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The championship end of the season has begun, and if last weekend’s racing is any indication, we are in for a wild ride. From the unbelievable drama of the PTO’s second-ever U.S. Open to the European championships in the heat of Estonia, an extreme tri in the fjords of Norway, and a groundbreaking event in the streets of London, we saw the very best triathletes take on the very best courses around the world.
PTO U.S. Open Men’s: The Frodeno Show
The headline coming into the men’s race at the PTO U.S. Open was Kristian Blummenfelt vs. Jan Frodeno. With this being Frodeno’s second-to-last race and Blummenfelt not racing the Ironman World Championship in Nice, the race in Milwaukee was the final opportunity for Blu to take down the king. Throw in more names like Magnus Ditlev, Jason West, Lionel Sanders, and Sam Long (who welcomed his first child just days before), and this was bound to be a legendary battle.
The start pistol fired, and the pace was set by super-swimmers Aaron Royle and Josh Amberger. Blummenfelt was able to hang on to their feet for the two-lap swim; Frodeno and that Ditlev were further behind in the chase pack. Frodeno fell even further back in T1, showing his lack of recent racing by forgetting to remove his swim skin (Pros! They’re just like us!).
On the bike, Blummenfelt went out hard, trying to separate himself from super-biker Ditlev. However, it wouldn’t last forever – Frodeno, Ditlev, and Mathis Margirier worked together to eventually join Blu at the front. A dizzying seven-loop ride was made even more dizzying with attacks and position changes.
But would Blu’s aggressive bike strategy backfire? Right at the T2 dismount line, we saw our answer as the Norwegian winced with cramps. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the exact same thing happened at the PTO race in Edmonton last year). Frodeno, on the other hand, looked fresh and determined to push the pace. He put on a masterclass in triathlon running, breaking free of the competition with a perfect, effortless stride. As he breezed through the five-loop course, he had plenty of out-and-backs to see the race playing out behind him: Blummenfelt suffering more cramps but somehow surging on, Ditlev pulling out due to stomach issues, and Jason West running faster than anyone ever has at the PTO distance.
But none of that fazed Frodeno. In the end, the 41 year-old clocked a 3:14:12 time to take home the title and a $100,000 paycheck, plus a foam cheese crown (remember, this is Wisconsin, where everything is better with cheese). Jason West’s performance took an ounce of the spotlight away from Jan (which is hard to do), outrunning the rest of the field by 4 minutes and beating Blummenfelt in a sprint finish for second place. Clearly, Blummenfelt was upset with his third-place result, saying in the end, “…losing the battle to Jan stings.”
There truly aren’t enough superlatives for Frodeno’s performance. Many would say he has to be the favorite now for the Ironman World Championships in Nice, his last World Championship, and his last race. Clearly, he’s back on track to return better than ever from his injuries, and ready leave the sport as the best to ever do it.
PTO U.S. Open Women’s: Knibb collects (yet another) title
Much like the men’s race, the narrative for the women’s race at the PTO U.S. Open was around two athletes: Taylor Knibb and Ashleigh Gentle. With Ashleigh getting the better of Taylor at the last PTO U.S. Open, this rematch was a long time coming.
Lauren Brandon brought the heat on the swim, breaking away from the rest of the field in the first lap. Anyone who hoped to stay on her feet and get a draft to T1 learned that wouldn’t be happening.
On the bike, however, Brandon was quickly taken over by Knibb, who created a gap at the front to the likes of Findlay and a hard-charging Lucy Byram. (Even Findlay was impressed with the 22 year-old’s effort, giving Byram a well-deserved pat on the back in T2).
But as Knibb started the run with a respectable lead over the rest of the field, questions swirled: Could she hold off Gentle, a fast runner known for relentlessly pushing her way to the front? Gentle set out to bridge the 2:45 gap, moving quickly into second place within the first 5K.
