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 seems the only triathlon COVID can keep down is Kona. The 2021 season went full steam ahead last weekend, headlined by the Super League Finale in Malibu, which you’ll find covered in detail here. My job, however, is to fill you in on the events that were much longer (and in some cases, much less exciting) than Super League. If you missed the Super League action over the past four weeks, you missed out on the best made-for-TV triathlon in the brief history of made-for-TV triathlon. Love him, like him, or hate him, Chris McCormack is changing the sport at a professional level, and the explosion of Super League will be the two-time Kona champ’s most lasting legacy on the sport.
But, like I said, this is not a column about Super League. Here’s what happened in professional triathlon outside of Malibu.
Skipper and Moench Dominate at Ironman Chattanooga
Joe Skipper, Lionel Sanders and Sam Long can’t seem to give it a rest. The trio has had a very busy last three months of racing, and while he doesn’t always get the attention he deserves on this side of the pond, Skipper has been the best of this brash bunch. In fact, he’s been perhaps the best iron-distance athlete on earth since the last time we had a race in Kona 721 days ago.
Skipper eclipsed the eight-hour mark for the fifth time in his last seven Ironman races, disintegrating the previous course record by 22 minutes with his 7:46:19 winning time. That was more than eight minutes better than second-place Sanders, and incredibly, almost all of that time difference came from the bike. The only man able to ride in the same zip code as Skipper throughout the day was Long, who ultimately paid for it on the marathon and was forced to drop out. Skipper’s 4:14:48 bike split may not make your eyes pop, but it’s worth a second look when you consider that the Chattanooga bike course has four bonus miles.
Skipper already had his Ironman world championship slots locked up for both races next year (St. George in May and Kona in October), so the two slots for the October race went to Sanders and Ben Hoffman, who finished third.
Like Skipper, Skye Moench has lowkey been one of the best iron athletes in the world over the past two Kona-less seasons. She sheared 20 minutes off the previous course record thanks mostly to a 4:44:02 116-mile ride, which effectively ended the race. Moench’s margin of victory was more than 26 minutes over Spanish veteran Gurutze Frades, who nabbed the second slot for next year’s race in Kona (fingers and toes crossed). But perhaps the most impressive performance of the day was three-time Xterra winner Melanie McQuaid (pictured below) finishing just two minutes behind Frades in third. McQuaid was born in 1973, which is the same year Nixon resigned the presidency and the Blow Pop was invented. Way to go, Mel.
Stars Shine at European Triathlon Championship
While most of the world’s top draft-legal specialists were racing for big bucks in Malibu, a few of the stars from the Tokyo Olympics opted to stay closer to home and race in Spain. The big story of the day was a back-to-back win for Switzerland’s Julie Derron, who is the next big thing in Switzerland’s long line of short-course superstars. After dominating the Karlovy Vary World Cup in Czech Republic two weeks ago, Derron won her second European title with relative ease, finishing 25 seconds ahead of German Annika Koch. Derron previously won the 2018 European title in the U-23 category.
The men’s continental crown was taken down by Frenchman Dorian Coninx, who seems like he’d be perfect for Super League, but his first European title isn’t bad consolation. The Olympic relay bronze medalist is one of the best athletes in the world at a variety of racing styles, having won at WTCS Montreal’s eliminator format and now over the Olympic distance last weekend. Spaniards Roberto Sanchez Mantecon and Antonio Serrat Seoane filled out the podium. You have to admire the Spanish commitment to using all three of their names.
Salthouse Runs to a Win at Ironman 70.3 Augusta
Ironman 70.3 Augusta is undoubtedly the biggest sporting event to take place in Augusta each year. Name something bigger. Unfortunately this mega-event lacked the kind of star power Augusta gets for its little golf tournament each April, but we did get a pretty good finish in the women’s race.
Aussie Ellie Salthouse continued a brilliant 2021 season by taking a seven-minute lead onto the run, but her advantage faded by about 30 seconds per mile due to the scorching pace of Canadian Tamara Jewett. In the end, the former professional runner ran out of room to catch Salthouse, but her 1:13:09 half marathon was another reminder that she’s one of the best runners this sport has seen in some time. And she’s really starting to figure out the swim and bike things. The men’s race was won by world traveler Filipe Azevedo of Portugal, who has had a string of solid races in Asia over the past two years. This win comes just a week after an impressive 10th-place showing at the 70.3 world champs in St. George. His Pro Triathletes Organization bio says that his favorite cheat meal is Shake Shack, which is my favorite meal, cheating or not. Hopefully he got to enjoy some Shake Shack during his time in the land of the free and home of the calorie bomb.