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We Pick Our High Cards for the Collins Cup

With so much talent in Slovakia this weekend, our expert breaks down the most dangerous triathletes on each team and analyzes the ways captains could play their hands.

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The teams have been determined for the second edition of the Collins Cup, to be held on August 20th at the x-bionic Sphere in Samorin, Slovakia. The opening ceremony will be held on Thursday, where the “Match Drawing” will occur and each team’s captains will determine who will race each other in the twelve matches. We will have a detailed analysis of some matches after that, for now we’re picking a few “high cards” for each of the teams – athletes that can be dangerous in any match and are likely to have a big impact on which team will walk away with The Collins Cup trophy.

RELATED: Updated: 2022 Collins Cup Teams

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Team International

Female High Card: Flora Duffy

(Photo: Ben Stansall)

The list of titles Flora has won in the last twelve months is possibly even more impressive than Kristian Blummenfelt’s: Olympic Gold in Tokyo, Short-Course World Champion, Xterra World Champion, Commonwealth Gold.

Why she’s a high card: In shorter races, Flora can swim with the best, ride hard and – if still necessary – run faster than anyone else. Most of these strengths will also apply to the 100k distance of the Collins Cup, and she will be a serious contender in any match-up, maximizing her power as a Captains’ Pick.

How she could get beaten: Flora has raced only one half-distance before: She won 70.3 South Africa at the start of 2020. She had a four-minute lead at the halfway point of the bike – but then her left glute locked up and she wasn’t able to push any power, losing more than 12 minutes to Emma Pallant into T2. (Note: After loosening up, Flora still ran seven minutes quicker to win the race!) If Flora is ready to race for 100k, it’s hard to think who might be able to beat her—but moving up in distance is always a challenge.

Potential matchups: With her pedigree, Flora is likely to be nominated by her captains Erin Baker and Craig Alexander against the strongest competitors. As we’ve seen last year when Taylor Knibb built an early gap to Daniela Ryf, upsets in the first matches can change the dynamic of the Collins Cup and give a boost to teammates.

RELATED: Expert Analysis of Flora Duffy’s Olympic-Winning Bike File

Female High Card: Paula Findlay

(Photo: Chris Falconer)

Paula is coming to the Collins Cup with two second places in her last two races at 70.3 Chattanooga (won by U.S. team member Jackie Hering) and at the PTO Canadian Open (won by teammate Ashleigh Gentle). She also won 70.3 California at the end of the 2021 season.

Why she’s a high card: When Paula is on form, she has one of the best bike/run combos on the half distance. Her second place in her hometown of Edmonton has also shown that she can handle the pressure of being on billboards across town and the resulting expectations. Finally, she was disappointed in her 2021 Collins Cup performance and will be highly motivated to do better this year.

How she could get beaten: Paula’s swim can’t be called a weakness, but even if she typically loses very little time to the other contenders, she’s not a front pack swimmer. She was a minute behind in Edmonton and then probably got a boost overtaking other athletes on her way to the front. But with just two other athletes in the Collins Cup matches, if she’s up against some speedy fish, it could be a long time before she even sees another athlete. This is probably what happened in her match last year: She was three minutes behind Lucy Charles and Katie Zaferes after the swim. She was able to make up half of that gap in the early parts of the bike but then seemed to run a bit out of steam, eventually finishing just 37 seconds behind Katie in third place. A smart counter-matchup by other teams would put big swimmers against Paula to make her ride and run alone.

Potential matchups: There aren’t any “super fish” from Team Europe or the U.S. in this year’s Collins Cup. Holly Lawrence and Nicola Spirig have very similar strengths as Paula, all three could be within seconds for most of the day. Another interesting scenario would be to see Paula race a strong bike/runner such as Skye Moench or Laura Philipp – Paula would be leading out of T1 but then also needs to stay on the gas for the whole bike leg to have a large enough gap for the run.

