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Last Weekend Now: Knibb Takes Second in Debut 70.3 and Makes Case for Collins Cup Pick

Collins Cup auto-qualification is over. Who got a spot and who made a case for Captain's Pick?

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.)

After taking a backseat to the Olympics for the past few weeks, long-course professional racing is back to center stage. With the upcoming Collins Cup on Aug. 28, there were two final chances for athletes to impress their team captains and earn one of the final spots to the big-money race in Slovakia: Ironman 70.3 Boulder and Switzerland. Both men’s races were won by Americans who are have already qualified for the Collins Cup, while the women’s race in Boulder was dominated by women making their case for one of the final, coveted selections (plus one Olympian in an impressive debut).

Sam Long on the run. Photo: Brad Kaminski

A Collins Cup case

It’s really hard to win a race when you surrender four minutes in the water, but somehow Sam Long keeps clawing himself out of these massive holes. Lionel Sanders could probably swim faster than him on acid. If Long ever learns how to swim, he might become the greatest long-distance triathlete of all-time, because he can do things like ride 56 miles, at altitude, in 1:54:50. That almost completely erased the four-minute swim deficit to Sam Appleton, who rode an impressive 1:58:32 and still saw his lead disappear.

Long didn’t back off the gas in front of his hometown crowd, rocketing to a 1:12 half-marathon that was by far the fastest of the field. He is riding and running insanely well right now. He’s the #1 ranked athlete on Team USA for the men, and that could pit him up against the likes of Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders in the unique, head-to-head-to-head Collins Cup format. He’s proven he can go toe-to-toe with Sanders and beat him, but he’s a massive leap in his swimming away from ever seeing Frodeno once the race starts.

Appleton finished second, nearly three-and-a-half minutes down. Like Long, he’s already qualified for the Collins Cup by virtue of being the #3 ranked International athlete (i.e. not American or European). He’s also probably the strongest of the International team at the middle distance, and he might be their best chance of actually getting a win on the men’s side.

RELATED: Confused by the Collins Cup format? We explain it.

Emma Pallant-Brown passed Taylor Knibb on the run to secure victory. Photo: Brad Kaminski

The women’s race was full of athletes we will definitely see and might see in Samorin. Emma Pallant narrowly missed out on automatic selection to Team Europe because she’s currently ranked just outside the top four in Europe (despite being ranked #7 in the world), but it’s hard to see her not being selected as one of the captain’s picks. She’s raced over this distance six times this year and has won four races. She’ll be one of the few somewhat-legitimate threats to dethrone Daniela Ryf at the 70.3 world champs next month, and she’s running as well as anyone in the world right now.

Making a last-minute case for the Collins Cup is recently-ordained triathlon relay silver medalist Taylor Knibb, who has the makings of being one of the most versatile athletes in the sport. Knibb toed the line at her first professional 70.3 without making much of a fuss about it beforehand. She showed up on her road bike just a few days after returning home from Tokyo and finished second, leading the race through 10K of the run. On a U.S. team that is lacking much firepower on the women’s side, she could be their best chance for a surprise win—especially if three weeks is enough time to get her comfy on a TT bike. 

Finishing third was South African Jeanni Metzler, who was the final automatic selection for the International team, which should also have some trouble finding a win on the women’s side in Slovakia. The final woman who locked down her automatic Collins Cup spot with her Boulder performance was Chelsea Sodaro for Team USA—who did it just five months after giving birth with a sixth place finish that pushed her to 22nd in the world but fourth in the U.S.

See all the Collins Cup and PTO rankings here.

Sam Appleton battled with Sam Long to finish second at the Ironman 70.3 Boulder. Photo: Brad Kaminski

Who do you put against the superstars?

The #2 ranked U.S. male in the PTO rankings took care of business in Europe, offering a glimmer of hope that Team USA can maybe win a couple of the duels in Slovakia. Rudy von Berg finished seven minutes ahead of Switzerland’s Ruedi Wild, marking the first time in triathlon history that athletes named Rudy and Ruedi have finished one-two at a race. I definitely didn’t fact-check that but I’m very confident it’s true.

The draft process to select those six matchups at the Collins Cup will be crucial for Von Berg. Because each head-to-head will exist as its own race with three athletes (from Team USA, Europe, and the Internationals) facing off, who you face off against will be vitally important. Any win earns your team points and von Berg is one of the few Americans who can beat a few of the European men, but if he’s pinned against Frodeno or Gustav Iden, he might not get a chance to pull off a win for Team USA.

PTO world #1 Daniela Ryf was equally as dominant in the women’s race, finishing seven minutes up on countrywoman Julie Derron. It will be interesting to see how the other team captains draft around Ryf. Putting your best athlete out against Ryf seems like sacrificing your best goat. Then again, the same can be said for pinning someone against Lucy Charles-Barclay, Anne Haug or Holly Lawrence, who are the other three athletes already confirmed for Europe. It’s a lose-lose-lose-win?