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Last Weekend Now: A Florida Sprint Finish, Aussies Racing in Oz, and Pallant-Browne is Back

It was an action-packed weekend in pro triathlon racing from St. Anthony’s, Ironman Australia, and Challenge Riccione.

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Last Weekend Now is your Monday rundown of what’s happening in pro triathlon, brought to you with commentary by Brad Culp. (Ed note: So yell at him if you don’t like the comments.)

I can’t believe we’re just five days away from the first Ironman World Championship in nearly three years. What a perfect time to write about something else. While most of the world’s top Ironman athletes are making their way to southern Utah for the most unique Ironman world champs in history (that is, unless they’ve tested positive for COVID), a few of the top long-and short-course pros skipped out on St. George to win some races (and money) around the world last weekend.

A Canadian sweep (and a sprint finish) in Florida

Congratulations Matthew Sharpe and Paula Findlay, pro winners of the 2022 St. Anthony's Triathlon! #StAnthonysTri

Posted by St. Anthony's Triathlon on Sunday, May 1, 2022

With 10 grand on the hook for the winner at St. Anthony’s, it was a tape well worth sprinting for. It’s not often that professional triathletes get to claim $10K for two hours of work. That sort of thing used to happen all the time, but now St. A’s is one of the last short-course, non-drafting races in the world that still pays pros.

American Ben Kanute held the lead throughout the race (as he often does), until very tall Canadian Matt Sharpe and somewhat tall American Matt McElroy came flying by in the final 200 meters. McElroy had already closed a one-minute deficit to Sharpe to start the run, and couldn’t match the giant strides of the 6’5” Sharpe.

“When you’re 29:50 for 10K, it gets extremely hard to sprint at the end,” McElroy said. “Just happy to be on the start line after being plagued with a knee injury for the last 12 months. Sharpe definitely has that longer stride for a sprint finish.”

From the little digging I did, and from McElroy’s memory, we’re both pretty sure that is his fastest 10K ever in a triathlon—and he did it after a hard, non-draft bike. Keep your eye on McElroy this season, who plans on doing a full WTS schedule as well as his first 70.3.

Canadian Paula Findlay hasn’t had to sprint for a win since her days of dominating the World Triathlon Series circuit (way back in 2011), and it doesn’t look like she’s going to have to start sprinting again any time soon. Findlay returned to Olympic-distance racing with an “easy” win, finishing a minute ahead of Kiwi Amelia Watkinson, who has opted not to race St. George this week. Second-year pro Amy Sloane of Colorado claimed third.

Findlay has climbed into the top 10 of the PTO World Rankings, thanks to her back-to-back wins at Clash Daytona, and she’s one of the few “long course” athletes who can make a really good living in the sport without feeling the need to do a full Ironman. With the addition of the PTO Pro-Am events and the Collins Cup, Findlay is in the right place at the right time for a brilliant second act to an already impressive career.

RELATED: The Cooldown Podcast: Growing in the Sport with Paula Findlay

The popular kids win in Australia

2017 and 2019 Kona third-place finisher Sarah Crowley surprised a lot of people when she announced she’d be staying in Australia all season to focus on Ironman Australia, Ironman Cairns, and her build to Kona. She’s spent considerable time in St. George, and would’ve been one of four women on the start line with Kona podium credentials. As it is, Crowley earned her first victory since Ironman Arizona in 2019, and she reminded all of us of the importance of practicing transitions. Crowley’s winning margin over Kiwi Rebecca Clarke was just 67 seconds, half of which was gained in T1. The pair ultimately started the marathon together, with Crowley breaking away at the halfway mark to keep Clarke looking for that first Ironman win of her career.

Fellow Aussie Tim Van Berkel has waited nearly twice as long as Crowley to get back in the Ironman winner’s circle, notching his first win since Ironman Cairns way back in 2016 (which feels like so much more than six years ago). Van Berkel lost nearly four minutes to countryman Josh Amberger in the swim and another minute and a half on the bike, starting the run five-and-a-half minutes in arrears. He only needed 15K to close that gap, going on to win by exactly 11 minutes.

After visa issues kept him out of the U.S. and a start this week in St. George, Amberger’s runner-up finish confirms he’s in for Kona in October, where he will no doubt be the first athlete to reach T1.

Emma Pallant-Browne back on track in Riccione

(Photo: Challenge Family)

Watching Emma Pallant-Browne go blank and pass out while leading Clash Miami in March was one of the scarier live triathlon moments we’ve witnessed. She was eventually fine—it turns out doing a triathlon in Miami is a great way to achieve heat stroke—and now she’s back to her ways, which involve winning basically everything.

If you’re familiar with Italy’s Adriatic coast, Riccione is immediately south of Rimini, and it’s basically Italy’s version of a spring break destination. Pallant-Browne came for a different kind of party, making easy work of the somewhat easy course to win by nine minutes over countrywoman Lucy Byram. I wish I could tell you how fast she ran, but this race kept things old school and had absolutely no splits whatsoever. As someone who never exercises with a watch, I respect Challenge Riccione eschewing unnecessary tech.

Like Findlay, Pallant-Browne is in a perfect position to rake in some dough without having to race 140.6 miles. Currently ranked #7 in the world, it would seem like she’s a lock for the European Collins Cup squad, were it not for the fact that five of the six women ahead of her are also from Europe.

RELATED: What is the Collins Cup?

The men’s race was won by Austrian Thomas Steger, and I’d be lying if I told you I knew a ton about him, so let’s learn about young Thomas together. The 29-year-old has been very loyal to Challenge races over the past few seasons, and clearly has his eyes set on getting a big chunk of the $150K year-end bonus (one of the many awesome things Challenge does). He earned five grand for finishing fifth in the points standings last year, but he could earn as much as $30K for coming out on top this year. It was the second Riccione win in a row for Steger, who finished 1:20 ahead of Mattia Ceccarelli (I’ll let you guess where he’s from).

Like way too many athletes, this column will also be sitting out St. George because there is plenty of other St. George content to come. But I’ll be back in two weeks’ time with a recap of the World Triathlon Series kickoff in Yokohama.

Enjoy the big show in St. George. And because predictions only count if you put them in print, I’d like to go on record as saying that Kristian Blummenfelt and Kat Matthews—both competing in their first Ironman world champs—are absolutely going to smash everyone.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About the Ironman World Championship: St. George

Video: 4X World Champion Mirinda Carfrae Makes Her Picks for 70.3 Chattanooga

Carfrae and former pro Patrick Mckeon break down the iconic course in Chattanooga, who looks good for the pro women's race, and their predictions for how the day will play out.