swimmers accustomed to rough starts (see: all of the World Triathlon circuit athletes) will excel. That means Taylor Knibb, Ashleigh Gentle, Paula Findlay, and Pamella Oliveira are likely to form a group—with Holly Lawrence, Daniela Ryf, and potentially Chelsea Sodaro right behind.

In past years we wouldn’t have been surprised to see Ryf ride up through the field, eliminate whatever minor gap she had over the hills of SoCal, and be far ahead by the time she got off her bike. But I don’t think that’s how it’ll go this year. Gentle and Knibb can ride their bikes really really well—and seem to be in great form for April. They’ll stay away to T2, while those hoping to catch up or keep up burn matches. No one is beating Gentle on the run (IMO) and it’ll just be a question of whether Findlay, Lawrence, Ryf, or a speedy runner like Sodaro can close on Knibb. I’m betting one of them can and we end up with: Gentle, Findlay, Knibb, Ryf, Lawrence in that order. Controversial, but there you have it.

How It’ll Play Out: The Men

Here’s my bold bet for the men: Alistair Brownlee doesn’t show up to a race he doesn’t think he can win. Sure, we haven’t seen him in awhile and I believe he had foot surgery in that time, but if he took a flight to Oceanside then he did it because he knows he’s capable of breaking the tape. While there are some (a lot of) athletes on the start list who can do it, Brownlee will be hard to beat on Saturday.

The men’s race is, for better or worse, more of a mixed bag than the women’s—with what’s likely to be a huge pack on the bike. I won’t be shocked if we see 10-15 athletes together, legally spaced of course, all the way to T2. In that group look for Ben Kanute, Brownlee, Sam Appleton, Rudy von Berg, Chris Leiferman, Ben Hoffman, and Eric Lagerstrom. And, yes, Lionel Sanders will be chasing them down—but I just don’t know how he closes on that much fire power. Leads will change, duels will be fought, Jason West will run many of them down, but to the line my picks are: Brownlee, von Berg (what? yes!), Kanute, Appo.

Chris Foster

Chris Foster

Executive Editor

How It’ll Play Out: The Women

While the men’s race has lots of leg-specific specialists that could make for a good back-and-forth, the women’s race is a little different. We’ve got returning 70.3 Oceanside winner Paula Findlay and five-time 70.3 world champion Daniela Ryf—though both have seen pretty mixed form over the last year. On the other hand, we’ve also got some up-and-coming all rounders like Ashleigh Gentle and Taylor Knibb, both with WTS backgrounds and both putting the old-guard of long-course ladies on notice.

Assuming no one gets washed out in the waves (I’d give the Aussie Gentle and superswimmer Pamella Oliveira the edge in that case), I’d expect to see a battle from the gun between the aforementioned swimmers and Lauren Brandon until T2, where Gentle and Knibb could make it an epic battle on foot. Tough call, but I give the edge to Knibb, with Gentle just behind, and the podium being rounded out by a long-course vet like Holly Lawrence or Skye Moench or relative newbie Ruth Astle.

How It’ll Play Out: The Men

The men’s race is loaded with great swimmers, great bikers, great runners, and even more than a few guys who can put it all together. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet on a small group off the front—especially if the surf is breaking big. Expect Kanute, Brownlee, and Appleton plus any other WTS-rooted boys to hit T1 first. Since the first half of the bike is fairly flat, I’d expect that group to work together to hopefully limit losses to the bikers emerging from the water a few minutes behind. On the bike, I’m guessing we’ll see big movers like Sanders, Leiferman, and a few others like Dreitz, Aernouts, and West make up some ground through the first half, but really attack the hills between miles 29 and 36 in Camp Pendleton.

Anyone who hasn’t blown apart on the hills (and tucked in tight on the descent back into Oceanside) will have to deal with the run legs of Brownlee, West, and Leiferman. My money? Brownlee tucks in through the first part of the bike, and if he’s fit, grinds up the climb to limit his losses to the superbikers. If anyone’s within three minutes of him in T2, I expect him to run them down for the win. On the rest of the podium, I’m saying West (his time has come), and a bike/runner like Leiferman or even someone creeping up through the field that we haven’t mentioned, like David McNamee.