But though the gap closed to less than a minute, it wasn’t enough to catch Knibb, who broke the tape in 3:32:58 for the win and $100,000 payout. Gentle followed, and Findlay took third. Even more drama awaited in the fourth through seventh positions, with only 34 seconds separating the 4 spots in the end (Byram, Lawrence, Salthouse, and Kat Matthews).
Knibb is clearly on the road to a special career. With the Paris Olympics as a possibility in both triathlon and cycling, a couple of titles to defend, and a run that’s coming back faster than ever, we shudder to think of the dominance she’s about to unleash on this sport.
Philipp and Heemeryck tops at Ironman 70.3 European Championship Talinn
With 75,000 dollars on the line between the men’s and the women’s as well as three slots each for the world championships in Taupo, New Zealand in 2024, the pressure was on in Estonia. Unfortunately for the athletes, the heat and humidity were too, leaving some worse off than others.
Despite a significant deficit to Lucy Buckingham on the swim, Laura Philipp – fresh off an impressive third place in Roth – showed her strength and talent on the bike, but found herself in a run battle with Immogen Simmonds. After a thrilling back-and-forth, Philipp surged in the final miles to build a 48-second gap and take the win over Simmonds. Emma Pallant-Browne nabbed the final spot on the podium, saying after the race she wished she had been in the mix up front, but that day her “battle was with the humidity.”
In the men’s race, Pieter Heemeryck worked his way up from 15th out of the swim to the front of the race on the bike, out-riding the rest of the field by more than 2 minutes and never relinquishing the lead. Mike Phillips held on for second, and former short-course speedster Alessandro Fabian nabbed one of his best-ever results with his third-place finish.
Laidlow and Langridge conquer Challenge London
For the first time ever, the London Triathlon – now Challenge London – hosted a professional middle-distance race to highlight their incredible course through their world-famous city. They didn’t fail to grab some headlining athletes either, with Sam Laidlow and Fenella Langride leading the way through the swim at the Royal Victorian Dock and biking past Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. From there, they both went strong on the run, which was especially impressive for Laidlow who suffered a relatively-recent calf tear at Challenge Roth. Second and third for the men’s went to James Teagle and Joshua Lewis, and on the women’s it was Magda Nieuwoudt and Els Visser.
It was surprising to see Langride and Laidlow opting for this race instead of chasing the PTO U.S. Open. However, for the two athletes from the U.K., it clearly was a special one for them (and a tad easier to get to than Milwaukee). Furthermore, having their families there to watch was a major factor for both of them, as Fenella said it was actually her mother’s first time watching her race as a professional.
After the race, Laidlow clearly described his love for Challenge races, emphasizing how well they take care of professional athletes. Let’s hope that this race continues to grow – if the Challenge London schedule next year doesn’t clash with several other massive races like it this time, I genuinely think it could.
Sebastian Kienle, You are a Norseman!
Norway is known for its epic scenery, consisting of the breathtaking fjords that contain some of the steepest, most intimidating mountains, the coldest, darkest waters, and the immense, indecisive weather. What better place to host the XTRI World Championship?
Headlining the race was Sebastian Kienle, who picked the bucket-list event for his last full-distance race in Europe. What a way to do it as well, finishing in second place behind home-country hero Jon Breivold. “Hats off to Jon Breivold,” Kienle acknowledged after the race, calling it “a deserved win…that broke my heart on the last hill.”
On the women’s side, it was another British win for Flora Colledge, beating two Norwegian women in the process as she excelled on the infamous Zombie Hill during the run to take the victory. Her finish line photo sums up perfectly want it means to win the iconic, grueling race.
If you’re hungry for more triathlon, check out next weekend’s XTERRA World Cup Series in the Czech Republic. There’s no better time to try out watching the best off-road athletes if you haven’t before. It’s well worth the watch, now more so than ever, with the athletes competing for 20,000 Euro and valuable points towards the first-ever World Cup title.