After the cancellation of Ironman California just over a week ago, the pro athletes registered for that race were given the opportunity to register for Ironman Florida, which means we’ll see both a pro men’s and women’s field in Panama City Beach this weekend. While we won’t see the much anticipated showdown between defending Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno and two-time defending Ironman 70.3 world champion Gustav Iden, we will get to see Iden make his full-distance debut against Lionel Sanders and Cameron Wurf.
Iden’s full-distance debut
Iden was the first pro to announce that he’d be heading to Florida, making it pretty clear that he’s excited to take on his first full-distance race. It’s been quite a year for the Norwegian, who took the biggest race of 2020 when he won the PTO 2020 Championship that was part of Challenge Daytona last December, then set his sights on the Olympics in Tokyo before gearing up to defend his 70.3 world title in St. George.
Now that Frodeno won’t be in the mix, Iden will likely be amongst the leaders coming out of the water in Panama City Beach, which means he’ll get to wait for the Sanders and Wurf train to come on through rather than find himself chasing early in the bike. As with many moving up from Olympic- and half-distance racing, Iden will have to remain patient both on the bike and through the first 30 km of the run, which seemingly won’t be a challenge as he’s displayed that ability repeatedly in his 70.3 worlds wins and also in Daytona last year. The pressure will be on Wurf and Sanders to push the pace on the bike, too, so he’ll be in a position of just having to mark their moves rather than driving the pace at the front.
An extra two weeks of recovery should be helpful for Sanders, who has done four full-distance races this year, one of those coming a week before a gutsy performance at the Collins Cup – his runner-up finish to Cameron Wurf at Ironman Copenhagen. Wurf is also racing in Florida and will no-doubt be looking for a repeat performance.
Wurf’s favourite bike strategy will work very well for Iden in his debut – the Australian likes to build through the race, pushing the pace over the last half of the 180 km ride. If Iden can stay in the mix for at least two-thirds of the bike without losing too much ground over the last part of the ride, he’ll be in a great position to try and run the Australian down. Iden seemingly has the potential to run the fastest marathon of the men in the field, so Wurf and Sanders will want to have a decent gap starting the marathon.
Sanders, though, has experience in Florida – it was the site of his first full-distance win as a pro in 2014. (The swim was cancelled that day and Sanders’ 2:44 marathon got him to the finish line almost 20 minutes ahead of Great Britain’s Tom Lowe.) When it comes to head-to-head racing, Sanders is amongst the best – so it would be foolish to count him out if he finds himself running alongside Iden or Wurf.
Are there other men likely to top the podium? France’s Arnaud Guilloux took third in Austria and second at Lake Placid this year and could be in the mix, as could American Justin Metzler, who was second at Ironman Coeur d’Alene earlier this year.
One other Canadian on the men’s pro list is 2019 Ultraman world champion Jordan Bryden.
Strong Canadian contingent
The Florida race was originally supposed to be a women’s-only pro race and had attracted a strong field. American Heather Jackson will wear race number 1, but she’s one of a number of women who could end up on the top of the podium. Switzerland’s Imogen Simmonds hasn’t quite dialled in a full-distance performance as of yet, but finished second at the 2019 Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt in her debut and took third at Ironman Finland earlier this year. The woman who beat her in Frankfurt, Canadian-born American Skye Moench (hey, can we be blamed for trying to claim her as Canadian?) is likely the pre-race favourite based on recent performances including the win at Ironman Chattanooga and the latest PTO rankings, where she sits eighth.
The start list also includes a number of multiple full-distance champions like New Zealand’s Hannah Wells, Denmark’s Michelle Vesterby, Australia’s Carrie Lester, along with Americans Jocelyn McCauley and Linsey Corbin.
Canada is more than well represented in the women’s pro field with Angela Naeth, Melanie McQuaid and Jen Annett slated to be on the start line. We’ll have more details on the Canadians racing as we confirm their attendance later this week.