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Last Weekend Now is your Monday morning 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.)
If you’re reading this, chances are it was hotter than the surface of the sun in your neck of the woods this past weekend. Even the Pacific Northwest wasn’t spared—ask anyone at the Track and Field Olympic Trials—and there were plenty of tri victims in northern Idaho. Five-thousand miles to the east, athletes actually managed to find moderate temperatures and an epic venue at the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Denmark.
Ironman Coeur d’Alene
Lionel Sanders might be having second thoughts about his much-hyped mano-a-mano battle with Jan Frodeno, scheduled for July 18 in Germany. What once looked like a surefire win over his upstart rival Sam Long turned into a rare 13th-place finish, and now the world’s most popular Ironman needs to squeeze in one more (non-exhibition) 140.6-mile effort if he’s going to be back on the Big Island this October.
But let’s not make this about Sanders. He didn’t lose the race nearly as much as Long won it. Competing in just his fourth full Ironman (he recently finished a disappointing 13th at Ironman Tulsa five weeks ago), Long handled the heat better than anyone, putting Sanders into a world of hurt late in the run. It looked as though a Sanders catch-and-pass was inevitable as Long led through the halfway mark of the marathon, but then the 25-year-old from Boulder found a new gear, just as the 33-year-old from Ontario lost his stomach.
It means Sanders will have to race the Ironman distance two more times between now and Kona, and he’ll have to be on his A-game at whatever race he chooses as his qualifying effort. More importantly, Sunday’s race is a big breakthrough for Long, who rebounded remarkably well from his discouraging race in Tulsa. It also shows that he can handle the heat very well over an eight-hour race, and that’s really the most important thing in Kona.
Is Long now a bona fide Kona contender? Absolutely not. He has a long way to go, and the non-wetsuit ocean swim will certainly put him at a disadvantage. But he just went toe-to-toe with one of the five best Ironman athletes on earth and beat him, in his fourth Ironman, on a very tough day, at age 25. There is definite Kona-winning potential.
Behind Long were three men who all managed to run under 2:50 in extreme heat, led by fellow Boulderite Justin Metzler, who ran 2:47 to run his way to second. Portuguese veteran Pedro Gomes ran 2:49 to finish third, with 28-year-old Canadian Jason Pohl turning in the fastest run of the day (2:47:46) for fourth.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Aussie veteran Carrie Lester was superb in the heat, battling past first-time Ironwoman Fenella Langridge of Great Britain. Lester is as fast as ever at 40 years young, and she continues to be brilliant in the heat—which is particularly impressive for someone who lives in trains in the only place in the country that isn’t a furnace right now (San Diego). Lester already has two top-10 Kona finishes to her credit, and while a top five might be a reach, don’t be surprised to see her and possibly a few more 40-somethings sneak into the top 10 again this year.
Speaking of 40-year-olds who are great in the heat and in Hawaii, Linsey Corbin ran the fastest women’s marathon of the day (3:02:07) to finish behind Langridge in third. Like Lester, Corbin is unlikely to crack the top five in Kona (which she has done twice in her career) but she’s running as well as ever and handles the Hawaiian heat with ease. Don’t be surprised if she has one more top-ten finish at the world champs in her.
Ironman 70.3 European Championship (Helsingør, Denmark)
It turns out there was one place on planet Earth that wasn’t 90-plus degrees this weekend, which is one part of what made Helsingør, Denmark, the perfect setting for Ironman’s rotating 70.3 European champs. The other part is that the race is centered around a UNESCO world heritage site, the Kronborg Slot—the castle known as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet—and it’s without a doubt one of the most impressive triathlon venues on earth.
So it was a fitting place for the most impressive triathlete on earth as of late. Lucy Charles-Barclay is simultaneously among the best triathletes in the world at every distance—from Super League to Olympic distance to 70.3 and Ironman. It’s a feat that hasn’t been done since the days of Erin Baker and Mark Allen. No offense to two of the greatest to ever do it, but LCB is doing it against significantly stronger competition from all over the globe.
Not only did Charles-Barclay win in Helsingør/Elsinore, but she dominated a field that included former 70.3 world champ Holly Lawrence. Her winning margin over Lawrence was more than five minutes, and she did that by comfortably posting the fastest split across all three disciplines. Simply put: She’s a different runner in 2021, and that means she’s finally a real threat to usurp Daniela Ryf or Anne Haug as the next queen of Kona.
Behind Lawrence there was a gap of nearly 11 minutes to third-place finisher Camilia Pedersen of Denmark, who beat out countrywoman Maja Stage-Nielsen. With so many races being jammed into such a tight window, the big falloffs after the top few athletes will be something we’ll be seeing a lot of this summer.
I was late to the George Goodwin bandwagon. Those I talk to in the U.K. tri industry have been hyping him hard for nearly three years, and my response has always been, “Whatever, he can’t swim.”
But as Sam Long proved in Coeur d’Alene, it really doesn’t matter if you’re a terrible swimmer. That’s especially true at the 70.3 distance, where the swim is so short relative to the bike and run. Goodwin erased a two-minute swim deficit in Denmark with a 2:01 bike and 1:08 run, which is the kind of swim/bike combo we’re used to seeing from Jan Frodeno. If the 24-year-old can just shave a minute off his swim over the next year or so, he’ll be a legitimate contender for the 70.3 world title.
America’s top contender at the 70.3 distance continues to be Rudy Von Berg, who finished just 23 seconds behind Goodwin in second. Twelve seconds behind Von Berg was Jan Stratmann, and if you can’t tell from the name, he’s most definitely German.
Further back, in fifth, was a notable result by Kiwi youngster Kyle Smith. The 24-year-old moved up to the 70.3 distance last year, and has since turned in some insanely impressive times. While he faded during the run on Saturday, he did put up both the best swim and bike of the day, outriding Goodwin by 20 seconds—something very few can do.
Related: How They Did It: Kyle Smith
With up-and-coming athletes like Smith, Goodwin and Long, as well as veterans like Sanders, Frodeno, Alistair Brownlee, Gustav Iden, Kristian Blummenfelt, and Javier Gomez, this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah, on September 18 should end up being the race of the year. Thankfully for us, Ironman put this year’s world champs on a real course.