RELATED: The Cooldown Podcast: Growing in the Sport with Paula Findlay

Male High Card: Hayden Wilde

(Photo: Courtesy of Super League)

Hayden has clearly found his stride in shorter WTCS races, winning the last two events in Leeds and Hamburg. At the Commonwealth Games, he was “only” second after a controversial penalty. He has raced on the half-distance before, having two third places in Tauranga 2017 (when he was 19!) and at 70.3 Taupo 2019, but it’s hard to draw conclusions about the Hayden of 2022.

Why he’s a high card: Combine Hayden’s recent form with his XTERRA World title in 2021 and you clearly have an athlete who could do extremely well on the 100k distance. He also brings a “not-sure-what-to-expect” factor to the Collins Cup, and he’s maybe the only athlete you wouldn’t immediately write off against Gustav Iden.

How he could get beaten: With his run strength, can strong swim/bikers such as Sam Laidlow or Daniel Baekkegard build a large enough gap into T2? The other approach would be to match his run speed but that’s probably only feasible for the Norwegians.

Potential matchups: There is no one Hayden needs to be afraid of, and his captains are likely to ask for a great performance against the best opponents. The toughest challenge for Hayden might be to race against Kristian Blummenfelt, probably the only Collins Cup athlete who could go faster than Hayden in all three legs. Will Hayden be able to step it up on the half distance as well?

RELATED: Why Does A 10-Second Penalty Make So Much Of A Difference In World Triathlon Races?

Male High Card: Lionel Sanders

Lionel Sanders
(Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

After two second places at 70.3 Oceanside and at the IM World Championships (both times edging out third in sprint finishes), Lionel won 70.3 Mont Tremblant (even with a flat) before finishing a disappointing seventh at the PTO Canadian Open.

Why he’s a high card: Lionel will lose time in the swim, but he has shown time and time again that his race is just getting started in T1. With his strong bike and run he can still beat almost everyone else, and he almost always manages to claw back his way into contention even if things look hopeless.

How he could get beaten: Lionel’s Edmonton result showed there isn’t much he can do when the pace is on at the front of the race. While the match format of the Collins Cup prevents any group dynamics, knowing you’re being chased by Lionel will ensure that the bike will be ridden hard. If Lionel isn’t able to reduce the lead on the bike, even he may have to give up hopes of winning.

Potential matchups: Who could be hard to catch for Lionel? Daniel Baekkegard is likely to stay ahead of him well into the run. And it would be great to see a repeat of the run match that Lionel had with Sam Long at 70.3 St. George in May 2021 – a duel that Daniel only missed out on because of a bike penalty.

RELATED: Lionel Sanders Fuels with Maple Syrup. Should You?

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Team USA

Female High Card: Sarah True

(Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

After having a baby, Sarah has returned with two wins at 70.3 Eagleman and IM Lake Placid, showing that she hasn’t lost a step in her winning ways.

Why she’s a high card: As a strong swimmer, Sarah can almost always start the bike at the front of the race. With her experience, she knows how hard she can work on the bike, and it’ll be very hard to put major time into her. And while she doesn’t quite have the raw run speed of her Olympic-distance days anymore, she’s still able to outrun most of her younger competition.

How she could get beaten: While Sarah is among the best swimmers, bikers, and runners, she isn’t quite able to hold her ground to the very best in each leg. Most notably, she won’t be able to match the run speed of run specialists such as Annie Haug or Tamara Jewett, and she would have to work hard from the start to build a decent gap in the first two legs.

Potential matchups: An interesting match would be Sarah against Ellie Salthouse and Nicola Spirig: In the swim, Sarah should have a small advantage, then Ellie and Nicola might be slightly faster on the bike. Would Sarah be able to stay with them on the bike and then still run well enough to battle for the win?