Emma-Kate Lidbury

Emma-Kate Lidbury

Managing Editor

How It’ll Play Out: The Women

There’s been a longstanding joke that Oceanside is the spring world championships—and this year it legitimately is. The women’s field is red hot with plenty of well-established talent as well as an exciting mix of fresh faces. It’s this that will give the women’s race, in particular, an edge to it that we’ve not seen for a while. The Oceanside swim rewards the stronger open-water athletes and Holly Lawrence definitely fits that bill (plus this is practically her backyard), but so, too, does new-on-the-scene Ashleigh Gentle. After her cool, calm, and collected performance at Clash Miami, you can expect Gentle to have the bullseye on her back, and I’d expect to see her in the front pack coming out of the water, together with Lawrence, Pamella Oliveira, Taylor Knibb, and Paula Findlay.

With a solid winter’s training banked (on top of her extraordinary breakthrough 2021 season), I think we can expect to see something remarkable from Knibb here. (Note: her coach Ian O’Brien hinted earlier in the week that she’s in great form.) She’ll likely ride conservatively through the first half of the bike, playing a smart and strategic game to see who’s still with her before turning up the heat in the latter half of the ride. Of course, we have no idea which version of Daniela Ryf we might see here on Saturday: if she’s pulled on her Invincible Suit, it could make for a very interesting ride-run combo. Although Ryf will be in the chase pack out of the water, she’ll have some strong company (cue Ruth Astle) to potentially help her bridge up to the women up the road. If that happens, ultimately it could become a foot race between Ryf, Knibb, and Gentle—likely with Lawrence not quite having her full in-season form to hang just yet (although Holly, I’d love to see you prove me wrong!). I’m going to say it’ll be Knibb crossing the line first, with Gentle in second, and Ryf in third.

How It’ll Play Out: The Men

There’s some seriously strong swim talent on this men’s start line, so I’m expecting to see this race go OFF from the gun—and never let up. Alistair Brownlee, Ben Kanute, Sam Appleton, Rudy Von Berg, and Jason West are just a few of the names we’ll likely see hitting T1 first—and the strongest of these cyclists are undoubtedly going to hit it hard right from the mount line too. While we might see Brownlee trying to get away—especially on the hills mid-way through the bike course—I don’t think the likes of Kanute and Appo are going to let him, or, if they do, they’ll be really trying to limit their losses. There will, of course, be a fast-charging cavalry behind these guys—the uber bikers working hard to bridge up—most likely led by the likes of Lionel Sanders, Andreas Dreitz, and Chris Leiferman, but with the withdrawal of Sam Long, I think the dynamic of this pack will be a little different and not pack quite as powerful a punch as it might have. I think the real race will be happening up the road, with those front-pack swimmers holding their own into T2. From there? Honestly, I think it’ll be a battle between Brownlee, Appo, and Kanute, with Von Berg and/or West surprising us.

Susan Lacke

Susan Lacke

Digital Editor

How It’ll Play Out: The Men

Look for Brownlee, Appleton, and Kanute to lead out of the water, but they’re going to have to hold their own on the bike against the likes of Sanders, Aernouts, and Von Berg, who will surely make some big moves. And then contend with Brownlee on the run—one super-fast, super-strategic runner.

Then again, when it comes to making bets, I pick my triathlon winners like I do my horses at the track: by the best name, which is why I’m putting all my money on Tripp Hipple.

How It’ll Play Out: The Women

Can Ashleigh Gentle pull off another win so soon after her dominant performance at Clash Miami? I want to say yes, but the combination of hard racing and heat in Miami, coupled with cross-country travel, makes me wonder how much of a factor she’ll be in Oceanside. Instead, I’ve got my eye on Paula Findlay to defend her title. When healthy, she’s one of the most well-rounded athletes out there, and she seems to have rebounded from the injuries that sidelined her for much of 2021. She’s rested and ready to go, and I am here for it.

If you look at her splits from last year (a 26:14 swim, 2:20:31 bike, and 1:21:43 run), it’s pretty clear Findlay can hold her own against a super-stacked field. There’s no denying the star power in this race—Brandon, Oliveira, and Knibb will make the swim a thrilling one; Ryf will do Ryf things on the bike (but I suspect her real focus is on St. George, not this race); and Jewett is more than capable of throwing down a 1:15 half marathon to run her way through the field. If Findlay can stay steady through all of that, I think we could see a repeat of her podium performance.

But if we’re applying the pony-racing principles to these predictions, I’m betting on a different Canadian: Dominika Jamnicky. (It’s fun to say, especially when you’ve got a cowbell and pom-poms.)