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Why Did So Many Pros DNF at Clash Miami?

In the heat and humidity, some athletes struggled, flatted, or crashed—while others found another gear.

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We were expecting an epic race—but not for these reasons. The U.S. season opener at Clash Miami was set to be a barn burner, with a potent combination of short-course racers and long-course specialists. Instead, it turned out to be a meltdown for many, with a DNF rate of more than 40% in the women’s field. While the men seemed to have learned from the women who went before them, there were still a handful of implosions and drop-outs in the 83-degree heat and over 70% humidity.

As is so often the case in these conditions, there were two extremes: While many were falling down (quite literally), a rare few were pushing on in another gear. Of the latter, no one impressed more than the Australian draft-legal star Ashleigh Gentle, who not only took the women’s win but did so in record time (2:59:41), despite the record-high temperatures and howling winds. In the men’s race, the fast-moving Sam Long closed the gap on the bike, took off in T2, and never looked back—finishing in a dominant 2:39:55. But it was Jason West, who ran his way up into second as other athletes struggled, who was the surprise of the field.

Brazilian Pamela Oliveira finished eight minutes behind Gentle with a consistently solid performance all day, while Dane Maja Stage Nielsen rounded out the podium (which, might we add, is a podium we could never have picked pre-race). As typically happens in Kona when conditions swing out of control on the Wild-o-Meter, pre-race form means little—and your ability to problem solve, hydrate well, and keep your head in the game means everything. On the men’s side that showed in West’s second place. Third was Olympian Ben Kanute, just 44 seconds back, and rounding out an all U.S. podium.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of carnage at an early-season race. At December 2020’s Challenge Daytona event—the first pro race after nearly a year away—we saw similar blunders and bloopers, revealing that even pros get a little rusty after time off. 

The calamities started relatively early on in the bike, with veteran Dede Griesbauer suffering a blown out sidewall. Shortly after that, race leader Sara Perez Sala hit a cone while looking down in the TT position and took a nasty tumble, coming away from this race with only road rash to show for it. For Andreas Dreitz, in the men’s race, it was a short start out of T1 before immediately realizing he’d flatted in transition—though he was able to impressively run his way back into 11th after losing a whole lap while changing the tire.

Another pre-race favorite, Emma Pallant-Browne looked well-positioned coming into T2 to unleash her usual fleet-footed powers, but early onto the run course she was clearly faltering, ultimately dropping to the ground, hallucinating, and seemingly suffering from dehydration, according to the on-the-ground commentators. 

Towards the later stages of the run, Chelsea Sodaro—who was also highly tipped for the podium—suffered a similar fate. DNFs were also recorded for Dani Treise, Lenny Ramsay, Minori Minagawa, and Brittany Higgins, bringing the total DNF rate for the women’s pro race to 44%.

In the men’s race, the chaos wasn’t quite as drastic; the commentators noted many of the men had watched the women’s race and realized they needed to pace the bike, stay hydrated, and race within themselves. “We were just blown away,” said West, of the men all watching the women’s race beforehand—and all realizing they needed to make adjustments to their race plans. Still, in the heat and humidity, Andrew Starykowicz seemed to have similar issues and fell off the pace on the bike. But it was on the run when the heat really hit: Magnus Ditlev went from third to second, and then struggled and ultimately DNF’d.

RELATED: Hot Stuff: The History and Science of Heat Acclimation

Chaos and confusion

It wasn’t just the weather causing problems, though. Some of the women also covered too few or too many laps of the track. Samantha Kingsford, moving from her usual off-road XTERRA adventures to the tarmac, had a standout performance (definitely the wild card of the day on the women’s side), but reportedly did one too many laps of the track on two wheels. And instead of taking the finish chute at the end of the run, Oliveira continued for another lap (but then corrected her mistake to run back to the finish chute, only just beating third-place Nielsen to it). It begs the question, especially when racing on a track and in these conditions, why race organizers don’t make this abundantly clear for the athletes? They either made adjustments for the men’s race or else the men learned from the women.

While we’re grumbling, it’s also worth noting that the live stream, which was pretty slick for most of the event, switched to some pre-recorded promotional content after Kingsford (4th) and Sonja Catano (5th) came in, meaning we were denied seeing the women who placed sixth and beyond come down the finish chute. For those who missed it, up-and-comer Lisa Becharas placed sixth, but will bank almost as much prize money as the third-place finisher, thanks to picking up two primes (for fastest first bike lap and fastest T2).

A race of attrition, no doubt—and also no doubts that race season is here, those early season mistakes have been made, lessons learned—and the women’s champion Gentle (who’s now focusing entirely on non-drafting racing)—will be heading to California in a few weeks for 70.3 Oceanside with quite the bullseye on her back. And the “Big Unit” Long will be prepping for the Ironman World Championship in St. George in May (after Challenge Puerto Varas next weekend) with even more pep in his step.

For the full results and race coverage, visit Clash Endurance.