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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’s a bit strange to have such a consequential weekend of racing come just days after Ironman announced that the Super Bowl of triathlon wouldn’t be taking place—again—this year. But that’s what happens when the biggest race in the world is on a relatively small island where half the people will never get vaccinated and there’s very limited hospital capacity.
But this is a forward-thinking column, so let’s focus on the races we do have. A new and old world champion were crowned in Canada, Cam Wurf took a break from pretending to be a professional cyclist to beat Lionel Sanders in Denmark, and a rising Canadian star ran ridiculously fast in New Hampshire.
The First Ever Olympic & World Champion—Twice
As you know, I keep this column free from opinion and just stick to facts. It’s a fact that Edmonton is the most underrated city in North America for endurance addicts. It gets glossed over due to its proximity to Calgary and Vancouver, but don’t sleep on Edmonton for off-and on-road riding and running.
It’s also the best course the oft-renamed World Triathlon Championship Series has raced on all season, and it gave us one of the best performances we’ve seen in a few years. Taylor Knibb is low-key the best all-around triathlete on the planet right now. Or perhaps it’s high-key. Social media over the weekend was a mix of, “OMG, how did Knibb just do that?!” and “LOL, why are you surprised Knibb just did that?”
In case you missed it, 23-year-old American Knibb kicked the crap out of a field that included two out of the three most recent Olympic medalists. She soloed away on the bike to a lead of two minutes and 44 seconds over a chase pack that included gold medalist Flora Duffy and bronze medalist Katie Zaferes, who are allegedly two of the best cyclists in the world.
Knibb’s final winning margin was just shy of a minute over France’s Leonie Periault, who is quietly becoming one of the best draft-legal athletes on earth. She was fifth in the individual race in Tokyo and was a member of France’s bronze-winning relay. Periault has raced an astonishing 13 times this season and her only finish outside of the top seven was a DNF in Yokohama in May.
Duffy was never in the mix for the win, but finishing third was enough to secure her third World Triathlon Championship Series title, which marks the tenth world title of her career. (The other seven titles all came off road.) Duffy also became the first triathlete to win Olympic gold and world championship honors in the same year, a feat that was equaled by Kristian Blummenfelt about two-and-a-half hours later. Duffy was joined on the final World Series podium by the two American Taylors, culminating what has been a banner year for USA Triathlon. Knibb’s win moved her up to second in the final standings, while a fifth-place finish for Taylor Spivey was just enough to hold on to third.
Blummenfelt may have had his sights set on Olympic and Kona glory in the same calendar year, but he’ll have to settle for a gold medal, his first world title, and a shot at his first Ironman 70.3 world championship in four weeks. Saturday’s win in Edmonton wasn’t quite the same dominant performance we saw in Tokyo, but it was tactical perfection. Four weeks ago in Japan, Blummenfelt executed a carefully planned strategy to break away and win with [relative] ease. He raced his own race. Last weekend, “Blu” raced his competitors. He moved to the front of the lead group of eight runners at the halfway point of the run, and then began to test them with little surges; constantly glancing over his shoulder to see who he had broken and who was still hanging on for dear life.
In the end it came down to a sprint between Blummenfelt, Belgian Marten Van Reil, and France’s Léo Bergere. Blu made sure it wasn’t too thrilling of a sprint finish, winning by a full meter over Van Reil, who officially had the same time. Bergere finished a second behind to put one Frenchman on the podium a week after they pulled off the sweep in Montreal.
The big story for the Americans was Seth Rider, who finished fourth for far and away the biggest result of his career. At 24, Rider was the youngest athlete in the top 10. Olympians Morgan Pearson and Kevin McDowell both sat this race out, but the emergence of Rider bodes well for the American’s chances of getting a third men’s spot for Paris 2024.
When Cameron Wurf signed with the Ineos Pro Cycling Team two years ago, it appeared he’d be a pro triathlete moonlighting as a pro cyclist. But since COVID has thrown a bigger wrench into tri than cycling, it’s mostly been the other way around. Wurf competed in the Vuelta a Espana for Ineos last year, but missing out on this year’s squad for the Grand Tours meant there was time to squeeze in an Ironman and lock in his Kona slot for [fingers crossed] February.
Following the wrong leader on the swim sent Wurf and Lionel Sanders astray on the one leg which they really can’t afford to do so, but both managed to exit the water in a tick over 49 minutes. While it’s easy to make fun of Wurf and Sanders’ swim—especially if you’ve seen them in person—it’s worth noting that both are [slowly] improving.
From there it was all Wurf, who stormed to a 4:02:19 bike split that was just shy of 10 minutes faster than Sanders. While the bike has clearly been Wurf’s focus over the past two seasons, he backed up his remarkable ride with a 2:49:37 marathon, which was just enough to keep Sanders from ever truly being in the race. The Canadian’s 2:43:50 run was one of the best we’ve seen from him and was enough to secure second and a Kona slot if Kona ever happens again. Finland’s Henrik Goesch rounded out the podium on a fast day that saw the top seven men break eight hours.
Canadians on the run
My Canadian triathlon friends tend to get very excitable any time a Canadian has a good day, so it was no surprise that I received a few messages on Sunday asking if I’d seen what Tamara Jewett had just done in New Hampshire. Every time a Canuck has a great day, my friends up north think they’ve found the next Simon Whitfield or Peter Reid—although this time they might be onto something.
Coming off a third-place finish at Boulder 70.3, Jewett unleashed one of the biggest ass-kickings we’ve seen since that one time Lionel tried to race Frodo one-on-one. The former elite runner turned in a sizzling 1:14:20 half-marathon to top runner-up Mirinda Carfrae by nearly 10 minutes and third-place finisher Heather Jackson by more than 12.
With a lifetime 10K PR of 33:33, Jewett has a run pedigree that few in the sport can match, and it appears her swim and bike are finally getting to the point where she can contend with just about anyone over this distance. While we won’t see her at the Collins Cup next weekend, watch out for this 31-year-old Canadian at the 70.3 world championship in St. George in four weeks.