Last Weekend Now is your Monday morning 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.)
For the first time in what feels like forever, we had major Ironman and World Triathlon events taking place on the same weekend. Nature might not be healing, but triathlon is getting back to a pretty good place.
It was a great weekend for the Swiss, who took home individual honors at both the Ironman North American Championship in Tulsa and Lisbon World Cup in Portugal, as well as secured one of the final spots in the debut of the mixed relay in the upcoming Olympics.
The strongest Ironman field outside of the Ironman World Championships
Tulsa used to be the oil capital of the world, but today it’s best known as being the city that gave us Garth Brooks, Hanson, and the deadliest race riot in American history. It also happens to be a great place to ride a bike when it’s not tornado-ing, and now it has a chance to become one of the marquee U.S. Ironman events for the foreseeable future.
Sunday’s pro field was one of the best we’ll see all year outside of Kona, so it was no surprise to see two Kona champions come out on top in Daniela Ryf and Patrick Lange. Both were competing in their first Ironman since Kona 2019, which wasn’t exactly a race either wants to remember.
Let’s start with Ryf, because she’s the greatest to ever do Ironman and who knows how many more times we’ll get to see her do it. Perhaps the scariest thing about the nine-time world champ is that she’s finally learning how to swim. Ryf was second out of the water in Tulsa in 52:21. That put her more than a minute ahead of Sarah Crowley, who was out-swimming Ryf by three to four minutes in 2018. No one is going to beat Ryf without a big head start, and even Lucy Charles-Barclay can only hope for three minutes at this point.
Not that the swim really matters when you can ride like Ryf. Her 4:39 bike split essentially ended the race, were it not for the fact that Katrina Matthews is low-key becoming one of the fastest runners in the history of the sport. After serving a five-minute drafting penalty, the Brit ran 2:49:49 to get within five minutes and one second of Ryf at the finish. It’s likely Ryf could’ve run faster than her 3:04:55 split, but it goes to show that Ryf isn’t uncatchable for the fastest of runners. Matthews joins Mirinda Carfrae and Chrissie Wellington as the only women to run under 2:50 in an Ironman. Carfrae and Wellington will forever remain the only two to do it without springs in their shoes.
Americans Skye Moench and Heather Jackson finished third and fourth, in what seems like a passing of the torch for the top American ironwomen. If you’re wondering how to pronounce Moench’s name, just remember it rhymes with “launch” and not “lunch.”
Like Ryf, Patrick Lange continues to get faster in the swim, and that’s terrible news for the guys hoping to win Kona this year, because running faster than the two-time world champ is close to impossible. Perhaps the craziest thing about his 2:36:46 marathon is that it wasn’t the fastest of the day. That belonged to Frenchman Denis Chevrot, who ran 2:36:03 to run his way into fourth place.
The other man running sub-2:40 was runner-up Jan Van Berkel of Switzerland, who we haven’t heard from for a while, but he had his best finish in Kona in 2019 (11th) and it appears the part-time lawyer is still getting faster at age 35. Denmark’s Daniel Bakkegard, who gave us the greatest finish-line celebration in Ironman history, rounded out the podium.
On the other side of the world
It’s looking more and more likely that Kristian Blummenfelt will head into the Olympics as the betting favorite, which is remarkable given that Vincent Luis won every race in the world for like two years. Seven days and 7,000 miles removed from Yokohama, Blummenfelt dusted the field once again in Portugal, even if the field wasn’t anything near what he faced in Japan.
Blummenfelt cannot be dropped on the swim or bike, so anyone gunning for gold in Tokyo will have to outrun him, and that’s going to require a Herculean effort. He ran 29:06 on Saturday and that came the day after an all-out losing effort to get Team Norway into the Olympic mixed relay. Incredibly, it wasn’t the best run of the day. That belonged to runner-up Max Studer, who was coming off an all-out winning effort to qualify Team Switzerland for the Olympics. Studer ran two seconds faster than Blummenfelt to finish comfortably ahead of Spaniard Genis Grau, whose name couldn’t sound more German.
I’m beginning to think Nicola Spirig could actually win an unprecedented third medal in Tokyo this summer. In classic Spirig style, she missed the lead pack in the swim, bridged up to the leaders on the bike, and then buried everyone on the run. I’m not impressed that she did any of those things against a very mediocre field, but her run split of 33:57 is a reminder that she can still go toe-to-toe with the youngins.
Only three women ran under 34 minutes at WTS Yokohama two weekends ago (which had considerably hotter conditions). While the flat bike course in Tokyo won’t help Spirig’s chances of catching the leaders, she could be a menace on the run if the bike accordions together.
The runner-up was Ireland’s Carolyn Hayes, and I’d be lying if I said I knew anything about her before researching the next sentence. She finished 42nd in Yokohama, and it turns out the Irish perform much better in cooler conditions. American Kristen Kasper finished third and will likely be one of the fastest women in the world not competing in Tokyo.
Speaking of not competing in Tokyo, Canada will be sitting out the debut of the mixed relay, which is disappointing for the country that won the sport’s first Olympic gold. What’s even more disappointing is that Triathlon Canada didn’t even put up a fight to claim one of the three final spots, which at least one of their top athletes wasn’t thrilled about.
The big news from the Mixed Relay Qualification Event was that Belgium is officially in and they’re a team the rest of the gold-medal contenders should be worried about. By gold-medal contenders, I mean France, USA, and Great Britain. I wrote that just to piss off a couple people in Australia.
The Belgians waffled the competition (don’t worry, this column is almost over), finishing 50 seconds ahead of Team Italy, which is an eternity in a team relay. The aforementioned Swiss lost out on the sprint finish against the Italians, but still punched their ticket to Tokyo.
That leaves Norway and Canada as the two countries that are pretty damn good at triathlon but not good enough to be one of the 11 relay teams at the mixed relay debut in Tokyo. Not that it matters. There are only four gold-medal contenders. G’day, Australia. Or G’night by the time you’re reading this.