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Last Weekend Now: A “Sprint” Finish in Texas, Arena Dominance in London, and a Grand Race at Gran Canaria

It was a weekend of fast (very fast) racing around the world.

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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.)

With just two weeks to go until the first Ironman World Championship outside of Hawaii, a few of the heaviest hitters decided to squeeze in one last tune-up race at Ironman Texas, while the speediest of short-coursers dug deep at round two of the Super League Arena Games in London. Meanwhile, in the Canary Islands, a new German star demands our attention.

American veterans on top in Texas

(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Ironman)

Ben Hoffman was the last man to win a full Ironman in St. George (in 2012) and he’s coming into this most unique world championship firing on all cylinders. At Ironman Texas, the 38-year-old won a thriller over Denmark’s Magnus Ditlev, breaking away with just 200 meters left to win his first race since Ironman South Africa in 2019.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Hoffman’s Texas victory was his bike, which was more than half a minute better than Ditlev—a young man who has been making a case as the new top rider in the sport. (Author’s note: After publication, I learned that Magnus had, in fact, spent nine minutes on the side of the road due to a flat, making his close finish to the Hoff even more impressive.) Hoffman is going to be very hard to shake on the bike in St. George, even for the very powerful Scandinavians he’ll be racing.

RELATED: The Pros’ Predictions for the Ironman World Championship in St. George

“After racing Kona and Florida three weeks apart in 2019, I had been looking for the opportunity to do two Ironmans close together again, as I believe for me, it’s possible to improve from the first to the second” Hoffman said after the race. “Although it’s unorthodox, with the way our sport is progressing, it’s not OK to keep doing the same formula every year. Since St. George is just the first of two world champs this season, I felt it was a good time to experiment and test whether this could work for Kona later in the year. The mental and physical boost could be the difference for keeping this old dog in the fight.”

Competing in his first full Ironman, Ditlev didn’t show any signs of weakness for 140.5 miles, but he was completely and utterly broken as soon as Hoffman opened up his sprint. It’s another impressive runner-up finish for the 24-year old, who finished second to Kristian Blummenfelt at last year’s Clash Daytona. Fellow Scandic Jesper Svensson from Sweden finished third, more than 10 minutes after the exciting stuff.

Like Hoffman, Jocelyn McCauley won her first race in more than three years on Saturday, and she didn’t need to out-sprint a tall Danish person to do it. McCauley is no slouch in the swim, but even she had a six-minute gap to make up to Lauren Brandon out of the water, which she had absolutely no problem doing on two wheels.

After a 16-month break from racing due to the pandemic and baby number two, McCauley returned to competition last summer with modest results—including a second-place showing at Ironman Finland that ultimately earned her a Collins Cup berth—but this was a big statement that she’s back to being one of the best in the world on the bike. Let’s not forget she rode Daneila Ryf off her wheel at this race in 2019—back when nobody was doing that.

I had to imagine it felt pretty good to be back atop the podium after so much time away, so I asked McCauley just that and here she is in her own words:

“It’s funny because I was reveling in it on Saturday, but today (Sunday) has been church and family and focusing on travel to St. George. I time block in my head, and so I’ve almost moved on from the weekend. It’s been three years since a win for me, which isn’t bad considering there was a pandemic and baby sandwiched in there. There really is no better feeling than crossing the finish and being able to celebrate the journey with the ones you love right there.”

For all of you thinking of skipping a swim this week, Brandon’s runner-up finish was a good reminder that the swim is actually important in Ironman. Switzerland’s Joanna Ryter ran nearly 17 minutes better than Brandon and still ran out of room to catch her. Brandon swam more than 14 minutes better than Ryter (and also two minutes faster than Hoffman). Don’t skip that swim. Unless you’re Lauren Brandon.

Beaugrande, Nieschlag in own league at Arena Games

(Photo: Super League Triathlon)

What started as a weird way to have a triathlon during lockdown has evolved into one of the more exciting live triathlon formats, even though France’s Cassandre Beaugrande did all she could to limit the excitement of the women’s race.

The three-race format started with swim-bike-run, then run-bike-swim, and lastly swim-bike run with a pursuit start based on the time gaps from the first two stages. The Tokyo relay bronze medalist is perfectly suited to this fast and furious style of racing, finishing 32 seconds ahead of Brit Beth Potter in the final pursuit race. Fellow Brit Jess Learmonth edged out Tokyo teammate Georgia Taylor-Brown for the final podium spot.

All eyes were on double Tokyo medalist Alex Yee at the London Aquatic Centre on Saturday, but Justus I-Probably-Don’t-Have-to-Tell-you-he’s-from-Germany Nieschlag did not care. Yee took a narrow lead after the first race, but Nieschlag demonstrated why the bike is probably the most important leg in this style of racing, pulling away on the second stage to ultimately win by 29 seconds. Nicolo Strada was the third place finisher and is also probably the name of a sick climb in the Dolomites.

RELATED: Being a Spectator at the Super League Arena Games

Noodt is a name to know

Mika Noodt Challenge Gran Canaria
(Photo: Courtesy Challenge Family)

Mika Noodt. Triathlon really does have the coolest names. Mika Noodt can run really friggin’ fast. Mika Noodt is only 21 years young. Mika Noodt ran a 1:05:48 half marathon to win what was only Mika Noodt’s fourth professional race. That means Mika Noodt averaged 5:01 per mile off the bike.

This is normally where I’d question whoever is in charge of certifying race distances in the Canary Islands, but the times from the rest of the podium and the women’s race at Challenge Mógan Gran Canaria didn’t seem odd, and no one was clamoring on the socials about a short course. The only thing odd is that a 21-year old most of us hadn’t heard of just turned in one of the fastest 13.1-mile run splits in triathlon history.

Noodt finished 90 seconds ahead of rising French star Clement Mignon, who would normally get more than a one-sentence mention for running a 1:07:06 half marathon, had Mike Noodt not run so much faster. Switzerland’s Andrea Salvisberg, who finished 22nd at the Tokyo Olympics, rounded out the podium. I can’t believe I’m giving two sentences to a guy who didn’t even break 1:10.

The women’s winner was Spaniard Sarah Perez Sala, who recently became triathlon famous when she rode into a parking cone and somersaulted off her bike while leading Clash Miami. She was fine, and six weeks after leaving some skin at Homestead-Miami Speedway, she earned the first win of her pro career.

Perez Sala was neck-and-neck with Britain’s Lucy Buckingham on the swim and bike (something very few people can do), before running away with an easy victory. The only one to run faster was Dutchwoman Els Visser, who ran past Buckingham to claim second.

Finishing just off the podium was Swiss legend Nicola Spirig. With just six weeks to go, things aren’t looking great for Spirig’s upcoming Sub-8 attempt.

RELATED: Can A Triathlete Really Break 7 Hours Over The Iron Distance?

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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.