It was a surprise to no one to see Great Britain’s Lucy Charles-Barclay leading the women’s pro race in Kona right from the start on Saturday morning. A four-time podium finisher at the Ironman World Championship (she has placed second in the past four races in Kona) and the swim course record holder (she swam a staggering best of 48:14 back in 2018), Charles-Barclay gave herself an early advantage in the race with a 49:36 swim.
After what has become a routine lead out of the water for Charles-Barclay, she found herself in T1 well over a minute ahead of her closest competitors. She smashed the swim in less-than-ideal conditions, averaging a pace of 1:18 per 100m. It would be 1:29 before the next athlete exited the water behind Charles-Barclay, with Haley Chura of the U.S. leading a chase pack that included fellow Americans Lauren Brandon and Kona rookie Taylor Knibb. Although new to full-distance Ironman racing, Knibb, the two-time defending Ironman 70.3 world champion, put herself in a great position out of the water, as she was within striking distance of Charles-Barclay.
The second chase group was much smaller, featuring just Sarah Crowley of Australia and Brazil’s Pamela Oliveira. They made it to T1 in 52 minutes, and by the time they started the bike, they were two and a half minutes behind Charles-Barclay. It was another 90 seconds or so before the next athlete, New Zealand’s Hannah Berry, made it to the swim exit, clocking a 53:39 split and heading solo into T1.
🇬🇧 Lucy Charles-Barclay makes it look effortless 😮💨
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A long string of 11 women followed Berry out of the water 20 seconds later, including defending Ironman world champion Chelsea Sodaro of the U.S., Germany’s 2019 world champion Anne Haug and Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf, a five-time winner in Kona. By the time they made it out of T1, these three women sat in 11th, 15th and 21st, respectively. Sodaro was just over four minutes behind Charles-Barclay, Haug was 4:20 back and Ryf was five minutes behind.
These are significant gaps, but they are far from insurmountable for any of the three athletes, especially considering the fact that Sodaro was in a similar position in last year’s race when she exited the water 3:50 behind Charles-Barclay. It is still anyone’s race to win, and it will all come down to who has the legs to ride strong into T2 and the grit to hold it together on the run course.