2022 should, pandemic permitting, be a triathlon year like no other – with not one but two versions of the IRONMAN World Championship.
This week Mark Allen sets the scene for the first as we embark on the Road To St George with the six-times IRONMAN World Champion.
“The return to Kona is scheduled to happen in October, but before that we have the delayed 2021 IRONMAN World Championship in St George on May 7.
“I think it’s going to be the most complex race to win anywhere in 2022. The most complex event, especially at the Ironman distance. There are a number of reasons for this – and I want to focus on a few of them here.
The sands of time
“The last time an Ironman World Championship took place was in October 2019, three years go. A lot has changed in three years – think about yourself three years ago, physically, emotionally, mentally – who you were then, who you are today.
“None of the pros have raced each other en masse since 2019 in an Ironman distance race. Yes there have been some classic battles – we had the Tri Battle Royale with Lionel Sanders vs Jan Frodeno. There’s been a lot of individual races where there were great matchups, but it’s only one or two or three people.
“Every athlete who has raced in Kona has a memory of what that big competition feels like. What happened then is not what’s going to happen in 2022. Each one of the athletes is going to have to adapt to rivals they may never have faced in an Ironman race. Gustav Iden, Kristian Blummenfelt, the list is huge.
“On top of that it’s a course that none of the athletes have mastered in the way they have in Kona. If you’re a newcomer going to Hawaii in October, you have years and years of footage you can look back at.
“You can see the course, understand how athletes have explained their strategy of how to have a great race there. That’s not available for St George.
“That means the athletes are going to have to come up with a race template that nobody has done before. It will be interesting to see who has done their homework.
“Some of the athletes have raced in St George before, at the 70.3 World Championship last September, but not at the full Ironman distance.
“It is going to be the athlete who not only is prepared to win physically, but is also willing to adapt their strategy on the day based on what is actually happening.
Timing adds another wrinkle
“The final thing which adds even more complexity, is that it’s a big, big race in May. It’s much harder to win a big race in May than it is to win a big race at the end of the season.
“If you are racing an entire triathlon season, you pace yourself. Those who win Kona have peaked their fitness in October. They don’t have that same peak of fitness in May – if they do it’s very hard to maintain it through to October.
“In history, most athletes who win in October have been building their fitness throughout the season. That means there are going to be other athletes who have started early, they don’t care and they’re going to give everything they have in May.
“Where is each pro going to be on that level of seasonal fitness vs just going for it in St George because maybe they don’t feel like they have a real shot of winning in Kona.
“We’ll find out the answers to these questions (and many more) on May 7, but until then I’ll continue to give you my take on where this race could be won and lost, and by who.”