RELATED: Sarah True: Finding Happiness in Sport

Female High Card: Jackie Hering

(Photo: Courtesy of the Pro Triathletes Organization)

Jackie has recently had two big wins, winning Clash Daytona at the end of 2021 and 70.3 Chattanooga in May. Her 12th place at the Canadian Open was a slight disappointment.

Why she’s a high card: In last year’s Collins Cup, Jackie went as an underdog into her match against Anne Haug and Jeanni Metzler – and came away with a big win for Team U.S., including the fastest run split of the day. Jackie is a fierce competitor who often finds a way of winning when she seems to be outmatched.

How she could get beaten: For her excellent run to still matter, Jackie can’t afford to lose too much time in the swim and bike. If the pace is on at the front, Jackie might be too far back in T2, especially to someone like Ashleigh Gentle who had the fastest run split in Edmonton.

Potential matchups: An interesting “twist” might be to flip the usual “run through the field” plan for Jackie by matching her once again with a possibly stronger runner such as Anne Haug. Like last year, Jackie would have to build a gap on the bike – will she be able to do that on her own?

RELATED: Triathlete Hour Podcast: Jackie Hering’s in the Best Phase of Her Long Tri Career

Male High Card: Sam Long

(Photo: Bartłomiej Zborowski/Ironman Poland)

The Collins Cup will be the end of Sam’s European Summer tour. He was second at Challenge Walchsee, sixth at Challenge Roth, DNF’d at Alpe D’Huez triathlon, but took the win at 70.3 Gdynia. For more about Sam’s recent “European vacation,” check out this recent interview.

Why he’s a high card: On a good day, Sam is ready to overcome any opposition. While he still has to work on his swim, his bike and run are already superb. He may lose two minutes in the swim, but he can make those up on the bike to almost everyone who can run with him. And even if he’s slightly behind strong bikers such as Sam Laidlow or Magnus Ditlev in T2, his run should still allow him to win the match.

How he could get beaten: While his run has improved even further, there are a few Norwegians (and maybe Hayden) who can still outrun him. It’s unlikely he’ll have a T2 lead on that group either. But if it comes to a run duel with someone who runs about as well as Sam, it’s hard to tell who will come out on top –at least we’ll have an entertaining match to follow.

Potential matchups: As mentioned far above, a match between Sam, Lionel Sanders, and Daniel Baekkegard could be very close. Pitting him against Aaron Royle and Sam Laidlow would also be interesting as Sam then has to play catch-up all day.

RELATED: Why Sam Long is Skipping Kona This Year

Male High Card: Rudy von Berg

This season, Rudy prepared for and raced his first Ironman: In late June he won IM France in Nice, one of the towns he grew up in. Before that he had two third-place finishes in 70.3 Oceanside (losing a sprint duel with Lionel Sanders) and at 70.3 Chattanooga (behind his U.S. teammates Jason West and Matt Hanson).

Why he’s a high card: He was on the U.S. team for last year’s Collins Cup but was very disappointed to have to withdraw with mononucleosis when he was already in Samorin. He will want to show this year that he is one of the most consistent half-distance athletes and can beat (almost) everyone.

How he could get beaten: It’s clear that it will require a great performance in all three legs to beat Rudy. The Norwegians and Daniel Baekkegard would be able to put pressure on him in the first two legs, making it doubtful he will still have enough in the tank to also fight back on the run.

Potential matchups: An interesting match would have Rudy as the strongest runner on paper but also see him challenged in the first two legs. Possible opponents for that scenario are Max Neumann (strong swimmer), Magnus Ditlev (strong bike), or Sam Laidlow (strong swim/bike).

RELATED: Rudy Von Berg: The Young Pro Is Blazing His Own Path

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Team Europe

Female High Card: Daniela Ryf

Daniela was almost written off at the start of the year after a few disappointing races, but then she won the Ironman World Championships in St. George with a superb performance, showing that she still owns the top step of the podium.

Why she’s a high card: How can you seriously doubt the reigning IM World Champion and five-time winner of 70.3 Worlds?

