IM Pro Series Kicks Off in Oceanside - Our Picks

For years, 70.3 Oceanside has unofficially kicked off triathlon season in North America. This year, it serves as the first race in the IRONMAN Pro Series. After PTO made waves announcing the T100 Tour, IRONMAN responded by revamping its own racing structure. They have named 20 races in 9 countries to the IRONMAN Pro Series. Athletes will earn individual prize money at these races and then there is a $1.7 million prize purse for athletes finishing 1-50 in the overall series standings. 120 athletes are on the Oceanside start list, almost double from last year. Let’s break down who we think will be leading the charge up front.

Women's Race

The Juggernaut: Taylor Knibb is by far the favorite on paper. She auto-qualified for Team USA at the Paris test event by finishing 5th last August. That came amidst a busy racing schedule, where she won the PTO US Open 2 weeks earlier and won the 70.3 World Championships 9 days later. Knibb made her full distance debut in Kona later in the season and finished in a respectable 4th place, just losing out on a podium spot late in the run. We have not seen Knibb race yet this season. She was supposed to race the first WTCS event of the season in Abu Dhabi but it got canceled at the last minute. There was a rumor that she looked into pivoting to T100 Miami but that the logistics did not make it feasible for PTO to set a precedent like that. Knibb is at Oceanside to validate her 70.3 Worlds slot. She is tough to take down at the middle distance. Expect her to swim and ride at the front of this race, and to come out of T2 with a gap on the rest of the field.

T100 Racers in Oceanside: With T100 Singapore set to take place April 13th-14th, it was unclear how many T100 contracted athletes we would be seeing at this race. A trio of athletes will be looking to test themselves here, instead of making the trip to Asia.

Tamara Jewett: After a DNF at T100 Miami, the defending 2023 70.3 Oceanside winner is looking to rebound. Oceanside was one of her strongest races last year. She ran 72:59 to beat the likes of Chelsea Sodaro, Kat Matthews, Holly Lawrence, and Paula Findlay. It might be hard for her to replicate that kind of success but the cool weather, non-time trial bike course, and fast run should suit her well. Expect Jewett’s run leg to gain time back against the rest of the field.

Paula Findlay: Paula finished in a respectable 4th place at T100 Miami. She has been 5th, 6th, and 1st at Oceanside the last 3 years. She swam in the 2nd pack in Miami. Expect her to be near the front of the race here after an honest ocean swim. As a strong rider, with experience on this course, Paula should be ready to fight for a podium spot heading onto the run. After a tough run leg at this race last year, she should be a little sharper coming off of Miami.

Emma Pallant-Browne: The Miami heat, unfortunately, got the better of Pallant-Browne for the 2nd time in 3 years. She has now had 2 scary looking DNFs in Miami due to heat exhaustion. Pallant-Browne was 2nd at Oceanside in 2021. Expect a bounceback race in the cooler California weather. She should excel on the fast run course. It took a 1:18:33 to make the women’s podium in 2023. That kind of time is well within her wheelhouse.

Other Contenders: Frades Larralde (PTO #22) has had strong results over the last few years, particularly at the full distance. She has 3 IRONMAN wins and 5 podiums during that stretch. She was 9th at the St. George 140.6 World Championships and 3rd at the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships. Do not be surprised if she ends up well inside the top-10 with a strong run leg.

Fenella Langridge (PTO #26) raced 9 times last year, and placed anywhere from 1st to 30th. She was top-7 in 6 of those 9 races so she did show some consistency. Her year was highlighted by wins at Challenge London and IRONMAN Western Australia. She also took 4th at Challenge Roth. She, however, is on the outside looking in on the T100 Tour due, in part, to 14th and 15th finishes at her PTO races last year.

Grace Thek (PTO #30) is a former Division 1 runner turned triathlete from my alma mater (Go Friars!). She was 11th at the PTO European Open and 5th at Challenge “The Championship” Samorin last season. She has already started her 2024 campaign, with a 2nd place finish at 70.3 Geelong, behind Ellie Salthouse by less than 1 minute.

Danielle Lewis (#32) has been 4th, 10th, and 6th at Oceanside the last 3 years. In 2023, she was a DNF at the PTO US Open, 24th at the 70.3 World Championships, and a DNF at IRONMAN Hawaii.

Maja Stage-Nielsen (PTO #33) was 7th at Oceanside last year and 2nd at IRONMAN Texas. Similar to Lewis, she has had a tougher go in championship events: 21st PTO European Open, 20th PTO US Open, 14th 70.3 Worlds, and 21st IRONMAN Hawaii.

Lauren Brandon (PTO #60) is another athlete to watch. She should swim up front with Taylor Knibb and can hold her own on the bike. With so many women on the start list, someone is bound to break through and make a charge up the world rankings list.

Our Prediction

Taylor Knibb has been dominant at the 70.3 distance. Until proven otherwise, I’m going to continue to pick her to be on the podium. I like Paula Findlay to finish in the top-3, after just missing out on the podium at T100 Miami against a stronger field. Defending champion, Tamara Jewett, rounds out my podium. I think it can be hard to build large gaps on the bike at Oceanside and that the strongest runners usually do well here.

Women’s Podium Prediction: Knibb, Findlay, Jewett

Men's Race Preview

Is Sam Long the Favorite? After a disappointing 7th place at 70.3 Oceanside last year, Long decided that he was going to be self-coached. He quickly rattled off some domestic 70.3 victories, before a pair of 5th place finishes at the PTO US and Asian Opens. Known for a busy racing schedule, Long began his year in January with a win at 70.3 Pucon. He then followed that up with a 2nd place finish at the inaugural T100 Miami. After the race, Jan Frodeno asked him, “Do you have the strongest legs in triathlon?” He replied, “Technically no, technically yes.” Long is on the T100 Singapore start list, which is just one week after this race. With that said, it is doubtful that he is here to get in a hard workout. This race provides another opportunity for him to gauge his swim progress. Let’s see what his gap is heading out of T1 and how quickly he can get to the front of the race.

