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.)
With Kona out of the picture, Challenge Roth took center stage as the biggest full-distance event left on the 2021 calendar. Four hundred kilometers due south, Ironman Switzerland took place for the first time in its new home of Trun, and over in London town, the top short-course athletes that aren’t completely burned out from a grueling Olympic/World Championship cycle kicked off the short-and-sweet Super League season. Let’s get into an all-European edition of Last Weekend Now.
The best athletes at the best triathlon
The greatest triathlon on earth (in this author’s not-so-humble opinion) was a bit subdued this year due to a course change and strict COVID restrictions, but the Challenge Roth faithful still got to have a socially-distanced celebration as a pair of Germans put on two of the best performances they’ve ever witnessed.
Apparently Anne Haug called her coach, Dan Lorang, a few days before the race to say that she was out of shape and her run was off. It must be nice to be out of shape and still finish an almost-iron-distance race in under eight hours (the bike was 10K short this year for reasons I still cannot understand). The still-reigning Ironman world champ now holds the two biggest long-course titles in the sport, and if she ever gets in shape, she might be able to hang onto both for quite some time.
More than 31 minutes after Haug came runner-up Laura Siddall of Great Britain, who is hands down the most popular athlete in the world among other pros if you go off social media messages alone. When “Sid” has a good day, everyone takes notice. It goes to show what being a really good person can do. Maybe I’ll try it sometime. Less than two minutes after Siddall was countrywoman Fenella Langridge, who finished runner-up at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in her 140.6-mile debut earlier this summer.
The men’s race was only slightly less boring, and another example of why long-course triathlon is never going to be must-see TV. Sometimes it’s little more than people exercising really hard by themselves, as was the case for Patrick Lange on the marathon on Sunday. The two-time Kona champ kept fellow Germans Nils Frommhold and Felix Hentschel within striking distance at T2, and then struck them dead as soon as their feet hit the pavement to run to an 11-minute victory.
It’s the first Roth title for Lange, who joins countrymen Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle as one of only four men to have won both Kona and Roth. The only non-German to pull off the feat is Australia’s Chris McCormack. (Daniela Ryf, Mirinda Carfrae, and Chrissie Wellington have all done so for the women.)
Way behind Lange, Frommhold kept a hold on second by just 40 seconds over Hentschel at the line. It’s a nice result for both men, but we’ve got other races to get to and this is a column about winners.
Super Super League
The four-week Super League season kicked off on Sunday, with athletes competing in a team format for the very first time. Did the team dynamic add anything to the racing? Not really. Are the team names and logos all ridiculous? Absolutely. (I do like the rhino wearing a bike helmet, though.) Is Super League still the best format our little sport has for television? 100%.
While some of the superstars of the Olympics are sitting this Super League season out, the podium was dominated by Tokyo medalists. If you didn’t tune in, I’ll spare you from trying to explain the point system in the three-race format, but it was Olympic bronze medalist Hayden Wilde of New Zealand earning the win with a powerful bike surge in the final race. That put him just ahead of Olympic relay medalists Vincent Luis and Johnny Brownlee, who finished one and two points back, respectively.
As is often the case in short-course racing, it was all British women on the podium, with Tokyo relay gold medalist Jessica Learmonth showing once again that she is one of the best at this style of racing. It helped that best friend and double Tokyo medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown took a spill on the bike leg of the second race, otherwise the two might have had another opportunity to finish hand-in-hand. Taylor-Brown finished one point back in second, with Vicky Holland—the only member of Team GB to return from Tokyo without a medal—finishing third. (Don’t feel bad too for Vix, she has a bronze medal from Rio and appears to have a future in broadcasting after a brilliant debut calling the Collins Cup last week.)
I can’t tell you how the team standings worked out because I wasn’t paying attention and I don’t care, but I think I remember hearing on the broadcast that the Sharks did well, and they’re the coolest of the five mascots, so I am now a diehard Sharks fan. Fins up! (Is that a thing? Can we make it a thing?)
Daniela is fine
The main reason for including Ironman Switzerland in this write-up is to let everyone know that Daniela Ryf is fine and that the version we saw last weekend in Slovakia isn’t here to stay. There really wasn’t much of a race in Thun, because Ryf finished 36 minutes ahead of her competition, and it seems insulting to Ryf to call them that.
While some speculated that Ryf had taken it easy at the Collins Cup two weekends ago (where she collected $90,000 just for finishing), the GOAT said after Sunday’s race that she had been feeling ill for a few weeks and only just started to get her form back in the past few days. That’s really bad news for the stacked field hoping to dethrone her at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in just two weeks. While Taylor Knibb, Lucy Charles-Barclay, and Emma Pallant-Browne have all been superb at the middle distance as of late, it will still take a herculean effort to stop Ryf from claiming her sixth 70.3 world title.
The men’s race in Thun was won by local favorite, practicing lawyer, and amateur pitmaster Jan Van Berkel, who has lowkey been turning in some of the best Ironman marathons in the world as of late. His 2:37 run on Sunday was more than two minutes better than runner-up Joe Skipper, another athlete who decided to stop by Thun on his way home from Slovakia. Van Berkel also won the 2018 and 2019 editions of Ironman Switzerland, which took place in Zurich. From the athletes on the ground, it sounds like the move to scenic Thun was very well received.