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Last Weekend Now: Finally a Big Weekend of Big Races Again

European Ironman champions crowned, not-Super League Super League-like World Triathlon races, and Alcatraz winners bode well for their futures.

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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 been a minute since we’ve had a weekend overflowing with big races. Thanks to nearly every race being postponed until August, September, or October, this last weekend was just the first of many weighty weekends to come. From a new and controversial World Triathlon format in Montreal to new Ironman European champions in Finland and Frankfurt to a usual suspect in Alcatraz, racing is finally back to running full speed ahead.

The French men swept in Montreal. Photo: Wagner Araujo/World Triathlon

Wild Weekend of World Triathlon

If you missed a wild weekend of World Triathlon racing, you should know that things were a bit different, and people had feelings about it. The unique, super-sprint course was a 300m swim, 7.2K bike, and 2K run. A single race on Friday trimmed the field down from roughly 60 to 30. Then two “eliminator” rounds took the field down to 20 and finally 10 athletes for the championship heat. You get it if you’ve ever watched Super League. (I really hope you have or are planning to.)

It’s a great format for both TV and spectators, but it shouldn’t have a place in determining the world champion of what is supposed to be the premier—and only—Olympic-distance race series in the world. Former series leader Maya Kingma explained her reason for not racing on Instagram, while others simply chose to sit this round out after a grueling Olympic build.

In the end it was mostly familiar races at the front, with recently-anointed Olympic champion Flora Duffy coming out on top in the final, 10-woman showdown. She shared the podium with the American Taylors—Knibb (2nd), who has not required a post-Olympic respite, and Spivey (3rd), who is now second in the world rankings behind Duffy.

The French men made it a rare podium sweep, with their experience in the fast-and-furious Grand Prix Series clearly paying dividends. This time it was Dorian Coninx taking just his second WTCS win of his career, finishing one second ahead of still reigning world champ Vincent Luis. Leo Bergere finished another two seconds back to close out the sweep for Les Bleus.

I have no problem with World Triathlon showcasing this format, and many of the athletes racing and spectators on the ground had nothing but positive things to say. But save it for a World Cup, or better yet, let Super League do it instead of trying to recreate Super League. If World Triathlon wants to make the WTCS series more exciting, they should start with the courses. They race all over the world. There are hills and mountains all over the world. You’d think they could find some.

Men’s European champs

It was a men’s-only pro race at Ironman Frankfurt for a change, while the professional women got to race at a much cooler and cooler venue in Finland. The flat-and-fast Frankfurt bike course made for a bit of a drafting problem for everyone except Denmark’s Kristian Hogenhaug, who is awesome at last names and riding a bike. His 4:16 split was nine minutes faster than the group of six riding “legally” behind him, and in the end it earned him a second-place finish. He already has a Kona spot, however, so his rolled down to the Belgian Pieter Heemeryck.

Running down Hogenhaug with just four kilometers left was Sweden’s Patrik Nilsson, who has the same last name as half the people in his country. Nilsson ran just under the 2:40 mark to finish just under eight hours (7:59:21), which was just 57 seconds better than Hogenhaug. Claiming the final Kona slot was two-time podium finisher David McNamee of Scotland, another two minutes back.

The debut Ironman venue in Finland was a draw for many. Photo: Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images for IRONMAN

Women’s European champs

If you saw any of the pictures or video from Kuopio Tahko, Finland, you probably want to visit and race in Kuopio Tahko, Finland. It’s an absolutely stunning venue, where you’re just about guaranteed to finish before dark, but unfortunately there was a downpour for much of race day. That seemed to suit Germany’s Laura Philip just fine, who did battle with American Jocelyn McCauley and Switzerland’s Imogen Simmonds on the bike before storming away to a 21-minute victory on the marathon.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Philip on the international stage, but don’t forget she debuted in Kona in 2019 with a fourth-place finish. She also turned in the fastest Ironman debut of all time with her 8:34 finish at Barcelona in 2018. At 34, the relative late-comer to Ironman should have a few shots at running her way onto the Kona podium over the next few years.

A runner-up finish for McCauley means that she’ll be back in Kona just seven months after the birth of her second child. Simmonds is still looking for the first Ironman win of her career, but her third place showing means she’ll be back in Kona too, where she finished 12th on debut in 2019.

Ben Kanute made it four at Alcatraz. Photo: Rocky Arroyo

New & Old at Alcatraz

After missing out on his second Olympic team, American Ben Kanute can finally focus on the non-drafting phase of his career, and it’s probably going to involve a lot of winning. Alcatraz is a course where swimming and strength actually matter, and it’s tailor made for Kanute, who this weekend became the first man to win the race four times. He finished two minutes ahead of countryman Jason West, who also seems better suited for non-draft racing and could have a lucrative (by triathlon standards) career now that his Olympic pipedream is behind him. South Africa’s Bradley Weiss, the two-time Xterra world champion, finished third and is proving to be one of the most versatile triathletes on the planet.

It was a first-time winner for the women, but it was hardly a surprise, as Emma Pallant-Browne continues to be the hottest triathlete on the planet right now. Alcatraz marks her fifth win in seven races this season, and her schedule won’t ease up much. Next up it’s off to Slovakia for the Collins Cup, and then back to the U.S. for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, where she’ll be among the favorites to try to dethrone Queen Ryf.

Finishing a minute behind was Holly Lawrence, who got the better of Pallant-Browne at 70.3 Des Moines in June. The two will be teammates in Slovakia on a European women’s team that should be nothing short of dominant. Rounding out the podium was American Jackie Hering, who will also head to Samorin as part of a U.S. women’s team that should be nothing short of humbled.

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