Last Weekend Now: Live Coverage, a Photo Finish, and the New American Prodigy

It was a thrilling weekend of racing, full of surprise wins, comebacks, and even a photo finish. Columnist Brad Culp recaps the action in Oceanside, Salou, and South Africa.

Photo: Donald Miralle/Ironman

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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.)

Triathlon catches a lot of heat from triathletes for its live coverage of major events. It either doesn’t exist, it’s painful to watch, or you have to pay $10 to watch couples exercise around a swamp. But last weekend was an indicator that the future of triathlon coverage looks very different from the past. We had three major international events on three different continents, and all three had a free livestream. Look at us!

Let’s start with the men’s race at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, because it would be really weird if I led with anything else.

Laundry stuns, Sanders and Von Berg thrill in O’side

By having the absolute best day of his career, Jackson Laundry robbed us of one of the greatest finishes in the history of endurance sport. Laundry wasn’t supposed to be in front of the two men battling it out for the most thrilling second-place finish any of us have ever seen. He definitely wasn’t supposed to pass two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee as they approached the final mile. Even the look on Brownlee’s face as Laundry came flying by to take the lead said, “Who is this f***ing guy?”

That guy finished fifth at the 70.3 world champs last year, beating guys like Ben Kanute and Sam Appleton, but this win was still very much unexpected. His only major win outside of Canada came last year at 70.3 Ecuador, and that’s hardly major because I’m just finding out there’s a 70.3 Ecuador and I write about this stuff all the time.

Even more impressive than clawing his way back for the win is that Laundry did it without sleeves. I haven’t spent a ton of time in wind tunnels, but I’ve spent enough to know that sleeves are ridiculously important. Like so much more important than you think they could possibly be. This race probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. (He won by 33 seconds.) Also, sleeves look cooler. That isn’t my opinion. There have been studies. Google it. And get some sleeves, Jackson.

After an uncharacteristically poor bike performance, Lionel Sanders was forced to uncork a career best 1:08:28 half marathon to climb back into fighting position—which ended up being a duel to the death with American Rudy von Berg. The officials officially gave it to Sanders by a matter of hundredths of a second, although I haven’t seen a photo that clearly says one guy beat the other.

Speaking of odd gear decisions, Sanders raced on an old, UCI-legal version of the Canyon Speedmax, which, a wind tunnel would tell you, gives up a lot to the tri-specific version. Sources tell me the lack of integrated bells and whistles saves Sanders more than 3.5 pounds, which didn’t help him much in Oceanside but could be huge next month in St. George.

Von Berg, finished third, obviously, and made no strange gear decisions. His kits and bike have always been on point.

RELATED: Jackson Laundry Surprises and Taylor Knibb Dominates in Oceanside

Knibb the Natural

Taylor Knibb dominated at 2022 Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. (Photo: Donald Miralle/IRONMAN)

Taylor Knibb dominated the Collins Cup and finished third at 70.3 Worlds on a road bike last year, and it turns out her powers transfer very well to a proper triathlon bike. Aboard her shiny new Trek Speed Concept, Knibb straight up kicked the crap out of a field that included some of the best in the world at this distance.

After leading out of the swim, Knibb put more than three minutes into the field on the bike, and then got to run a somewhat leisurely half-marathon along the Pacific Ocean. It’s the first 70.3 win of Knibb’s very young long-course career. I’ll go ahead and put it in writing that I think she wins more. I even have some of her peers in my ear saying she’d have no problem going longer and would be the perfect replacement for Lucy Charles-Barclay at Sub8. But she already earned Olympic silver after a couple years of doing the sport professionally, so I wouldn’t expect her to wander too far from her gold-medal goals until after 2024.

Aside from Laundry, the other big surprise from O’side was runner-up Luisa Baptista of Brazil. She represented Brazil at the 2021 Olympics, finishing 32nd, but has since found her calling at the longer stuff. She kicked off this year with a win at 70.3 Pucon, and now took a second-place finish ahead of former world champion Holly Lawrence.

Bleymehl, Buckingham new Ironman African Champions

(Photo: Richard Huggard/Getty Images)

As is customary at Ironman South Africa, the swim was all but canceled because there was a report from a fisherman at sea that a wave might be coming that way. The pros did just 700 meters, while the age-groupers did the most expensive duathlon of their lives. Those who were upset about the canceled swim have no right to complain, however. You have to know that you’re getting yourself into when you sign up for a race in South Africa. The water is often rough, and if it is, they’ll cancel that swim so fast.

Someone who won’t be complaining is Germany’s Daniela Bleymehl, who made her return to racing after giving birth to her second child last summer. She’s best known for her thrilling victory over Lucy Charles-Barclay at Challenge Roth in 2018, but those who’ve competed against her just know her as an absolute monster on the bike. (Only countrywoman Laura Philipp rode faster at the 2019 Ironman world champs, where Bleymehl finished 9th.)

Das über-biker/über-mom finished an incredible 11 minutes and 25 seconds ahead of runner-up Elenda Illeditsch to complete the German one-two punch in South Africa, with local Magda Nieuwoudt doing the host nation proud and nabbing the final podium spot.

The locals had plenty to holler about in the men’s race, as a trio of South African men took to the podium ahead of heavy pre-race favorite Joe Skipper of Great Britain. Leading the way was Kyle Buckingham, who we haven’t heard much of since he won this race in 2018. He’s lost both his parents since then, and dedicated this race to them at the finish:

“This is for my mom and dad, who I lost—that was all I was thinking about those last 2K—to do it for them and my little boy. I didn’t give up and I’m just so happy to take the win again.”

Buckingham finished just 20 seconds ahead of two-time Xterra world champ Bradley Weiss, who himself was just 47 seconds in front of Matt Trautman. The gap between the top three men was never more than two minutes throughout the entire marathon. That’s the kind of thing typically reserved for a race as competitive as Kona.

Skipper, who has been quite outspoken about his intention and expectation to beat the Norwegians in St. George, finished fourth, two minutes abaft of Trautman.

Hogenhaug, Landridge soak up the Spanish Riviera

(Photo: José Luis Hourcade)

I’ll be quick with Challenge Salou, since it was turned into a duathlon too (due to cold) and the field wasn’t exactly world class. It was the final tune-up race before St. George for Denmark’s Kristian Hogenhaug, one of a trio of Danish dark horses. He’s covered 140.6 miles in 7:37, meaning only three men in history have done it faster. Hogenhaug had to reel in Spain’s Roberto Sanchez on the run and went on to win by 53 seconds.

It was also the last tune-up race for British upcomer Fenella Landridge, who likely wasn’t thrilled about the swim cancellation, but the extra run certainly didn’t hurt her either. She took the win easily on the final run leg, topping Dutchwoman Els Visser by nearly two minutes. Landridge will be competing in her first world championship next month in St. George.

RELATED: Photos: Surprises Abound in Oceanside, South Africa, Salou

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