Last Weekend Now: Middle East Edition

The racing in Abu Dhabi was even more exciting than the FIFA soccer being played 300 miles away in Doha. Nearly 1,500 miles away in Israel, Patrick Lange had the entire running and triathlon world wondering if the shoes are getting too damn fast.

Photo: Janos M. Schmidt/World Triathlon

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With the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, World Cup, and the heart of the NFL season, you can be forgiven if you didn’t spend the weekend enamored in all things pro triathlon. But you probably should have, because the racing in Abu Dhabi was even more exciting than the soccer 300 miles away in Doha. Nearly 1,500 miles away in Israel, Patrick Lange had the entire running and triathlon world wondering if the shoes are getting too damn fast.

Bergere Stuns in Abu Dhabi

(Photo: Janos M. Schmidt/World Triathlon)

France’s Leo Bergere entered last week with as good of a chance of becoming world champion as Saudi Arabia had at beating Argentina at the World Cup. But then Saudi Arabia beat Argentina. Still, Bergere needed a very specific set of circumstances to unfold to slip by both Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde in the WTCS standings. He had to win; Yee had to finish no better than fourth, and Wilde had to finish no better than sixth.

Then, thanks to some flawless team tactics by the French squad, Bergere broke away on the bike and ran away with the win. Twenty seconds later, the biggest surprise of the day came as American Morgan Pearson returned to WTCS racing after a year away due to injury to finish second. Ten seconds later, Jelle Geens outsprinted Yee to take third. Yee was fourth. Bergere was two-thirds of the way there.

All that needed to happen was for Hayden Wilde not to be the next person across the line, and Bergere would become world champion without sitting atop the world rankings until the very last day. It must’ve felt like the longest 20 seconds of Bergere’s life, and then came Australia’s Matthew Hauser in fifth, well clear of Wilde in sixth.

It’s hard to put a percentage on Bergere’s chances at becoming world champ entering the weekend, but it couldn’t have been more than five percent. The world title was still on the line up until the sixth-place finisher crossed the line of the final race. It’s everything World Triathlon hoped for when they created this series. The longest WTCS season ever ended up being the most thrilling. Luckily next season will only take place over one calendar year.

Duffy Dominates to take 4th World Title

(Photo: Janos M. Schmidt/World Triathlon)

The math was much easier for the race for the women’s world title. Reigning world, Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Flora Duffy entered the race in a virtual tie with double Olympic medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown. Each had won three races on the season, so whoever finished in front of the other would earn the world title—either the fourth for Duffy of second for GTB.

The pair started the run side by side, and Taylor-Brown was the first to make a move, but in a tale as old as Flora Duffy’s triathlon career, we saw he cooly and calmly claw her way back—and then bury her competition. Duffy hit those afterburners that only she has with about 5K to go, and the 16-month battle to crown a world champion was over in a matter of seconds. Duffy clinched her fourth title with an incredible 64-second margin of victory, which was very reminiscent of her 74-second win over GTB at the Tokyo Olympics.

Germany’s Lena Mießner finished third for the biggest result of her career, and American Taylor Knibb rebounded from a late crash on the bike to take fourth, which was just enough to finish the season third in the WTCS standings.

The 2023 WTCS season will kick off right where this one ended, in Abu Dhabi on March 3.

RELATED: A Thrilling Conclusion to 2022 WTCS Series as Duffy, Bergere Take Titles

Lange and Astle Run Wild in Israel

The inaugural Ironman Israel was billed as the Ironman Middle Eastern Championship and training partners Patrick Lange and Ruth Astle delivered championship-caliber performances on a stunning and fast course on the Sea of Galilee.

Denmark’s Daniel Baekkegard looked to have the race won after riding nearly seven minutes faster than Lange, but that was before the two-time Kona winner pulled on his new, super-supershoes and took off at a 2:30 marathon clip. Unlike previous times we’ve seen Lange take off at such an absurd pace, he never slowed—even getting faster as he passed Baekkegard and went on to win in 7:41:59.

Lange’s 2:30:31 marathon means he averaged 5:44 per mile, in what is perhaps the greatest Ironman run we’ve ever seen. The course wasn’t short—according to multiple segments posted on Strava after the race—it was about 200 meters long. Lange’s shoes weren’t short, either. Wearing Adidas prototypes with 50-mm of sole, Lange is going to make Ironman look long and hard at their rules for running shoes next year. He may be the best pure runner in the sport, but a six-minute drop from his previous Ironman marathon PR means those mega soles are doing a lot of work.

RELATED: World Triathlon Confirms: Iden’s IMWC Shoes Not “Illegal,” No Rules On Running Shoes

Baekkegard has the honor of saying he split 49/4:09/2:37 for an Ironman and lost, finishing second in what was probably the best race of his career. Competing in his first Ironman, Italy’s Gregory Barnaby ran a 2:35 marathon to claim third.

Regardless of the shoes, clearly the work Astle and Lange are putting in is paying off, as the former also dropped six minutes from her previous Ironman marathon PR to cap off a dominant win in Tiberias. It’s the first win in 12 months for Astle, and the third Ironman victory of her career. It should also be a big boost for her PTO World Ranking, where she entered the weekend #38.

German Daniela Bleymehl bounced back from a Kona DNF to claim second, capping off a very solid return to racing after nearly three years away for the mom of two. She won Ironman Germany and South Africa, and now with a runner-up in Israel, she should catapult up from her #29 spot in the world rankings as soon as the algorithm wakes up.

Chilean veteran Barbara Riveros spent the entire year training and racing in France, but made the trip to Israel last weekend and returned with a third-place trophy, $7K, and a Kona slot for next year.

There are just two 70.3 and two full Ironman races left on the professional race calendar for 2022. Next weekend will have Ironman Western Australia and 70.3 Indian Wells, with Bahrain 70.3 and Ironman New Zealand closing out 2022 the following weekend.

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