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If you love triathlon and volcanoes, last weekend was a big one. (I love volcanoes. Do you have a favorite, or like a top 10 list? No, that’s just me?) From the pumice-swept landscape of Spain’s Canary Islands to the extremely active molten crags of Southern Chile, some of the world’s best long-course athletes got to race over some very rugged terrain last weekend.
Matthews flawless in Lanza
With so many talented British women, sometimes it’s easy to glance over one. I’ve read a handful of previews and predictions for May’s Ironman world champs in Utah—even written a few—and I’ve only seen the name Kat Matthews appear once. It wasn’t in something I wrote, either. It’s not entirely my fault: Matthews has been a pro for less than three years, and we all basically took 2020 off. That is, except for Matthews, who won just about every triathlon that happened that year, including her first Ironman win in Florida.
The most important takeaway from Matthews’ brilliant performance on Saturday was that her bike was at an entirely different level than the competition, and that competition included still-reigning Ironman world champion Anne Haug. Matthews started the run with a lead of more than five minutes on the world champ, and Haug was only able to chip away a minute of that on the run. Olympic relay gold medalist and Super League chieftain Jessica Learmonth rounded out the podium in her first long-course race (racing on a road bike).
How did she do it? READ: Kat Mathews Serves Notice to Reigning Ironman Champ
The men’s race flipped the script and saw a Tokyo Olympian get the best of the long-distance vets. Frenchman Léo Bergere is one of the many French men who has decided to dip his toes into the 70.3 waters during the three years between Olympic Games, and he may want to consider diving headfirst into long course.
To fully appreciate Bergere’s win, one must understand how challenging the bike course is at Lanzarote, where the best split of the day was 2:15. Compare that to the 1:53 splits we saw one week ago in Dubai. After that challenging bike leg, it looked like Kyle Smith, a Kiwi who spends most of his time training with a GOAT in Girona, Spain, had the race locked up in the final miles of the run. But Bergere’s short-course speed proved too much. He found one more gear and made the catch with exactly two miles to go, and then the two battled side by side until the 1K mark, when Bergere reminded us why he had two WTCS podium finishes last season. His final winning margin was 27 seconds, with Germany’s Florian Angert another minute behind. Both Smith and Angert will next make their way to St. George for the Ironman world champs, where they should be in the mix in the swim and bike.
Long, Chura champs of new race in Chile
Southern Chile’s Lake District is one of the most captivating backdrops for triathlon in the world, and it’s been home to Ironman 70.3 Pucon for 32 years (the longest-running triathlon in South America). Somewhere in Pucon are still my first passport, my first work computer, and a $2,000 camera I convinced the former publisher of this magazine that I had to have. (Thieves are very good at thievery in Southern Chile, so be careful if you go, and know that if worse comes to worse, you can bribe your way onto an airplane without a passport in this part of the world.)
A few hundred miles south of Pucon, you’ll find Puerto Varas, a town that looks like it’s straight out of the German alps and has a long colonial history. Fresh off his dominant win at CLASH Miami, Long took a lengthy trip to Puerto Varas to show off his new swim, which had him only two minutes behind the leaders out of the water.
Despite that two-minute deficit at T1, Long built a five-minute lead by T2. This should give you a sense of how well the man is riding right now. The tougher the bike course, the more it plays into Long’s strength, and that’s why I really like his podium chances in St. George. With such a massive lead, Long kept things in cruise control on the run to easily claim his second victory in as many races this season. Matt Hanson chipped away a minute of Long’s lead to finish second, ahead of Argentina’s Luciano Taccone, whose name I’m going to borrow when I finally write that mafia film script.
Long will have one final tune-up race for St. George in two weeks’ time at 70.3 Oceanside, where he’ll face his first true test of the season against the likes of Alistair Brownlee, Lionel Sanders, David McNamee, Rudy von Berg and Ben Kanute.
Cheers Sam and Haley! pic.twitter.com/HmSMEwHmsV
— Challenge Family (@Challenge_Famil) March 20, 2022
If you want a reason to really get excited about Long’s swim progression, you should know that Haley Chura led the women’s race out of the water in 30:16. I didn’t know Chura was capable of such a slow split, and it tells you how incredibly choppy the water was. A full five minutes back came triathlon’s unofficial Miss Congeniality, Laura Siddall, who is typically the one getting out of the water around the 30-minute mark.
The pair pulled well away from the field on the bike, starting the half-marathon within 20 seconds of each other—and nearly 10 minutes clear of the rest. With Siddall trailing by such a small margin, a pass seemed inevitable for such a strong runner, but Chura played the bold strategy of hitting the gas right out of T2. She quickly built a lead of 90 seconds, and that didn’t change much for the rest of the race. It was brilliant tactical racing by Chura, who won her first race in three years. A full 11 minutes behind runner-up Siddall came Argentina’s Romina Palacio, whose name is also now part of my upcoming film.
Next weekend looks to be a quiet one on the pro racing calendar, but the first weekend in April will be one of the biggest of the spring, with the world’s top Ironman athletes putting in their final tune-up races for St. George at 70.3 Oceanside and Texas.