Last Weekend Now: Comebacks, Collins Cup, and Kona Slots

A packed weekend of racing that included 36 of the world’s best competing in the second annual Collins Cup, while Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Charles-Barclay made triumphant returns.

Photo: World Triathlon

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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.)

Last year’s inaugural Collins Cup exceeded most everyone’s expectations. That wasn’t hard to do, given that there were basically no expectations after the event took more than five years to get off the ground. A successful 2021 race meant real anticipation of world-class racing and broadcasting for 2022, and let’s just say it came up a few kilometers short.

Following Saturday’s invite-only race in Samorin, Slovakia, World Triathlon borrowed some of the same course (2K swim, 80K bike, 18K run) to contest one of the most low-key world championships in the sport—won by one of the most popular triathletes in the world. Elsewhere, the sport’s only two-time Olympic champion won an Ironman and actually managed to run the marathon without stopping.

Europe Wins (Again) at Collins Cup

The Collins Cup results reveal Team Europe won for the second time in a row
(Photo: Professional Triathletes Organization)

TL;DR: It turns out Europe is better than the rest of the world at triathlon, and that the United States isn’t exactly at the top of their game. This year marks 20 years since an American has won Kona, and if the results of Collins Cup are any indication, it could be another 20 until an American is on top of the world of long-course triathlon.

The unique format pitted one European athlete versus one American and one “International,” so there were 12 three-person races starting a few minutes apart. The U.S. won zero of the 12 contests, and were really only in contention for a win in one. Team Europe won eight races, doing so without either Jan Frodeno or Lucy Charles-Barclay, who each won races for their team at the Collins Cup 2021.

I’m not going to get into all of the 12 races and the scoring, we’ve already covered that in the Collins Cup race recaps here. Besides, There was only one great race, and that was between Sam Long and Lionel Sanders—with the Canadian gutting out a win in the final 200 meters.

The gaps in every other race were in the neighborhood of one to seven minutes, which meant most of the live coverage was of athletes riding and running through fields on the Slovakian-Hungarian border by themselves. Now, as a longtime resident of Illinois, I consider myself an expert on all things fields. The fields were top-notch. But broadcasting people exercising through a vast, empty prairie isn’t exactly compelling.

If you’re going to have a boring course, you at least need a captivating broadcast, which is something World Triathlon (neé ITU) figured out about two decades ago. Last weekend at the Collins Cup, however, there were essentially no metrics or data on screen throughout the entirety of the broadcast. We occasionally got a graphical update of the scoring, which told us what we already knew: Europe was kicking the crap out of everyone.

While the broadcast left a lot to be desired, the athletes themselves put on some pretty spectacular performances: The fact that they were being paid an appearance fee instead of prize money didn’t seem to impact the intensity, and it gave us a good indicator of who is where with Kona only seven weeks away. For me, the biggest takeaway is that Kristian Blummenfelt and Daniela Ryf could be on their way to two of the most dominant wins we’ve seen on the Big Island in a long time.

Blummenfelt turned in the top men’s time of the day by just over two minutes ahead of countryman Gustav Iden. That’s a massive gap in a race that’s only 100K long. Likewise, Ryf was the top woman of the day by two minutes, but the gap to her main rivals in Kona was even more impressive. She was more than five minutes better than Laura Philipp and Anne Haug (who is still the reigning Kona champ). It’s also worth noting that Haug ran three and a half minutes faster than Ryf—a hopeful sign that things could get interesting late in the marathon in Kona if the German can limit her losses on the bike.

Where does the Collins Cup go from here? I don’t think we’ll see any massive changes to the format or teams for 2023, but I’ll be surprised if the race remains on European soil. Integrating live metrics like power, pacing, and heart rate—something PTO has indicated it’s working on—could go a long way to making something worth a few hours of your weekend. It should also help that the Norwegians will be doing their Olympic prep next summer, so perhaps it won’t be such a runaway victory for Team Europe again.

RELATED: We Put the Norwegian Training Methods to the Test

Charles-Barclay is Back to Her Winning Ways at World Triathlon Long Distance Champs

(Photo: World Triathlon)

An emotional Lucy Charles-Barclay returned to racing for the first time since a hip stress fracture she suffered during the winter. The reigning Ironman 70.3 world champ added a second world title to her resume, topping countrywoman Emma Pallant-Browne by three minutes.

Perhaps most impressive about Charles-Barclay’s victory was that she ran 1:05:05 for 18K, which was faster than every woman competing in the Collins Cup except Haug (running on a different course of the same length). The season may have looked like a wash for Charles-Barclay, but she appears poised to have a solid second half of 2022, and will look to defend her 70.3 world title on the same course she won it on in St. George this October.

Frenchman Pierre Le Corre is often left playing backup to his supremely talented French teammates on the WTCS circuit, but he now joins Vincent Luis with world championship stripes on his kit. Competing in just his fourth non-drafting race, Le Corre used his blistering run speed to win by two minutes over Florian Angert, the latest in a never-ending stream of German über-bikers. Andrew Starykowicz was the highest-placing American in 13th. (No American women competed.)

Brownlee Locks Up Kona Spot at Ironman Kalmar

(Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

For the first time in five years, Alistair Brownlee appears to be unbroken. According to every Brit on my Twitter feed, that means he is going to win Kona by 30 minutes, follow it up with his third Olympic gold medal at Paris 2024, and then become King of England. Personally, I think Brownlee has a better chance of being crowned King of England than King of Kona, but it’s great news for the sport that it’ll be more than just a two-Norwegian race on the Big Island in seven weeks.

Brownlee’s winning time in Sweden was 7:38:48, which is the third-fastest Ironman in history, the fastest in the world outside of Cozumel, and the fastest ever by a Brit. He closed with a 2:40 marathon, which makes him among the handful of guys that can run a handful of minutes slower than Blummenfelt and Iden. Of those guys, he might be the only one with the horsepower and horse gonads to try to put more than five minutes into the Norwegians before the start of the marathon.

Belgian Pieter Heemeryck finished seven minutes behind to claim the runner-up spot and the second Kona slot on offer. There was no women’s pro race in Kalmar.

RELATED: Recalled: The Brownlee Brothers Iconic Finish

Chartier and Chura Tops at Ironman Mont-Tremblant

(Photo: Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

The final chance for pros to qualify for Kona came on Sunday in Quebec, with a pair of slots available for both the men and women. American Collin Chartier picked up the biggest win of his very young career and his first Kona qualification, taking the win on the heels of a 2:45 marathon. That put him at the finish with three minutes to spare on Aussie Josh Amberger and four minutes on Canadian Cody Beals, both of whom had already qualified for the Big Dance. That sent the final KQ slot rolling down to fourth-place finisher David Plese of Slovenia.

Haley Chura made it all-USA at the top of the podium with her first full Ironman win since 2014. The super-swimmer is accustomed to leading gun-to-tape when she takes a victory, but for once she trailed out of the water, letting countrywoman Rachel Zilinskas lead the way into T2. But the veteran took control right from the start of the bike and never looked back, winning easily by seven minutes over Canadian Jen Annett. Annett already has her Kona slot locked up by virtue of her runner-up finish at Ironman Des Moines, so the final Kona slot of 2022 went to Zilinskas, who is only in her second year of professional racing.

RELATED: Haley Chura’s Tips for Crushing the 100 x 100 Pool Swim

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