How she could get beaten: Her last win on the half distance is more than a year ago, and she’s had a few disappointments in between: An 11th place at the 70.3 World Championships and a 10th (later DQ) at 70.3 Oceanside. She was also beaten by Laura Philipp in 70.3 Dubai in March. Are these signs that she isn’t as dominating in the shorter races anymore?

Potential matchups: We haven’t really seen what happens when Dani is challenged late in the run. It would be great to see her matched with a good runner such as Flora Duffy or Ashleigh Gentle who also gave a good chance to be close to her in T2.

RELATED: Daniela Ryf Returns to Dominate for 5th Ironman World Championship

Female High Card: Laura Philipp

(Photo: Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

Laura has had a superb 2022 season with wins at 70.3 Dubai (over Daniela Ryf) and an almost-record-breaking win at IM Hamburg. Recently, she was fourth at the Canadian Open when she lost a bit too much time on the swim and then had to bike harder than she would have liked to.

Why she’s a high card: Laura has been able to step up across all three legs in recent years. She was able to swim and bike with Daniela Ryf at 70.3 Dubai, and four of her last five IM marathons were 2:52 or quicker.

How she could get beaten: When Laura is in her groove, she’s hard to beat. The best chance is to put pressure on her from the start by building a large gap in the swim, possibly forcing her to deviate from her race plan.

Potential matchups: It would be interesting to see a re-match of the top finishers in the PTO Canadian Open: Laura (4th ) with Chelsea Sodaro (3rd) and then either Paula Findlay (2nd) or Ashleigh Gentle (winner). Ashleigh or Paula would try to pressure Laura by swimming away from her and then hammering the bike, while Chelsea would want to stay with Laura on the bike and then try to outrun her as in Edmonton.

RELATED: How Laura Philipp Set A New Ironman Record

Male High Card: Gustav Iden

Gustav Iden
(Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Gustav continues to dominate the half distance races: After winning 70.3 Worlds last year, this year he also won The Challenge Championship and the PTO Canadian Open.

Why he’s a high card: He’s unbeaten on the half distance since 2018 when he was second to Kristian Blummenfelt in the super-fast 70.3 Bahrain. In last year’s Collins Cup, he scored the maximum six points for Europe.

How he could get beaten: One is tempted to say he can’t be beaten on the 100k distance (especially if he wears his famous hat). While every winning streak eventually comes to an end, it’s clear that it would be a huge upset if he is beaten on the race course.

Potential matchups: There is only one Collins Cup starter who wasn’t beaten by Gustav: Hayden Wilde. It’s hard to see how anyone else can challenge Gustav.

RELATED: How Gustav Iden Won His Second 70.3 World Championship

Male High Card: Daniel Baekkegard

(Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Daniel is coming off a win at his “home” race at 70.3 Elsinore in June. Earlier in the year, he was seventh at the IM St. George World Championships and second at the season opener at 70.3 Dubai.

Why he’s a high card: As shown by his third place at the 70.3 Worlds in St. George 2021, Daniel is one of the strongest athletes on the half distance. With his strong swim, he is at the front of every race and enjoys the chance to “shape” how the race develops. Last year, he sealed the Collins Cup for Team Europe with his 4.5 points against Ben Kanute and Max Neumann.

How he could get beaten: If Daniel has a “weaker” leg, it’s his run – but other than the two Norwegians (who are part of his team) only run specialists such as Matt Hanson or Jason West could even potentially put more than a minute or two into him. Probably the best chance to beat him would be by someone who can reach T2 close to him and then out-battle him in a run duel.

Potential matchups: Lionel Sanders or Sam Long may be close enough to Daniel in T2 on a good swim/bike day for them – similar to the way Sam was able to beat him at 70.3 Worlds. Another interesting opponent would be Braden Currie who swam and biked with Daniel at IM St. George and then had a better marathon.

RELATED: The Collins Cup Matchups We’d Like to See