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PTO Canadian Open Preview: Norwegians Vs. Sanders; Philipp In First Big Test of 2022

Featuring must-see matchups, check out our expert play-by-play preview of a new midseason long-course barnstormer: the PTO Canadian Open.

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As soon as the PTO received their funding in 2019, they began working hard to establish a new approach to pro triathlon. Instead of offering a large number of events (mainly to draw age-groupers into participating), the PTO is now creating high-profile races among the best professional triathletes, offering huge prize money. Their first race, the 2020 PTO Championship in Daytona, was the only big race in a season dominated by COVID race cancellations. In 2021, the long-awaited premiere of The Collins Cup saw 36 world-class athletes race each other in an exciting new team format.

This year, the PTO has two new PTO Tour events, the Canadian Open in Edmonton (June 23 and 24) and the U.S. Open in Dallas (Aug. 17 and 18). The top 40 male and female athletes in the PTO World Rankings are eligible to race (along with a few wildcards), and each race offers a prize purse of more than $1 million, as well as extra points for Collins Cup qualifying—so it’s no surprise that almost everyone who is fit and ready to race is showing up for these two events. The two-day format gives the male and female pro races the attention they deserve, while leaving enough time for age-group racing on the same course. With the planned addition of events in Europe and Asia next year, the PTO Tour is expected to grow from here.

WATCH: Be sure to catch all of the Canadian Open action streaming live on Outside Watch this Saturday and Sunday.

Photo: Artur Widak/Getty Images
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Canadian Open: The Edmonton Course

Much like the Edmonton World Triathlon events, the PTO Tour Edmonton course revolves around Hawrelak Park in the Edmonton River Valley. It was designed by Paula Findlay’s mother, Sheila, who is also the competition director for the Canadian Open. (Course walkthrough.)

The 2K swim will be in a small lake with three loops and two short beach runs—ensuring viewers the opportunity to keep track of who is leading and where everyone else is. The water temperature is currently around 75 degrees F, so it’s going to be a non-wetsuit swim for the pros.

The 80K bike course will be four not-flat loops: Whenever the course moves away from the immediate river valley, racers should expect grades between 4% and 7%. It’s going to favor the good climbers and those with good bike handling skills. The 20m draft rule should also help to keep the race fair.

The four-loop run course (18K) through Hawrelak Park is mostly flat, and the turnarounds give a lot of opportunities to assess where the competition is.

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Canadian Open: Women’s Race (Saturday)

Spain’s Sara Perez Sala—the fastest female swimmer not named Lucy—is likely to take control of the race as soon as the gun goes off. Having won her last two half-distance races, Sala will be racing with confidence. The addition of short-course athlete Vittoria Lopes from Brazil could make the swim even faster and spread out the front.

How big is their gap into T1 going to be? The main contenders for the win, Laura Philipp (six wins in six races in 2021 and 2002), hometown favorite Paula Findlay (winner of Daytona 2020, coming into form with a recent second place at 70.3 Chattanooga), and Holly Lawrence (two third places in her 2022 races), should be between one and three minutes back. The question is: Will they have to work separately or together to close the gap to the front?

Sala’s time at the pointy end of the race might last until T2, but we should see a lead change in the first of three run loops. Even then, the race will be far from over. Laura Philipp is probably the strongest runner of the main contenders, and she still has a chance to win even if she’s a minute or two behind the lead in T2. This is a woman who ran a 2:45 Ironman marathon in Hamburg a month ago, after all.

We may very well see a race that’s going to be decided in the final run kilometers, so it’s almost impossible to call before the race. If you can only tune in for a bit (though it’ll be worth watching from start to finish), be sure to catch the last run loop to see who is going to be the best at playing her cards on race day.

Among the other “come-from-behind” athletes with the potential for great runs, watch out for Emma Pallant-Browne (who has four half-distance wins already this year) and Jackie Hering (winner at Clash Daytona last December and 70.3 Chattanooga in May). If they have a great ride, they could put themselves in contention for the podium—maybe even the overall win.

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Canadian Open: Men’s Race (Sunday)

The top contenders for the men’s race start with the lowest bib numbers: #1 Kristian Blummenfelt (Olympic gold medal winner and Ironman St. George world champion) and #2 Gustav Iden (two-time 70.3 world champion, unbeaten on the half-distance since 2018) are both from the new triathlon hotbed of Norway—Bergen, to be specific. It’s the first time ever that both of them will compete in the same race with fan favorite (and home country hero) Lionel Sanders, who has won more than 25 half-distance races. Sanders was second to Blummenfelt at May’s Ironman World Championship in St. George, while Iden was able to beat Sanders at Ironman Florida at the end of 2021.

It’s unlikely that any of these three will be in the lead of the race for the first two hours—they will have to make up some time after the swim (Blummenfelt maybe 30 seconds, Sanders around 3 minutes, Iden somewhere in between), and all three typically play their cards mainly on the run. Usually, they set up their races with a controlled bike, but it’s possible that with the competition they might have to change their tactics and burn a few extra matches on the hilly ride to keep up the pressure on the other contenders.

In North American races, there is almost always at least one U.S. athlete who takes advantage of the easy travel and has a great day to finish on the podium—look out for Matt Hanson (second in Daytona 2020 behind Gustav Iden), Ben Kanute (third in Miami in March), or Jason West (second in Miami and winner at 70.3 Chattanooga in May).

As a German, I also have to mention Frederik Funk—who has been racing extremely well, winning four European half-distances throughout 2021 and 2022. Also look out for South African Henri Schoeman, who will be in the mix from the gun—possibly all the way to the end of the run, if things go his way. Schoeman wants to show a strong performance in Edmonton in order to increase his chances for a Captain’s Pick for the upcoming Collins Cup—though he’s also defending his Commonwealth title just one week after the Canadian Open.

Another interesting name who would love to get a Captain’s Pick to the Collins Cup is two-time gold medalist Alistair Brownlee: Just announced this week, Edmonton will be his return to racing after injuries kept him out of World Championships in St. George in May and the Sub-7 project in June. Without any prep races, can his form be strong enough to play an actual role in Canada?

WATCH: The women go off at 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, July 23 and the men race at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 24. Watch both races streamed live on Outside Watch.