2023 Men's IM World Championships Pro Picks

It’s the third leg of Championship Season, as now we’ve arrived at the first of two IRONMAN World Championship Days, and only the second time an IRONMAN World Champion has been crowned outside of Hawaii. The men’s professional field will contend with a challenging course in Nice, France, along with each other, for their chance at a world title and their piece of the $750,000 prize purse. Race coverage will kick off at 5:00 AM CEST Sunday / 11 PM Eastern time Saturday. Let’s look at the field.

Who’s Not Here

It might be a shorter list to start describing who *is* racing as we get closer to race day. First, there will be no title defense for Gustav Iden. Iden has struggled with the death of his mother and injury in 2023, and has decided to pull the plug on the remainder of the year to focus on his 2024 efforts. Also not racing is 2021 IRONMAN World Champion Kristian Blummenfelt. Although Blummenfelt has an auto qualification slot out of his performance at last year’s race, and is in Nice (for what looks like media events), he is not on the start list. Although, as they say, anything is possible.

Another top finisher from 2022 is out due to injury — Max Neumann, who burst onto the scene with his long defense against the Norwegian onslaught of Iden and Blummenfelt last year. Long-time staple at Worlds, Michael Weiss, is also out. And Daniel Baekkegard is the latest to have to end his race before it begins, as he’s not recovered from the “Singapore sickness” that multiple athletes contracted following the PTO Asian Open.

We’ll update this list of outages as necessary — and fingers crossed, this is the end of it.

The Favorites

Jan Frodeno: Frodeno enters his final IRONMAN World Championship as the prohibitive favorite, in part by default, but in part due to his dominating performance at the PTO US Open last month. Frodeno simply crushed that field, and did it in comfortable fashion, which included Blummenfelt, Jason West, Magnus Ditlev, Clement Mignon, Mathis Margirier, and Frederic Funk.

There are two primary questions for Frodeno going in: first, this is probably the most difficult IRONMAN course that Frodeno has ever raced, and we don’t know how he will respond to this type of course. The best analog for it we’ve found in his career history would likely be Oceanside…where he won over Lionel Sanders, and did so by out-biking the Canadian. And then the other question is whether he can sustain the needed pace over the full IM distance. His last attempt was a fourth at the ill-fated IRONMAN Hamburg, but was only 38 seconds behind finishing second. And that’s his only true IM race finish in four years. You have to go back to Kona 2019 (a victory, of course) to find his last one; he DNF’d in Roth last year, and the Tri Battle against Lionel during COVID doesn’t really count.

Can the male GOAT add one more title to his resume? There’s a few roadblocks that could be in the way.

Magnus Ditlev: The current force on the bike that loves nothing more than pushing the pace up front. Ditlev was a front runner last year in Kona until a penalty on the bike pushed him down the order, and like many before him, looked like melted vanilla ice cream in the lava fields on the run as he finished eighth. And the weather looks warm, with little wind for respite, come Sunday, and there’s little shade on the run course in Nice.

But Ditlev’s the two-time defending champion in Roth, now, and also has experience with challenging bike courses and putting in good run performances, including a third at last year’s IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships. And don’t forget that long stretches of the Roth run course mirror that of Nice — flat and featuring zero shade. Ditlev is also one of the freshest athletes going into this year’s race — he’s raced 50% fewer times in 2023 versus 2022.

Sam Laidlow: The leader for potential home country hero, Laidlow’s long run at the front of the 2022 IRONMAN World Championships puts him here. It’d be unfair to call that a true breakthrough, though, as it was his second quality result at a world championship race, and he was also consistent in PTO performances in 2022. But Laidlow has not had a great 2023. A liver infection has dramatically impacted his year, with a DNF in Lanzarote and struggling to an 8th place finish in Roth. He did, however, have a really good race in London last month, including a truer-to-form 1:12 half marathon off a blistering bike split. But that was before he DNF’d at the PTO Singapore event.

Laidlow tends to be up front early in the day with one of the better swim-bike combos in the sport. And he showed phenomenal run resilience holding onto the lead for so long in Kona last year. The combination of home country and course may just be enough to see him take the top step — assuming that he is fully healthy.

Rudy Von Berg: The long-time 70.3 specialist, Von Berg has had numerous successes here in Nice. Von Berg has won both the regular 70.3 race and the IRONMAN here. He also finished on the podium at the 70.3 World Championships, only beaten by Gustav Iden and Alistair Brownlee and defeating the likes of Patrick Lange, Blummenfelt, Baekkegard, and more on his way to doing so.

