AN emotional Joe Skipper hailed his best-ever win after making it back-to-back Bolton Ironman victories.

The 33-year-old won in 2018 and with no pros in 2019 and Covid cancelling 2020’s running of the gruelling endurance race, the Norwich athlete had to wait three years to double up.

That he did though, coming from 14 minutes down to storm past long-time leader Sam Laidlow on the final part of the run to cross the line first in Victoria Square in eight hours, 42 minutes and 59 seconds.

“It’s the biggest one, because it was so hard,” Skipper said at the end of his 140.6-mile effort.

“To have a deficit like that on the bike and then to come through to get the win is amazing. I just had to dig so deep for it.

“Other ones I haven’t had to dig as deep as that.”

Breaking up, he added: “I just gave it everything and left it all out there.

“I had absolutely nothing left at the end, I put everything into that run.

The mens top three on the podium

The men's top three on the podium

“I was just physically broken at the end, it meant so much so it was really emotional.”

Laidlow, nearly nine minutes back in the end, dramatically collapsed over the finish line just seven seconds ahead of third-placed athlete Leon Chevalier.

Skipper, who could return to action in as little as three weeks for the Lake Placid Ironman in New York before the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October, timed his effort to perfection and knew he had to.

“It’s a marathon and not a 30k run and people always get too excited and go too hard at the start,” he said.

“I just had to keep the pressure on and save something for the last lap because I was going all in on the last lap.

“Fair play to Sam he really made me work for it and full respect to him.”

Laidlow had for so long looked like becoming the youngest ever Briton to win an Ironman at just 22.

But having taken time to recover after being stretchered away from the finish, he put the whole dramatic day down to experience as he continues to prove he is one of the rising stars of the sport.

Speaking after taking his place on the podium after treatment, the British-born athlete who represents France having grown up in the Pyrenees, said: “I’m better now that I’ve spent 30 minutes in the medical tent.

“I don’t always think I’m the most talented guy but I do always know how to suffer a lot.

“I don’t think I was on my best day and came up a bit short but I’m proud of what I gave today.

Leon Chevalier, background, watches Sam Laidlow just about finish

Leon Chevalier, background, watches Sam Laidlow just about finish

“I’m only 22 and it shows at the moment who the better Ironman athlete is and respect to him.”

Chevalier, taking part in his first Ironman, was seen visibly concerned as he checked on his rival after nearly pipping him to second spot and was delighted with his efforts in his first Ironman as he rounded off the podium.

“I was in a world of pain but Sam had a tricky last lap,” said the Bath-based Frenchman.

“He went from having a seven-minute lead to only crossing the line a few seconds before me.

“Everyone on the side of road was saying ‘you’re going to get second, you’re going to get second’ because he’d started walking and really slowed down.

“I was already running on empty so I just pushed and pushed and pushed and got so close.

“Sam really held it together and really rallied for the last minute or so and managed to hold me off.

“Kudos to him, he was out in front for most of the race. I tried to tell him that at the end but he wasn't responsive, so it's good to see he's okay."

Katrina Matthews celebrates her victory

Katrina Matthews celebrates her victory

Army triathlete and pre-race favourite Katrina Matthews won the women’s elite race in nine hours, 40 minutes and one second, with Nikki Bartlett 22 minutes back in second and Chantel Cummings half an hour down on the winner in third.

Matthews was a winner in Florida last year and came second in Tulsa earlier in 2021.

After a tight opening swim, she would take the lead definitively on the bike part of the day and never relinquish it with all eyes now on Hawaii for an athlete who is relatively new to the sport.

“The swim is lovely, the venue down there is really accommodating, the bike is relentlessly hard, not just the hills, but the terrain and with people around the skill or riding is important,” she said having got the best of the three professional women on the start list.

“With the run it was just getting through it, it was a war of attrition.

“It’s my third Ironman in the last eight months. I’m new the sport and have only been doing the sport for a couple of years, so it was a learning race for me.

“Try something new, give it a go, I haven’t done a hilly course before. So I’ve got that done and it’s okay.”