The inaugural Collins Cup might ultimately have gone the way many observers thought it would—but the Stars & Stripes were flying for a lot longer than most expected. The final points tally (Europe – 42.5 points, USA – 31.5 points, and Internationals – 25.5 points) might look like a convincing win, but it belies the way the action unfolded on a Saturday of many firsts for non-drafting triathlon.
The early scoreboard was awash with the red of Team USA, from the moment the youngest woman in the race, 23-year-old Taylor Knibb, dove into the Danube, opened a gap on the 2K swim, and then powered off on her road bike to ride away from Europe’s #1 star Daniela Ryf.
Knibb would eventually win by a colossal 16 minutes over Ryf, after a day to forget for the Swiss, and along with Europe’s Gustav Iden became one of only two triathletes to claim the maximum three bonus points in the race.
The strength in depth of Europe’s women is not just renowned, but a key reason why many thought this event was unduly lopsided in its slicing of territories, but it actually wasn’t until Britain’s Emma Pallant-Browne and Kat Matthews won the final two women’s matches that it started to tilt in the hosts’ favor. After the early U.S. lead, the 12-match contest then swung towards Team Europe with two more wins following as reigning Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world champions, Jan Frodeno and Gustav Iden, stormed to victory at the purpose-built sporting complex in Samorin, Slovakia.
The Professional Triathletes Organization had invested millions into delivering a spectacular broadcast experience for viewers, and no little investment in the triathletes, with a $1.5 million purse shared between the 36 athletes.
The anticipation could hardly have been higher, but it needed the drama on the day to live up to that expectation, and in many ways it did—with the Americans in the ascendency early, the heavens opening to slicken the bike course, and even the threat of lightning that caused a 10-minute delay to the start of the men’s racing.
In contrast to the more usual traditional and attritional long-distance fare, once all the athletes were on the course, the Collins Cup could have easily become overwhelming to keep up with it—probably one reason for a commentary team that threatened to matched the athletes in numbers.
But to try to keep the chronology: After Knibb’s stunning victory, in Match 2 Europe’s Lucy Charles-Barclay eventually pulled away from the dogged resistance of Katie Zaferes, who stayed on her feet during the swim and in contention on the bike for 70K before the time-trial position took its toll on the Olympic medalist.
Charles-Barclay has won three times in Samorin at the Challenge Championship and her victory was supposed to be followed in the next match by a relatively straightforward success for Ironman world champion Anne Haug. However, the USA’s Jackie Hering was having none of it with one of the performances of the day, including the fastest women’s run of 64:14 over the 18K, even earning a bonus point for the gaps she opened on Haug and Jeanni Metzler.
Of the multiple crashes on the wet roads, Holly Lawrence was first to go down in Match 4, just ahead of Australian Ellie Salthouse, but bruised and bloodied picked herself up to carry on. Taking advantage of Lawrence’s crash, Salthouse got the Internationals’ first win on the board, with Sky Moench hanging tough for second. New mom Chelsea Sodaro also finished runner-up in the next match-up, just 73 seconds shy of Pallant-Browne, with another standout effort—but from there the blue die was cast.
Matthews, Frodeno, Iden all had convincing victories to pile on another 16.5 points to the European’s total, with Frodeno describing it as “a good day… this is meant in the least arrogant way possible, but it’s beautiful to have something to push for, that feeling of being alive, I’m so happy about this format and this day.”
Against Iden, the International’s Kyle Smith crashed “like a ton of bricks,” snapped off one of his tri-bars, and found his bike locked in a “58-11, a bigger gear than anyone has ever pushed,” he said, as he saw the Norwegian disappear up the road.
Another crash in Match 9—but despite hitting the deck and a comment to himself that he “sucks at biking and everyone can see it,” Lionel Sanders fought back for the win (and the fastest bike split of the day anyway), just a week after finishing second in Ironman Copenhagen. It was a feat his defeated opponent Sebastian Kienle described as “f**king incredible. To do these two performances back-to-back is one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen—because I’ve seen my power numbers already.”
A win from Dane Daniel Baekkegard put Europe back on top again. Although Braden Currie and Jackson Laundry restored some respectability for the Internationals in the final two matches (and with no American wins for the men), it wasn’t enough to prevent team captains Simon Whitfield and Lisa Bentley from having the dubious privilege of receiving the third-placed Broken Spokes trophy.
Natascha Badmann, Normann Stadler, and their European charges became the first to lift the Collins Cup, after an opening contest that couldn’t have gone too much better—and for the sake of professional long-course triathlon, let’s hope it’s not the last either.
You can watch the full action here: