Chelsea Sodaro wins Ironman
American Chelsea Sodaro won Ironman (Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Here’s What Happened at the Ironman Triathlon and Gravel Cycling World Championships

It was a busy weekend for fans of endurance sports

Chelsea Sodaro wins Ironman

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Fans of endurance sports had plenty of action to follow this past weekend, as Ironman triathlon and gravel cycling held their respective world championship events.

Here’s what went down at the races:

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Gianni Versmeersch Win Inaugural Gravel World Championships

Gravel cycling has steadily gained popularity in North America over the last decade, with races like Kansas’ Unbound Gravel, SBT GRVL in Colorado, and the Belgian Waffle Ride in California attracting thousands of amateur participants and a growing number of professional cyclists. Cycling’s international governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, has taken note of the growth, and this year launched its inaugural world championships for gravel in Veneto, Italy on October 8 and 9.

The UCI world championships had a few key differences from North American races. Most gravel races in North America are mass-start, with all genders, age groups, and categories beginning the race together. The UCI held separate world championship races for elite men, elite women, and age groups. In North America, all riders complete the same distance, regardless of gender or age. The UCI, by contrast, had elite women race 86 miles, while the elite men raced 121 miles. Finally, multiple North American races feature rocky surfaces and even mountain bike-like trails that require riders to use gravel bicycles that have clearance for wide tires. The UCI gravel world championships was held largely on paved and dirt paths, with many elite riders competing on traditional road bicycles.

The elite women’s race came down to a two-up battle between World Cup mountain-bike racers Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France and Sina Frei of Switzerland. Ferrand-Prévot bolted past Frei in the closing few yards to take the victory, and the win capped off a triumphant season. Earlier this year, Ferrand-Prévot won world championship titles in three separate mountain biking disciplines: cross-country, short-track cross-country, and marathon.

In the men’s race, Belgium’s Gianni Vermeersch dropped his breakaway companion Daniel Oss of Italy in the final few miles to take a solo victory. Both Oss and Vermeersch are professional road cyclists, and compete in major European road events like the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix.

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Rookies Win Ironman Hawaii

The Ironman world championships returned to Kona, Hawaii after the 2020 edition was called off due to the pandemic and the 2021 race was held in St. George, Utah. Two relative newcomers surged to victories, with American Chelsea Sodaro winning the women’s pro event on Friday, October 7, and Norway’s Gustav Iden claiming the men’s race on Saturday, October 8. For both Sodaro and Iden, the 2022 world championships were just their second attempts at the Ironman distance and their first attempts at Ironman Hawaii.

Sodaro, a former NCAA Division I cross-country runner, became the first American to win the Ironman world championships since 2002, when Tim DeBoom won it. The last time an American woman won the race was 1996, when Paula Newby Fraser won it (Newby-Fraser is from South Africa but became a U.S. citizen in 1996). Sodaro started racing triathlons in 2017 after her dreams of representing the U.S. at the Olympics were sidelined by injury. In Kona, she swam and biked with the front pack of triathletes before breaking away on the run. Sodaro jogged into the lead at mile eight of the 26.2-mile running leg, and recorded a marathon time of 2:51:45. Her finishing time was 8:33:46, nearly eight minutes faster than second-place finisher Lucy Charles-Barclay of Great Britain.

In the men’s race, Iden also saved his energy for the running portion of the race, and he chased down French athlete Sam Laidlow at mile 22 of the marathon. Iden set a new course record on the famed Kona Ironman route, completing the 140.6-mile journey in 7:40:24, beating the old course record, set in 2018 by German Jan Frodeno, by 11 minutes.

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Lead Photo: Brad Kaminski