SAM LAIDLOW BECOMES YOUNGEST-EVER MEN’S IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPION
Sam Laidlow Achieves Historic Feat as the Youngest-Ever Men’s Ironman World Champion
In a sun-drenched setting in Nice, Sam Laidlow, hailing from Bedfordshire, etched his name into the annals of Ironman history by becoming the youngest-ever winner of the men’s Ironman World Championship. Representing France in the first full-distance Ironman worlds held outside of North America, the 24-year-old showcased his mastery of swim, bike, and run disciplines, surpassing his runner-up finish in Hawaii in October, where Gustav Iden narrowly defeated him.
Even the formidable Patrick Lange, a two-time Ironman champion known for his superb marathon runs, couldn’t thwart Laidlow’s dominance on the Promenade des Anglais. Lange delivered a remarkable marathon performance to finish second, finally besting his nemesis Magnus Ditlev from Denmark.
Laidlow posted an impressive swim time of 47:50, followed by a 4:31:28 bike leg, and then completed a stunning 2:41:46 marathon, securing a total time of 3:55 to clinch victory over the 37-year-old Lange. The final standings also featured Rudy Von Berg from the USA in fourth place and Frenchman Leon Chevalier, based in Bath, finishing in fifth.
However, the day didn’t go as planned for some Ironman legends. Three-time Ironman champion Jan Frodeno faced difficulties on the bike and finished well down the field in 24th place. Likewise, Britain’s Joe Skipper had a challenging day, struggling from the start and eventually finishing the marathon with a jog.
As the sun began to rise over the Cote d’Azur in the early morning hours, the men took center stage in Nice for the 2.4-mile swim. With a balmy water temperature of 24.8 degrees Celsius, wetsuits were prohibited for participants. The race featured an in-water start due to the rough pebble-laden shoreline.
Braden Currie from New Zealand led the initial charge, holding the lead for the first half-mile before Sam Laidlow of France moved to take the front position. Laidlow’s surge started to break up the field, with Italy’s Gregory Barnaby closely trailing. Currie and Frodeno slotted in behind as the course looped near the shore before heading for the final 1.2-mile stretch.
Matt Marquardt from the USA was the first to reach the timing mat in 47:46 as part of the front group of 12, which included pre-race favourites like Rudy Von Berg from the USA, Denis Chevrot from France, and Mignon, the World Triathlon long course world champion. A second pack of 12, led by two-time world champion Lange, featured strong bikers like Ditlev, Kristian Hogenhaug from Denmark, and Belgian Pieter Heemeryck.
The day did not start favourably for Frodeno, who had a mishap in transition resulting in a torn race suit. Mignon and Laidlow made an early break, surging ahead of the pack just before the major climb, the Col de l’Ecre, around 26 miles into the bike leg. Meanwhile, Frodeno began to lose ground, falling 5 minutes behind a third of the way through the ride.
While Mignon and Laidlow set the pace, Ditlev, known for his preference for challenging bike courses, matched their speed, moving into third place. Ineos Grenadiers’ Cameron Wurf also held his ground and entered the top 10.
Lange remained in striking distance, but Skipper had a difficult day, trailing by more than 14 minutes.
Laidlow increased his lead during the bike leg, opening a 2-minute gap over Mignon as they approached the only out-and-back section of the course. Several French athletes and Von Berg, who had extensively trained in the region, were comfortably positioned in the top 10.
Currie received a setback as he was penalized 5 minutes for littering while running in sixth place.
As Laidlow descended towards transition, memories of his record-setting bike performance in Hawaii last year resurfaced. He entered T2 with a lead of just over 6 minutes, a lead he maintained in Nice, crossing the line with a 5:16 gap over Von Berg on the Promenade des Anglais, ready for the marathon.
Ditlev followed in third place, 5 minutes and 53 seconds behind, trailed by Wurf at 7 minutes and 17 seconds and Chevalier at 11 minutes and 5 seconds. Lange, meanwhile, was 12 minutes and 29 seconds behind, hoping for a comeback akin to Mark Allen’s legendary run in 1995.
The punishing sun and grueling asphalt provided no respite as Laidlow embarked on the marathon, aiming to outdo his previous year’s performance. The leading contenders maintained a similar pace for the first five miles, with Lange in eighth place, making up just 40 seconds on the leader.
Athletes could gauge the gaps as they turned around on the four-lap course. By the halfway point, Laidlow had managed to maintain his 5-minute buffer.
Frodeno, in his retirement race, handed out high-fives to supporters, while Skipper pushed hard to improve his position. As the race entered its final stages, Lange made a late charge for a podium finish but never came close to closing the gap on Laidlow, who secured a memorable victory.
Ironman World Championship Final Results:
Rudy Von Berg