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Terrific Taylor, no doubting ‘No Limits’ and RaceRanger pain: What we learned from Oceanside

Triathlon great Mark Allen reports from IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside and provides the expert post-event analysis

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The IRONMAN Pro Series kicked off last weekend in Oceanside, California. This event has historically attracted top-tier athletes, with past champions including renowned athletes like Daniela Ryf and Mirinda Carefrae, Leo Bergere and Jan Frodeno. It’s been a big draw for years.

But the actual number of pros in the race have not been eye-popping. In the past, the fields have spread out over a number of races all taking place around this same general timeframe. The strategy with that was figuring out where to go where you had a good chance of making the podium. A podium finish opens doors for future sponsorship and brings the immediate lucrative payoff of the prize earnings that are always top-heavy.

So what did we learn from the 2024 edition of 70.3 Oceanside?

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Lesson Learned: The IRONMAN Pro Series has legs

This year was different. We saw a massive bump in pro participation. More than 40 women and more than 80 men put their names on the start list. Clearly the decision to race wasn’t based on the handful who thought they had a chance to podium. Number 81 on the men’s start list? No chance.

The answer to what brought that bump in my opinion was pretty simple. It was the first race where athletes could earn overall points which will accrue for what could be a very big payday at the end of the season for anyone who sits high on the IRONMAN Pro Series rankings. With a few decent finishes, an athlete well down on the start list could end up earning a nice paycheck at the end of the year.

Lesson Learned: The world is playing catchup to Taylor Knibb

She’s a two-time IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion. She crushed Daniela Ryf riding a road frame in their Collins Cup heat matchup in 2021.  She was the first person to qualify for the US Olympic team in triathlon going to Paris 2024 this summer. She finished fourth in Kona in her first race there last October – something she categorised as a “fact-finding mission”. She seems to be able to not just win but dominate when she puts her mind to it.

Oceanside was another confirmation of her commanding ability. Her margin of victory over a hard-charging second place finisher Emma Pallant-Browne was10:53. That’s a chunk!

Her time was so fast in comparison to the rest of the women’s that only 12 other women finished within the maximum amount of time they could finish behind her (41:40) and actually qualify for points. Taylor’s time was also faster than 34 of the pro men finishers!

And don’t expect her to become easier to catch any time soon. Taylor’s sentiments after the race were that she still had a lot of work to do!

taylor knibb wins oceanside 2024 Photo credit: Donald Miralle / IRONMAN
The incredible Taylor Knibb was a class apart in Oceanside on Saturday [Photo credit: Donald Miralle / IRONMAN]

Lesson Learned: Never doubt Lionel Sanders.

He had a big run of years where he seems on track to win the biggest days in our sport. His results page is littered with first and seconds going all the way back to 2014. But then 2022 hit. He’d engaged Mikal Iden to coach him, but he had an abysmal 35th-place finish that year at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.  He vowed recently that we wouldn’t see him at the start line until he’d figured things out and gotten back on track.

We saw Lionel’s triumphant return this past weekend. His swim was in my opinion the best of his career. That set him up for less work to get to the front on the bike (a position he’d lost the ability to get into recently). And then he unleashed a blistering run leaving no doubt about his ability to be the best on any given day.

His run split of 1:10:40 bettered that of second-place Sam Long, who had showed at the Miami T100 that he is in GREAT run form, by 1:22. He bettered third place Jackson Laundry, also known for his run, by 1:53. Indeed, never doubt Lionel’s ability to find the answer to his woes and come up with a priceless victory.

Lesson Learned: Growing pains for RaceRanger

We found out just days before the race that IRONMAN would not be using RaceRanger to assist with drafting here. The still promising technology didn’t pass its prerace testing. No controversial drafting calls were made in the pro field fortunately. But we all look forward to welcoming the technology as a standard piece in non-drafting races.

Lesson Learned: Triathlon is having a resurgence

Transition areas tell a lot about the state and health of triathlons. If the transitions shrink that’s not a good sign. It means less people are actually racing. If they grow, that’s a good sign. Oceanside had a massive transition area and over 3,000 people toeing the line. That’s a good sign!

A second sign of what’s going on is to look at the actual bikes in transition. What I saw in Oceanside was a shocker! I am used to the transition area being a pristine collection of the latest and most expensive high-tech time-trial bikes on the planet. This is not what I saw last weekend.

The transition area had literally hundreds of bikes without aero bars or aero wheels. There was even a shockingly large number of bikes without clipless pedals. They had old-fashioned toe straps with the shoes in waiting that were running shoes. To me that screams out there’s a tidal wave of new people coming into the sport this year. And that’s a great sign for all of us!

Mark Allen
Written by
Mark Allen
Mark Allen has to be in any conversation about the greatest triathlete of all time. A six-time IRONMAN World Champion, he won every other title that mattered in the sport and dominated like few others

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