Last Weekend Now: Two Championships Over the Same Distance in Two Places

Chattanooga goes West, Hering’s inverse career trajectory continues, Iden’s pumped and pumped, and Sala is pure gold.

Photo: José Luis Hourcade

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Last Weekend Now is your Monday rundown of what’s happening in pro triathlon, brought to you with commentary by Tim Heming this week on the condition that you still yell at Brad Culp if you don’t like the comments.

Apologies to the cult of Culp, but Brad’s not here this week as he continues to ‘wet the baby’s head’ (is that a thing in the US?) by working his way through every microbrewery in Illinois. 

Seriously, congrats Brad. From one fellow freelance gun-for-hire triathlon scribe to another, enjoy your weekend of paternity leave. In the main man’s absence, what this column will lack for acerbic humor, we’ll try and make up for with accuracy: getting all the right names, in all the right places, with—putting faith in the Ironman Tracker—all the right times. 

As for actual racing, one would think there might be a brief lull as we recover from a tubthumping World Championship. Not a bit of it. In the surest sign yet that triathlon is back to normal, organizers are back to butting heads and our normal chaotic scheduling has resumed.

Point in case, we’ve waited a whole fortnight (that’s two weeks) since the last championship, and two more come along at one. While it can’t be the best thing for the overall health of the sport, let’s crack on with the action anyway.

Ironman 70.3 North American Championship, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Or to be more precise, the Sunbelt Bakery IRONMAN 70.3 North American Championship Chattanooga presented by McKee A Family Bakery. Which is more of a mouthful than shoving a pack of Nutty Buddy in your face.

WATCH: Outside+ members can watch the Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga replay

In the surest sign yet that triathlon isn’t getting back to normal and we’re not actually post-pandemic, Olympic champion Flora Duffy was out due to COVID. Opportunity seized by Jackie Hering. The wonder from Wisconsin saw off Paula Findlay and Holly Lawrence for the W. A 1:18 half-marathon did the damage, which given the live feed showed a lot of running up bridges is not to be sniffed at.

Hering kicked off her career by racing a ton of Ironmans. Since 2015, she’s now raced nothing but middle distance—seven wins and counting. If this career trajectory continues, expect her to be picking up Olympic gold in Los Angeles 2028.

A word on Lawrence, who put a few demons to rest. She DNFd when the worlds were held here in 2017, and had a bike crash heading into this weekend, so was relieved to get through. 

The last time I interviewed Holly there was flesh hanging off her at the Collins Cup. This weekend was a further reminder that while some triathletes leave it all out there on the race course, Holly Lawrence leaves a bit of herself out there on every race course.

On to the men. 

Ben Kanute thought a 15-second lead out of the water could be maintained against a dozen-strong bike pack. Sadly, his hopes got swept away too. His hustle to break it up before T2 didn’t play out as it turned into a running race, although he held on for a commendable ninth.

The honors went to an elated Jason West in 3:37:15—a low 69-minute half marathon rapid enough to beat Matt Hanson’s high 69-minute half marathon, as Hanson—pinching a line from Culp that can never be repeated enough—once again swam terribly to save his arms for the run. Rudy von Berg came third with Oceanside winner Jackson Laundry in fourth, and Rudy could at least be thankful he wasn’t in a sprint finish this time.

The same couldn’t be said of the mascots race, where the ice-cream sandwich claimed victory in the Tasty Cakes showdown—a finish chute out-and-back. Showing Ironman hasn’t learnt from Oceanside, there was no finish camera. Or even, really, a finish line.Expect a social media backlash from Oaty, Choc-Chip and the rest of the aggrieved Sunbelt Bakery line-up. Who says Ironman isn’t the pinnacle of human performance?

The (other) championship—the Challenge one

After having been forced to sit out the M-Dot world champs in St. George due to a virus and watch his training buddy slay all before him, Gustav Iden must have been pumped to make his return in the Challenge Championship at Samorin—pronounced “Shamorin” by the locals and “Bratislava” by Collins Cup organizers.

Unfortunately, his tires weren’t so pumped. So, after swimming like a comparative brick, Iden spent most of T1 with a track pump, although in reality it was all just a ruse to make the race more interesting. 

A stellar field had turned up, and Iden still crushed the lot of them.

