Last Weekend Now: Championship (and Halloween) Edition
Taylor Knibb is a goblin on two wheels, and Ben Kanute’s bag of tricks can’t match Kristian Blummenfelt - the masterful performances in St. George were a treat. Plus, the Super League season wrapped in Saudi Arabia. (Yes, that Saudi Arabia.)
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Last Weekend Now is your weekly commentary on what’s happening in pro triathlon, brought to you by Brad Culp. (Ed note: So yell at him if you don’t like the comments.)
Happy Halloween. It’s not too late to change your costume to Taylor Knibb. All you need is a red and black kit, a curly blonde wig, and a backpack large enough to carry around the souls of every other woman on earth with ambitions of becoming 70.3 world champion any time soon.
There was a lot else that happened this weekend in the world of pro triathlon—including another world title for the greatest triathlete on the planet, and a marquee race on a sand dune in Saudi Arabia (yes, that Saudi Arabia)—but this was the weekend of Taylor Knibb.
A “Generational Performance” by Knibb at 70.3 Worlds
There aren’t enough superlatives to adequately express how almost-perfect of a performance Knibb turned in on Friday afternoon. (A perfect time for a race, in my opinion.) Craig Alexander knows a thing or two about generational performances, so when he called it just that on the commentary, it wasn’t hyperbole.
It’s not often that a world championship in any sport is virtually uncontested. Even Kipchoge has company for the first half of most marathons. From basically the five-mile point of the ride in St. George, the race for the win was essentially over.
There was a moment on the coverage when she turned off of the highway and onto a bike path. She’d only moved passed Lucy Charles-Barclay a minute before, but she looked back and already couldn’t see her. Then she glanced again just to confirm. She wasn’t riding aggressive or trying to make a statement early in the bike. She was just grinding out the watts she knew she could hold, and it put her in a different zip code than a field that included the defending world race champion and reigning Olympic champion.
The scary part is that Knibb is only 24 and still appears to be figuring this triathlon thing out. She’s among the only women on earth who can swim alongside Charles-Barclay, her bike is as strong as Daniela Ryf in her prime—at least at this distance—and her already Olympic-caliber run is improving by the month.
Knibb and coach Ian O’Brien focused on this race all season long, and the planning and execution were seemingly perfect. Aside from a quick bathroom break late in the run, it was the most flawless performance I can remember watching. I’m sure Knibb and O’Brien will poke holes in the race here and there, but that’s about as good as you can do it. Take a vacation.
If Knibb weren’t in the race, it would’ve been one of the most thrilling world championships in recent memory. Paula Findlay, Flora Duffy and Lucy Charles-Barclay ran together throughout the early part of the run, with Findlay ultimately pulling away for second and Emma Pallant-Browne running down the two world champions to claim the final podium spot. It was the third runner-up finish of the season for Findlay, who will finish the season winless but should get a nice year-end bonus from PTO. This race should move her close to the top five overall.
RELATED: Commentary: The World Belongs to Taylor Knibb
Blu Back on Track
Nothing motivates Kristian Blummenfelt quite like being beaten. While almost every triathlete on earth would be thrilled with finishing Kona in the third-fastest time in history, it was a swing and a miss for Big Blu.
Good thing nothing erases a bad race memory quite like winning your second world title of the year. Blummenfelt was more dominant in his win on Saturday than he was over his 140.6-mile victory in St. George in May, and were it not for a career performance by American Ben Kanute, the men’s race could’ve been almost as boring as the women’s.
It’s the first world title for Blummenfelt at this distance, which probably suits his skillset better than any other. Same can be said for Kanute, who had the best race of his career, even though it didn’t result in a win. Having the guts—and the leg speed—to push Blummenfelt at the start of the run is something less than a handful of athletes could do.
Like Knibb, Kanute and coach Jim Vance targeted this race specifically, and the result was a stellar race at the end of mostly forgettable season. It should catapult Kanute up the PTO World Rankings, where he sat at #28 heading into the weekend.
World #3 Magnus Ditlev bounced back from his eighth-place debut in Kona to finish third in St. George, and should remain #3 in the rankings behind the Norwegians.
Super League Season Wraps in Saudi Arabia
Super League has been mostly great for the sport, but racing in a yet-to-be built city in Saudi Arabia was a mistake that put the athletes in a terrible position. Many of them cannot say no to this kind of money, especially now that there is a team component to consider. And many committed to the series before knowing that the finale would take place in a strange tent city in a Kingdom with a very questionable moral compass.
The current tent city of Neom is eventually supposed to be the world’s first “super city,” whatever that means, and recently it’s been at the center of a human rights tragedy, as is often the case with a mega project inside the Kingdom. The land where this city is eventually going to be built was home to a number of tribes, many of whom haven’t been so eager to leave their land. After the murder of one activist, three more were recently sentenced to death. They’ve been sentenced to death for posting on social media that they don’t want to leave their homes.
I’m all for growing the sport, but this isn’t it. The Kingdom’s only interest in having sporting events in their city-in-progress is to wash over the terrible things that are happening to get it up and running. If you go to any of the official Neom social media channels (@NEOM), you will be flooded with Super League images. They’d like some good news about Neom, but hopefully it draws a lot more of the opposite.
GTB and Scorpions take season titles
Now to the very exciting team competition that I know you’ve all been following closely these past few months. I regret to inform you that my Sharks—our Sharks, really—were nipped at the finish by the mighty Scorpions, and finished second. I demand a recount of the points.
Leading the charge for the Scorpions was Georgia Taylor-Brown, who won the “enduro” format race, which is three short triathlons done in succession with no break in between. It looks exhausting, especially when you’re racing around sand dunes quite literally in the middle of nowhere. GTB entered the day in a virtual tie with Taylor Spivey for the series title, but Spivey finished fourth behind an all-British podium and ended up second in the standings.
Despite a strong showing from Spivey all season long, her Rhinos finished a distant fifth in the five-team race, which was very exciting and I know you all have been following all season. The Rhinos should be relegated to the French Grand Prix league.
The other two Brits on the podium in Neom were Sophie Coldwell and Beth Potter, with Coldwell claiming third for the season.
Hauser wins race, Wilde takes title
Matt Hauser finally got the better of Hayden Wilde, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Kiwi from winning his first Super League title in runaway fashion. Hauser broke away with Johnny Brownlee at the start of the final run, leaving Wilde to finish third but having no effect on the final series standings.
Wilde finished 13 points ahead of Hauser for the season, with Brownlee another 11 points behind in third. Those are big gaps in Super League. I appreciate that Super League uses smaller numbers to help those of us who are terrible at math. Trying to compute the World Triathlon rankings is impossible. Why does Alex Yee need 1200 points for a win? That’s too many points.
The team title came down to just two points separating the Scorpions in first and Sharks in second. Had Wilde and Hauser flipped positions on Saturday, it could’ve ended in a tie, in which case one ton of scorpions (3.5 million scorpions) were waiting on the Red Sea coast to fight one ton of great white shark (one shark). No expense is spared inside the Kingdom. What could’ve been.
All in all it was another great Super League season. The only things I would do differently would be to not help a brutal dictatorship sportwash human rights crimes, and also change the Cheetahs uniforms. There is such a thing as too much cheetah print. Less is more when it comes to sportwashing and cheetah print.
RELATED: What is Super League Triathlon? Your Guide to the 2022 Championship