2021 Ironman World Championship preview: Showdown in St. George

Everything you need to know before one of the most anticipated triathlons of the year!

The 2021 Ironman World Championship will take place this Saturday in St. George, Utah. Before we get any further into this preview, let’s address the glaring questions brought up by that last sentence.

2021? Did I dream I celebrated New Year’s?

You did not. The 2021 Ironman World Championship had been scheduled to take place on its traditional October date, but got pushed back to Feb., 2022, due to a Covid-19 pandemic surge in Hawaii. It then got pushed back again, with a venue change, to May. The 2022 Ironman World Championship will take place as originally scheduled on Oct. 6 and 8 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. 

Skye Moench riding on her home turf at Ironman 70.3 St. George.

St. George? Utah?

That’s right. St. George will be the first venue to ever host the Ironman World Championship outside of Hawaii. Everyone loves Kona, but St. George is a unique and picturesque course in its own right, with beautiful red rocks, undulating terrain and hot, dry conditions. It hosted the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and will also host the 2022 edition at the end of October.

So yeah, last year’s Ironman World Championship will finally be taking place, albeit under some unusual circumstances. What won’t be changing is the level of competition. St. George is drawing in the very best of the best for the ultimate test in triathlon. 

The Speed Concept should play a major role in the event with three athletes — Sam Long and Bart Aernouts for the men; Skye Moench for the women — representing Trek. Here’s everything you need to know about a monumental event that has been a long time coming. 

Bart Aernouts speeding by at 2021 Challenge Miami.

The course

Like every full Ironman course, the World Championship will consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. There are devils in the details, however.

The swim will take place in the Sand Hollow Reservoir around a loop that consists of four sharp turns. Depending on wind, the water could be flat or roiling. The current forecast calls for calm conditions in the morning, but desert weather has a fickle disposition.

The bike segment is arguably the meanest of the three. It features roughly 7,400 feet of climbing, including a section from Mile 60 to a Mile 80 that is almost entirely uphill, with gradients as high as 8 percent. After a downhill, competitors will encounter another major climb from roughly Mile 96 to Mile 102, before descending into the second transition and the marathon portion of the race.

Organizers tried to make the running portion of the course as flat as they could, but still wound up throwing more than 1,400 feet of climbing at the athletes. By the time the run starts, the athletes will be dealing with heat, too. Smart nutrition and hydration will be critical to the final outcome. 

Sam Long celebrating his win at CLASH Miami.

The athletes

A few notable names are sitting out the race due to injuries or illness. On the women’s side, Laura Philipp and Lucy Charles-Barclay, two potential favorites, will be staying home. For the men, there will be no Jan Frodeno, the defending champion, or Trek’s own Tim O’Donnell, the runner-up.

The race will be wide open with young and exciting contenders. Sam Long, one of Trek’s newest signings, has had an excellent start to 2022, posting blistering times on his bike and, perhaps most importantly, improving greatly on his swim that had been a relative weakness in years past. His fellow Trek athlete, Bart Aernouts, took second in Kona in 2018, and will also be one of the most dangerous competitors in the field if he can overcome a sometimes troublesome swim.

Skye Moench will be one of the mostly closely-watched athletes in St. George. Not only is she an all-around threat, she’s a Utah native racing in her first ever Ironman World Championship. She also recently set the American women’s Ironman record. With reigning champion Anne Haug and four-time winner Daniela Ryf in the field, winning won’t be easy, but Moench is in incredible form and as motivated as anyone to lay down the race of her life after overcoming injuries from a bad crash that forced her to miss Kona in 2019.  

Skye Moench is hoping her finish this weekend will be just as sweet as it was at Ironman Chattanooga.

How to watch

The pro men’s race will begin at 6:15 a.m. local time, 8:15 a.m. ET on Saturday. The women’s race will start just five minutes later.

You can watch the race LIVE, and also for FREE. What a deal! Just check out the official Ironman Now channel on YouTube or Facebook. The race will also be streamed on Peacock.