Ironman 70.3 World Championship: Lucy Charles-Barclay delivers stunning victory

Charles-Barclay wins first Ironman 70.3 World Championship after crushing a stellar field in St George, Utah, with fellow GB triathletes Kat Matthews and Emma Pallant-Browne finishing in the top five

ST. GEORGE, UTAH - 18 SEPTEMBER: During the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships on September 18, 2021 in St. George, Utah. (Photo by Donald Miralle for IRONMAN)

Lucy Charles-Barclay dominated from gun-to-tape to land her first Ironman 70.3 world title and firmly lay to rest any lingering debate over being the nearly-woman of the sport.

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It was a belated birthday present for the three-time Hawaii runner-up who turned 28 on Wednesday, as training at altitude for the first time leading into an event paid dividends as she showed a clean pair of heels to the best triathletes in the sport, including five-time and defending Ironman 70.3 champion Daniela Ryf.

Charles-Barclay posted the fastest splits in all three disciplines and beat second-placed Jeanni Metzler of South Africa by 8mins, making it one of the most comprehensive world championship performances in history.

Although displaying her renowned swim pedigree to lead out of the water, it was on the 56-mile bike leg where Charles-Barclay delivered the knock-out blow, arriving in T2 with an unassailable 5min lead on USA’s Taylor Knibb heading out on to the half-marathon.

Charles-Barclay had finished runner-up in 2018, but a drafting penalty on the bike denied her the chance to challenge Ryf in 2019, and she’d had to settle for fifth place.

Having already won the Ironman 70.3 European title in Elsinore in June – where she again was fastest in swim, bike and run – and having been successful for Europe in the Collins Cup in August, Charles-Barclay had the middle distance locked in and took the tape in 4:00:20 after a 1:18:48 run.

“That’s how I wanted the day to go,” she said. “A perfect day from the start: put my head down on swim, go hard on bike the same, keep pushing to open the gaps, and I was quite confident on the run as I knew it was going to be a tough course. It couldn’t have gone any better.”

Metzler ran through for second place just ahead of her training partner, USA’s Taylor Knibb, by a handful of seconds. Britain’s Kat Matthews biked and ran well for fourth place and Emma Pallant-Browne was fifth, with both women’s form continuing from successful Collins Cup victories in Slovakia three weeks earlier.

There were few surprises that Charles-Barclay was first out of the water, but the size of the gap to her opposition was unexpected. Britain’s Holly Lawrence, Knibb, and Brazilian Pamela Oliveira were more than 80sec adrift, with reigning champion Ryf a huge 2:38 back over the 1.2-mile swim. The Swiss would eventually finish 11th.

Knibb chose not to wear a swim-skin and flew through transition, but Charles-Barclay was already away and clear, extending her lead midway through the bike, with Ryf pushing her way up to third, Lawrence in fourth, and Pallant-Browne and Matthews forcing their way into the top 10.

The descent from Snow Canyon against the red rock backdrop of Utah proved decisive. Charles-Barclay on the TT bike was able to increase the advantage of the field, including Knibb on her road bike with tribar extensions.

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A fading Ryf left T2 more than a minute behind Knibb with Matthews, Skye Moench, Pallant-Browne seconds back, but it was the charging Metzler who pushed up to third by the midpoint of the half-marathon and then overtook Knibb in the final two miles. There were other strong showings from the British women with Lawrence in eighth and Nikki Bartlett in ninth, making it five GB women in the top 10.