In second was Richard Varga, the local boy who knows every square meter of the million square meters of the X-Bionic Sphere because as Slovakia’s Olympic HQ he was locked down here during COVID for what he recalls as forever. And Varga, who has been the best ITU/World Triathlon swimmer for the past decade, finally proved he’s more than just the Brownlees’ Olympic domestique, which is great because I can’t tell you a) how nice a fella Varga is, and b) the debt of gratitude British tri fans owe him for our haul of Olympic medals.

For the first time in five years (the event’s entire history) a woman called Lucy didn’t win the women’s title. 

This time it was Sara Perez Sala who took it out. Emma Pallant-Browne ran a ridiculous run split of 1:17—5 minutes faster than the next quickest, Australian Ashleigh Gentle, who is no slouch—to bring the gap to within 2 minutes by the finish. But it was the Spaniard’s day, which backed up her win in Challenge Mogan-Gran Canaria last month and fully justified wearing a gold trisuit. Lucy Buckingham—last year’s champ—rounded out the podium.

Sara Perez Sala in gold. (Photo: José Luis Hourcade)

The Challenge champs also gave answers to anyone who’d watched St. George a fortnight back and wondered where all the uber swimmers were. It turns out Varga, Josh Amberger, Buckingham and Perez had been camping out on the banks of the Danube.

Ironman Lanzarote 

It wasn’t all middle distance. The European pros went at it at the ragged behemoth that is Lanzarote for a $3,000 top prize, which is 22 times less than the first round losers at the French Open tennis will receive.

If St George was compared a lot (too much?) to Kona and just ‘oh, how tough it was,’ then Lanza is very much: ‘Hold my non-alcoholic beer – and don’t spill a drop!’ This is the side of the Pond where they put on proper hard races, and one scan of the times shows just how brutal this volcanic isle remains.

A man winning in 8:39:56 and a woman in 9:37:26 could trick you into thinking it was an age-group only race (there was one of those happening in Tulsa, and the winners would’ve got a shoutout except it’s still going as I write this).

But no, with the magnitude of the course shown by only four men biking under 5 hours, that winning time belongs to Kenneth Vandendriessche, who ran down Denmark’s Mathias Peterson with a daft 2:40:37 marathon. Vandendriessche’s shtick is race-best run splits, but it doesn’t always work. He tried the same trick last year in Lanza and only managed ninth.

No surprise that it was YET ANOTHER British woman, this time Lydia Dant, on debut, who won the women’s title from Els Visser by just under 2mins. It was a performance that will go down as “Dant’s Inferno” because with a race-best bike split by 5 minutes it was a hell of a ride. (Just make the most of it, you won’t get these sort of 14th-century literary references when Culp returns.)   

Visser has the coolest/most traumatic story in triathlon—although swimming for eight hours through the night to an Indonesian island from a sinking boat in 2014 was quite an extreme way to prove that tri was the sport for her.

Other stuff

If you usually make it this far in this column, you’ll notice Brad’s copy tends to tail off at this point. With apologies to the remaining races, we’ll stick to brief.

In Ironman 70.3 Pays d’Aix-en-Provence, homeboy Clement Mignon had a comfortable victory over Scott Steenberg (note to editor: Can we find out why all these Danes keep cropping up?), with Italy’s Mattia Ceccarelli in third.

On the women’s side the evergreen Barbara Riveros of Chile, who takes the Mariah Carey approach of “age is not a construct I recognize,” had a close tussle with France’s Alexia Bailly, who might start to look slightly happier on her PTO profile pic now she that has a podium to her name. In third was Anne Reischmann, who was 10th in last year’s 70.3 worlds. 

Finally, Ironman 70.3 Marbella saw Brit Nikki Bartlett celebrate her first Ironman win for three years, with Germany’s Svenja Those backing up a win in Malta the week before in second, ahead of Italy’s Federica de Nicola.

Christophe De Keyser took a first pro win since stepping up from draft-legal racing, with Chris Leiferman—like Bartlett, coming from the IM worlds in St George—not quite able to run him down. South Africa’s Bradley Weiss was third.

And that’s a wrap. Having timed childbirth to miss the busiest weekend on the triathlon racing calendar, Culp will probably be back next week.

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.