Our Other Potential Winners: Sure to challenge up front is short course triathlon star Jelle Geens. Geens is making just his 2nd 70.3 start. He finished 3rd at 70.3 Indian Wells in 2021. It is important to note, however, that he received a 5 minute drafting penalty in that race. He missed out on 1st by less than that margin. Geens is a front pack swimmer, a strong biker, and an excellent runner. With the Olympics to focus on from now until August, he will want to earn a World Championship slot. Geens is the kind of athlete who might be able to hold a lead over the strong bikers heading onto the run. If he’s able to do that, the win could be his. He had a 1:08 run split at Indian Wells, which was the best out of the entire field.

Lionel Sanders chose to race in the IRONMAN Pro Series over the T100 Tour. He has been on the record saying that he does not feel he can be as competitive in that format as a weaker swimmer. Might he be having second thoughts about his decision after watching Miami and seeing the impact something like Race Ranger might be having in his strongest discipline? Regardless, he has plenty of experience at Oceanside and should do well here. In his five starts, he has won twice, finished 2nd twice, and finished 3rd once. In his last Oceanside appearance, Lionel famously battled to the finish line with Rudy Von Berg in 2022. With the winner already having crossed the finish line in front of them, that performance got him 2nd place. You can be sure that he wants to win this time around. He should be able to work with Sam Long on the bike and pull some time back from the front pack.

Jackson Laundry was the athlete who beat Lionel and Rudy to win Oceanside in 2022. He was also 3rd in last year’s race. Laundry made 7 podiums in 2023. He struggled in his two championship races, with a DNF at the PTO US Open and a 26th place finish at the 70.3 World Championships. Laundry occupies a unique space as a professional triathlete in 2024. He’s not ready to move up to the full distance, which really takes the IRONMAN Pro Series off the table. He’s ranked just far enough outside of the PTO rankings that he can’t get onto a T100 start list. His only option is to do the biggest non-T100 races and do well enough to move up in the rankings. If he’s able to do that, he can earn a T100 wild card later in the season. The stakes couldn’t be higher for him at this early season race.

Patrick Lange was perhaps the biggest name not announced for the T100 Tour. Like Sanders, he is focused on the IRONMAN Pro Series. The two-time IRONMAN World Champion is playing to his strengths and is participating in the series that he feels he can do best in. Lange was 2nd in both Challenge Roth and in the IRONMAN World Championships last season. He ran 2:30 in Roth and 2:32 in Nice. Might this be the year he breaks 2:30? While we won’t find that out this weekend, he should be able to blitz the run course in well under 70:00. That might not be enough to get on the podium in this race. We don’t get to see him on too many 70.3 start lists so it will be fun to see what he can do here.

Young Guns: Three athletes to keep an eye on are Trevor Foley (PTO #32), Marc Dubrick (PTO #37), and Tomas Rodriguez (PTO #57). Foley and Rodriguez were both in the top-10 at this race last year. Foley is recovering from a concussion but still plans to race. The former University of Florida Division 1 runner has quickly become one of the strongest bikers in the sport. He’s working to improve his swim and will continue to improve with time. Dubrick made 4 podiums last year, was 16th at the PTO US Open, and 8th at the 70.3 World Championships. He is a front pack swimmer and strong runner. The ocean swim should have him at the front of the race heading onto the bike. Let’s see if he’s able to go with the lead group. Rodriguez won 70.3 Campeche in March and ran a 2:38 marathon at IRONMAN Cozumel last year. Another top-10 here is well within reach.

Full Distance Specialists: Most folks in here are better at the full distance but can still find themselves in the top-10, or even closer to the podium, on the right day. Joe Skipper is rarely seen on a 70.3 start list these days. The uber biker won IRONMAN Lake Placid last year but then was 30th in Nice. Braden Currie was 3rd at the 2022 IRONMAN World Championships in St. George. His spirits might’ve been crushed a little by Lionel Sanders, who passed him late in that race for 2nd. He has had good domestic results since then but has not been a factor in bigger races. Chris Leiferman, similarly, had a strong 4th place in St. George but has been outside of the top-10 at his championship races since then. Matt Hanson was ranked as high as 9th in 2020. He had some solid results last year, highlighted by a 3rd place finish at IRONMAN Lake Placid. He was 21st in Nice but ran a 2:36 marathon there. Florian Angert also got himself as highly ranked as 9th in 2021 and 14th in 2022. That got him onto PTO start lists in 2023 but he managed only 15th at the European Open, 19th at the US Open, and 14th at the Asian Open.

Note on The Sizable Field: Nearly 60 people on this start list are ranked outside of the PTO top-100. That does not mean that they aren’t professional triathletes and it does not mean that they did not earn their right to be at this race. Most of these athletes work full-time jobs, while they try to climb the rankings. These are the exact people who can benefit from IRONMAN paying out year end bonuses to the top-50 athletes who compete in their series. If you need some indoor trainer content, check out Justin Riele run a 3 x 3k workout with UFC Legend Paul Felder or watch Simon Shi grind through a 17 hour training weekend. This is the first opportunity for these athletes to see where they’re at in 2024. Let’s get the season going!

Our Prediction

It’s hard to pick against Jelle Geens. I can see him replicating what Leo Bergere did last year, and racing off of the front. It’s also hard to pick against Sam Long, after his 2nd place at T100 Miami. Let’s round out the podium with Lionel Sanders. Experience on this course matters.

Men’s Podium Prediction: Geens-Long-Sanders