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Ironman Lanzarote celebrates its 30th anniversary in style

We preview the 30th anniversary event in the Canary Islands - meet the inaugural winner and some of the pre-race favourites!

Photo by: James Mitchell

For 30 years it has been celebrated as the world’s toughest Ironman race. “Normal limits do not apply,” is the slogan the race often uses, and it’s true. A combination of a tough bike course that features almost 2,500 m of climbing and typically extreme winds followed by a rolling run course with 228 m of elevation that can be extremely hot (there’s practically no shade on the course) make for an extremely tough day of racing.

All of which seems to make it even more popular.

For those who aren’t familiar with Lanzarote, it is the most north and east of the Canary Islands, situated about 125 km off the north coast of Africa. The Ironman events on the island are backed by Club La Santa, a sports Mecca that has been going since the early 80s. Kenneth Gasque, who worked at Club La Santa, did the Ironman World Championship in 1985 and was amazed at how similar Lanzarote was to the Big Island in Hawaii. He worked tirelessly for years and eventually was able to get an Ironman license to host a full-distance qualifier on the island in 1992. Renowned for the tough biking conditions, Lanzarote has long been a go-to destination for many of Europe’s top professional triathletes over the years.

The race is unforgiving. Athletes hate it and love it at the same time. It’s an extremely fair course (sick of the person who seems to be too close to your wheel? Ride away on the next climb – it won’t be far) and, if you can get through it, you will truly have the right to “brag for the rest of your life,” as Commander John Collins said when he talked about finishing the very first Ironman in Hawaii in 1978.

Earlier this week Triathlon Magazine Canada editor Kevin Mackinnon caught up with Ben van Zelst, the first winner or Ironman Lanzarote in 1992 – you can check out the video of that conversation below:


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Yesterday’s press conference featured four of the athletes who will be worth keeping an eye on in tomorrow’s race:

Allesandro Degasperi (ITA) has won Ironman Lanzarote twice. Can he become the first person to win three titles? Photo: James Mitchell/ Club La Santa
Emma Bilham (SUI) won Ironman Ireland in 2019, is a two-time winner of the Alpe d’Huez triathlon – she loves challenging courses! Photo: James Mitchell/ Club La Santa
Bart Aernouts won Ironman Lanzarote in 2017 – he would go on to win Challenge Roth later that year, then take second in Kona in 2018. Photo: James Mitchell/ Club La Santa
Elisabetta Curridori (ITA) was fourth at the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships last year. She’s looking forward to completing this “bucket-list” event. Photo: James Mitchell/ Club La Santa

On the women’s side, in addition to Curridori and Bilham, Els Visser (NED) is another to watch closely – she’s been training up a storm in Gran Canaria with Nicola Spirig (she will be one of Spirig’s pacers in the Sub8 challenge next month) and does well on tough courses like this one.

There’s a deep men’s field, too, including former men’s champion Romain Guillaume. You can see the full pro list here.

There’s no live video coverage of the race in Lanzarote, but you can follow the race through the Ironman Tracker. We’ll have a recap of the day’s racing here, too.