But from those highs, Von Berg has also struggled with illness and injury. His close to 2022 was relatively poor, given his lofty standards. And although Von Berg won IRONMAN Texas to earn his way here, a 2:45 marathon will not be enough to close the deal. Von Berg will need to show flashes of the brilliance that he’s had on this course before. But local knowledge can be a significant help. And he should be near the front of the race to start the bike off, and that may be all he needs to springboard towards a front finish.

Joe Skipper: Arguably the inheritor of Dark Mark’s Funniest Man in Triathlon title, Skipper’s results at the iron distance are no joke. The multi-time IRONMAN champion took multiple victories in the 2022-2023 season, at Arizona and Lake Placid. That Lake Placid race in particular could be telling — a non-wetsuit swim, Skipper had a healthy deficit to close on the bike, which he did by the midway point. And then he stormed away from the rest of the field.

The question mark, as always, is what his swim deficit will look like. But to Skipper’s credit, he’s been able to turn that into multiple Top 10 finishes at IRONMAN World Championship races before. He has 2:40 run potential in him — we saw that in Roth. A charge towards the front during the bike seems likely, and it’s just a matter of where that puts him coming out of T2.

Dark Horses

Patrick Lange: Lange and Frodeno, Frodeno and Lange. They’ve been intertwined as rivals for years, and we get to see it happen one last time on a World Championship stage. Frodeno cited Lange holding the course record in Kona as a motivating factor for his 2019 dominant performance. In general, this rivalry has been pretty one-sided — Frodeno beats Lange 9 times out of 10, with the exception being the 2017 IRONMAN World Championship.

But this is a different course than normal. Lange is usually having to fight his way from behind on the run (and for good reason, given his excellent run pace). Lange’s superior w/KG advantage may come into play on the hills versus the traditional “uber bikers” who can blast away. And we know how well he races in hot weather, and with relatively flat to rolling run courses. I would not be surprised to see Lange near the front of this race late.

Leon Chevalier, Clement Mignon, and Denis Chevrot: Lumping my picks for “best Frenchman not named Laidlow” together, all three of them could sit in the top 10 easily at the end of the day. Of them, my pick is Mignon to take top honors of this group. He consistently races some of the most challenging middle and long distance races, has won on this course before, and already has a long-course world championship to his name. That has to count for something.

Cam Wurf: Confession — this pick is partially due to a Twitter bet I made with Wurf many moons ago about a custom pair of Nike footwear he was wearing at the time (I had incorrectly assumed he was just wearing another prototype, not a 1 of 1 shoe, and, well, here we are), and I am now being forced to publicly eat my hat.

That being said, Wurf’s 2023 consisted of a fair number of single day classics, and one week tours, before then racing three IRONMAN races in five weeks — Lanzarote, Austria, and France, with podium finishes at two out of the three. In Wurf’s own words, he’s been focused on triathlon training for the last few months for the first time in years. For someone who finished in the top 10 in Hawaii, and won an IRONMAN, while not being completely focused on this distance, that’s an interesting proposition. If only those Nike’s will push him to a stronger than average run for him, and maybe I can stop choking on this hat.

Full Men’s Field

1 Jan Frodeno
2 Patrick Lange
3 Sam Laidlow
5 Joe Skipper
6 Leon Chevalier
7 Magnus Ditlev
8 Clement Mignon
9 Braden Currie
10 Denis Chevrot
11 Rudy Von Berg
14 Pieter Heemeryck
15 Kristian Hogenhaug
16 Bradley Weiss
17 Matt Hanson
18 Mathias Petersen
19 Gregory Barnaby
20 Chris Leiferman
21 Cameron Wurf
22 Bart Aernouts
23 Arnaud Guilloux
25 Mike Phillips
27 Robert Wilkowiecki
28 Franz Loeschke
29 Niek Heldoom
30 Jonas Hoffman
32 Andreas Salvisberg
33 Rasmus Svenningsson
34 Leonard Arnold
35 Brent McMahon
37 Fernando Toldi
39 Kristian Grue
40 Adam Feigh
41 Andres Lopes
42 Maximillian Hammerie
43 GeorgEnzenberger
44 Tuan Chun Chang
45 Reinaldo Colucci
46 Matthew Marquardt
47 Oliver Martinussen
48 Benjamin Hill
49 Arthur Horseau
50 Remi Conte
51 Ben Phillips
52 Nathan Dortmann

All Photos: Slowtwich Files