NICE, France (Sept. 10, 2023) – History was made on the Côte de Azur on Sunday, as the first-ever VinFast IRONMAN World Championship to take place in Europe unfolded in Nice, France. It was Sam Laidlow, racing for France, who enjoyed a dominant victory on home soil. Laidlow used a 47:50 swim, a race-best 4:31:28 bike, and a strong 2:41:46 run to improve on his runner-up performance in Kona last year to become the youngest winner of the IRONMAN World Championship in the events 40+ year history.
The professional men set out on the two-lap, non-wetsuit swim held in the azure water of the Mediterranean Sea with calm conditions. It wasn’t long before the field split up into two packs. Braden Currie (NZL) lead the first group, but Sam Laidlow (FRA) got to the front at the first turn and put the pressure on. The leading pack consisted of 10 athletes, German Jan Frodeno soon showed his motivation to not get left behind and chased Laidlow and Gregory Barnaby (ITA) swimming side by side with Currie.
The chase group was about 10 to 15 meters behind, with Pieter Heemeryck (BEL), Cameron Wurf (AUS) and Kristian Hogenhaug (DNK) in the front. After the 3.8 km swim, the first out of the water was Matthew Marquard (USA) in 47:46 who closed the gap from behind. He left the water shoulder to shoulder with Currie and Frodeno in second position.
Marquardt had a quick transition and was first onto the bike course, followed by Niek Heldoorn (NLD) who quickly took over the lead. On the flat, opening kilometers of the bike course, Laidlow powered to the front, looking strong when chasing Heldoorn on the first climb. Braden Currie (NLZ), Jan Frodeno (DEU), Marquardt and Rudy von Berg (USA)—a half-local who grew up in Cannes before moving to Colorado for college and is very familiar with the tough bike course—put the chase on. At 12 km, Clement Mignon (FRA) made an aggressive move to the front and took over the lead. As this course is said to be his training ground, he was in a confident position. But on a course with so many variables, strategy was at play: One move was made by Laidlow as he rode by Mignon. The two locals had some exchanges in the lead on the most challenging part of the course.
The two French athletes built their gap to the chase group and at 27 km there was already a one-minute deficit. Currie, Weiss, Barnaby, von Berg and Frodeno tried to keep up, but the gap only got bigger at this very early stage in the race. Von Berg also showed that the local knowledge was very powerful, nevertheless Weiss came up only shortly after him.
After finishing the steepest climbs Mignon led the race, but both he and Laidlow seemed to be very aggressive. The gap between them and Ditlev, von Berg and Weiss was now over two minutes.
Laidlow, who is said to be a strong technical rider, pushed hard and showed his strengths, eventually outpacing Mignon, who fell back more and more. Von Berg, Ditlev and Wurf in the chase pack saw the gap grow constantly with five minutes at 130 km.
Laidlow put on an impressive performance on the challenging bike course, with a remarkable 4:31:28 bike split. His chasers came into transition with a huge gap: Rudy von Berg at 5:16 down, Magnus Ditlev at 5:53, Cameron Wurf at 7:17, and Léon Chevalier at 11:05.
At the beginning of the marathon, the head and tail winds on the four-loop course along the Promenade des Anglais were very demanding, and the temperatures were heating up as did the race itself. Laidlow started the run strong with a head start of more than five minutes. He demonstrated a fluid style, despite overcoming recent injuries and COVID just three weeks ago.
At 3.5 km, Ditlev ran past von Berg and stayed in second position, but von Berg began to fall back kilometer by kilometer. There was big focus on former world champion, Patrick Lange (DEU) who started the run with an almost 13-minute deficit. While Laidlow ran very smoothly, Lange started to increase his pace. At 15 km he’d run into fourth position, but still with a 10-minute gap to Laidlow. He flew by von Berg at 28 km and it became clear that he would take over Ditlev’s position as well. At 34 km, the race got a new second position when Lange caught Ditlev.
Laidlow stayed focused and no one was able to catch him. The 24-year-old athlete soared across the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship finish line in 8:06:22.
Lange finished second at 8:10:17 with an incredible run split of 2:32:41 the fastest ever in the IRONMAN World Championship. Magnus Ditlev completed the podium in 8:41:07 with von Berg taking fourth and Léon Chevalier, earning fifth.
Laidlow said that he had dreamed of this moment his whole life: “I am so grateful. It was a long season. Sometimes it’s just the least you expect. Today I just had great legs. There has never been a French World Champion and I hope that I will be just one of many.”
Lange stated that he was happy with his race as well: “It would have taken a miracle to catch this guy [Laidlow],” he said.
Ditlev commented: “I am super proud of the way I fought. I kept staying positive, it was such a hard day, so I am super proud that I have made it to the podium.”
Top Five Pro Men
|1. Sam Laidlow||FRA||00:47:50||04:31:28||02:41:46||08:06:22|
|2. Patrick Lange||DEU||00:49:01||04:43:24||02:32:41||08:10:17|
|3. Magnus Ditlev||DNK||00:49:14||04:35:52||02:41:07||08:11:43|
|4.Rudy von Berg||USA||00:47:50||04:37:23||02:42:44||08:12:57|
|5. Léon Chevalier||FRA||00:51:11||04:39:30||02:39:26||08:15:07|