Last Weekend Now: Dominant Wins in Miami, Australians in Australia, and a New Para Event
Columnist Brad Culp recaps a weekend of 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.)
It seems like I’m writing about a race in Florida every Monday. Last weekend, we had two major events in the state that is the butt of a lot of online jokes. A thousand miles west and south, Challenge Shepparton gave the rest of Australia’s top talent a moment in the spotlight at home—because Australia’s newest superstar was busy burning up a race track in Miami.
How to make a burner boring? Domination
Ashleigh Gentle is a name I’m going to be writing a lot this season, so I should get used to spelling “Ashley” that way because Australians have no respect for phonetics. (If you don’t believe me, ask one to say “garage.”) Over the past two seasons, Gentle was able to leave Australia exactly once, where she DNF’d in the individual race at the Tokyo Olympics and finished ninth in the relay. It’s been a rough go for the woman who might be the most talented Aussie we’ve seen since Mirinda Carfrae—only Gentle seems to be a lot more talented on the bike. But she raced—and won—at Clash Miami.
After early leader Sarah Perez Sala crashed out of the race (parking cones finally got a win), Gentle powered away from the field with relative ease, lapping nearly everyone in the process. She even managed to break the bike course record set last year by Lucy Charles-Barclay, to give you an idea of how well she can ride a TT bike.
She’s also one of the nicest people you’ll meet in real life and a stone-cold killer on the race course. She rode past the wreckage of Perez Sala without turning her head. Then she did the same as she ran by Emma Pallant-Browne being attended to by medical staff after collapsing from dehydration. She must be one of the few drivers who can drive past an accident without caring what the carnage looks like.
RELATED: Why Did So Many Pros DNF at Clash Miami?
At the finish, Gentle had to wait for runner-up Pamella Oliveira of Brazil for nearly seven minutes, which is the kind of winning margin we’re used to seeing in an Ironman. This race took Gentle almost exactly three hours. We’ll get a chance to see how Gentle does at a slightly longer distance and slightly stronger field at 70.3 Oceanside in three weeks’ time.
The men’s race was another case of a really great athlete getting even better over the off-season. With the Ironman World Championship on a St. George course he likes in only two months, Sam Long is firing on all cylinders. If Norway invades Iceland before May, and Norwegian athletes are banned from all international competition, Long has a great chance of becoming a world champion at just 26 years young. If Norway chooses not to invade (as first reported by me), then Long has a great chance of finishing third.
Learning how to swim was an off-season project for Long. He got out of the pond in the Homestead-Miami Speedway infield only two-and-a-half minutes behind Aaron Royle and Jonas Schomburg, who are two of the best swimmers in the sport. And he did it without a wetsuit, so he can even swim without training wheels now.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Long rode away from Denmark’s Magnus Ditlev, and no one has ever done that. After moving through the field with Long to catch Ben Kanute at the front, Ditlev dropped back to third at T2, while Kanute rode strong to stay within 20 seconds at transition.
With Long comfortably out front, the best race of the day was between Kanute and fellow American Jason West, who was the biggest mover on the run and ultimately grabbed the runner-up spot. Kanute held on for third to complete a very rare podium sweep for American men.
RELATED: Photos: Clash Miami Kicks Off 2022 Season
The other big winner from Miami was anyone that was able to follow the live coverage on a Friday afternoon. It was both free and outstanding, which is the number one thing you can do to get people to tune in to a triathlon. Did people tune in? Not really. The stream on Facebook probably averaged around 5,000 viewers, which actually seems pretty good if you’ve ever been one of 250 people on earth watching Ironman New Zealand at 10 p.m. on a Friday night. (I obviously do much more exciting things on Friday nights.)
The broadcast was carried by former pro Belinda Granger, who has truly found her calling, even though she wears a dozen other hats in the industry, too. The rest of the broadcast team—Tim O’Donnell, Alicia Kaye, Greg Bennett, and NASCAR broadcaster Rick Allen—were great as well, and they worked together to make a somewhat boring race a pleasure to watch. I would love to poke some holes at the broadcast and make a few jokes, but I’ve got nothing. You guys win this round.
RELATED: Can Triathlon Ever Be a Spectator Sport?
Spectators missing in Shepparton
Like every town in Australia, Shepparton was founded as a place to raise sheep and store British prisoners, and now it has a triathlon. It happens to also offer a $30K pro prize purse, which is great news for those who don’t want to leave summer Down Under to go make a few bucks elsewhere.
It’s too bad we didn’t have Clash’s live broadcast team in Shepparton, because the women’s race was a thrilling finish that was only witnessed by four people and 11 sheep. Dutchwoman Lotte Wilms looked to have the race in the bag, but she began fading in the final kilometer of the half-marathon, and New Zealand’s Amelia Watkinson came flying by 200 meters from the finish to take the win. It must’ve been a huge relief for Watkinson, who had finished as the runner-up in each of her last five races and conceded at the finish that she had “settled on second, to be honest.”
The men’s race gave us more of what you’d expect from a relatively small long-distance race in a faraway corner of Australia: Big time gaps and not much exciting racing. After an unusually slow swim, Aussie Tim van Berkel had a solid day of exercise to finish four minutes ahead of countryman Fraser Walsh.
Another new event in Florida
Because Florida truly embodies what it means to DGAF, they had triathlons all over the state on Friday afternoon. What a wacky place. With so many of the country’s top paratriathletes already in Sarasota for the Americas Triathlon Championship, USAT decided to invent a whole new sport and add a mixed relay element for the first time. When you’re on a hot streak like USAT has been lately, you keep going back to the table.
This was more of a test event than an actual race, because there are still plenty of kinks to work out if USAT and other federations want to reach their goal of inclusion in the 2028 LA Paralympics. To even up the teams, which each have a range of athletes, a scoring system has been put in place in which each paratri category is assigned a different point value based. Official results were not posted for this debut event, but USAT is looking at another event later in the season, with hopes that other federations (and World Triathlon) can get on board to give it the big push it’ll need to get into LA 2028.
RELATED: Check Out the First-Ever Para Mixed Tri Relay
Check back next week to find out what went down at one of the toughest 70.3 courses in the world in Lanzarote, where Olympic relay gold medalist Jess Learmonth will make her highly anticipated long-course debut.