Sam Laidlow, who has endured a rollercoaster season since his second-place finish at last year’s IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii, etched his name into the record books on Sunday by claiming the 2023 showpiece on home soil in Nice.
Having withdrawn from IRONMAN Lanzarote and struggled home in the minor places at Challenge Roth earlier in the season, Laidlow was then forced to DNF in Singapore only last month due to what transpired to be a bout of COVID at the PTO Tour Asian Open.
Despite all that, the massively talented 24-year-old was still able to put together a complete performance on Sunday to take the win against the odds in blistering conditions on the Cote d’Azur. He also became the youngest ever winner of the race in the process.
Coming out of the water in the front pack, breaking away on the bike and staying strong throughout the marathon, Laidlow proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is so much more than just a ‘one-hit wonder’ after his performance in Kona last year.
Swim – Marquardt leads the way
Beginning what felt like a new era of IRONMAN World Championship racing, the swim in Nice set the scene for the rest of the day as a number of big names faltered early on and a handful of contenders battled hard to stay with a small and select front pack.
Leading the way on his World Championship debut was Matthew Marquardt, who headed the front pack of 12 through the last sections of the 3800m swim course. The American, who had finished on the podium at IRONMAN Texas and IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene earlier this year, kept things honest at the front with a hard and fast tempo.
Of the front swim pack, pre-race favourites Braden Currie and Frodeno looked good and relaxed, as did French hopes Laidlow and Denis Chevrot. Holding on at the rear end of the pack, however, were Bradley Weiss and Clement Mignon, two athletes who had seemingly made the decision to burn a few matches early on in order to remain in contact with the leaders into transition.
Behind, the cracks had began to emerge after the halfway mark, where long time leader Laidlow had used the tougher conditions on the outward leg to the front group’s advantage and grown what had started out as a 30 second gap to +1:15 to the chasers, led by two-time IRONMAN World Champion Patrick Lange.
Alongside Lange, Pieter Heemeryck and Magnus Ditlev were both within 90 seconds of the front, as the first 24 athletes exited the water with less than a minute-and-a-half between them. Other notable athletes further in arrears were Cameron Wurf (+3:21), Matt Hanson (+5:20) and Joe Skipper (+5:33), as Skipper’s race in particular already looked to be over after a tough time in the water.
Bike – Laidlow dominates on home turf
Out on the bike, the French duo of Mignon and Laidlow were the first to seize the initiative and make a break for it, as the pair opened up a lead of over a minute to the rest of the front pack by the 26.7km mark. The likes of Frodeno and Currie, experienced veterans in World Championship racing, couldn’t follow the French duo up the road early on.
By the 53.3km mark, Laidlow and Mignon had grown their lead to +2:31 over the early climbs, with Dane Ditlev making his way into third after reeling in the rest of what had formerly been the front pack. Currie, Weiss and Italian Gregory Barnaby made up the rest of what had now been whittled down to just a quartet of chasers.
Losing Mignon by the 94.5km mark, Laidlow was now once again alone up front, just as he had been in Kona last October, as his compatriot fell back and Wurf moved up through the field to bolster a thinning chase pack ahead of the second half of the bike.
As Laidlow’s lead pushed closer to five minutes at the 129.5km mark, the gaps between the rest of the field had also continued to grow, with Rudy von Berg and Ditlev at +4:50 and Wurf further back in fourth at +6:22. Notably, Currie and Lange were over 10 minutes behind the lead as they started the long descent back towards town, with pre-race favourite Frodeno a little further down at +12:09 alongside American Marquardt.
Into transition, last year’s runner-up once again entered first, leading Ditlev and von Berg by more than five minutes and Wurf by almost seven. Further back, everyone else in the field was more than 11 minutes behind, with Leon Chevalier once again showing up on the biggest stage at +11:05, Mignon at +11:10 and Frodeno down in 11th at +13:02.
Run – Cat and mouse to the line
Out of the gates, Laidlow set out at a solid tempo to try and consolidate his lead over the rest of the field, with his buffer to Ditlev extending to over six minutes by the time he passed through the 5.2km mark. By now, Frodeno was out of the running but still soldiering on after a flare-up from an old injury, while Lange seeming to be the greatest threat to the guys up front.
The two-time World Champion, who managed the swim and bike well to set himself up for the type of blistering marathon he is capable of putting together, was up into fourth place by the 15.6km mark and whilst gaining on the podium, was still +10:27 to the leader Laidlow.
At the halfway mark, Lange was within two minutes of a flagging Rudy von Berg, after the German split a ridiculous 1:15:15 through the 21km mark, almost four minutes quicker than Laidlow up front. But unless disaster struck, it looked as if the Frenchman would have enough real estate to come home in front.
Passing von Berg just before the 30km mark and then Ditlev by the 34km mark, the chase was on at the front for Lange. Ditlev, despite fading, looked clear of von Berg for the final spot on the podium.
As Lange faded having moved into second, Laidlow looked home and dry over the final kilometres, as he made his way towards the finishing straight with the German a safe distance in his rear-view mirror.
At just 24 years old, Laidlow was able to enjoy the final stretch as he took the tape to become the 2023 IRONMAN World Champion.
IRONMAN World Championship 2023 Results
Sunday September 10, 2023 – Nice, France
- 1. Sam Laidlow (FRA) – 8:06:22
- 2. Patrick Lange (GER) – 8:10:17
- 3. Magnus Ditlev (DEN) – 8:11:43
- 4. Rudy von Berg (USA) – 8:12:57
- 5. Leon Chevalier (FRA) – 8:15:07
- 6. Arthur Horseau (FRA) – 8:18:36
- 7. Bradley Weiss (RSA) – 8:20:54
- 8. Gregory Barnaby (ITA) – 8:21:15
- 9. Robert Wilkowiecki (POL) – 8:21:23
- 10. Clement Mignon (FRA) – 8:24:10