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Last Weekend Now: Age Means Nothing for Frodeno and Spirig

Racing's back up and some old favorites are battling for new spots in the Collins Cup.

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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.)

According to dozens of studies over the past 20 years, physical strength in humans peaks around age 25, remains somewhat steady until 35, and then begins to diminish at an alarming rate. It’s why the overwhelming majority of Olympic medalists are somewhere between their early 20s and mid-30s. (The average age of an Olympian was 27 in 2016.)

Why does this matter? Because absolutely none of it applies to long-course triathlon, or really any event that takes more than a few hours to finish. At 39, Jan Frodeno is still far and away the best triathlete on the planet, and he’ll be favored to win his fourth Ironman World Championship this October at age 40.

Not to be outdone, fellow 39-year-old Nicola Spirig also returned to championship form this weekend, joining Frodeno on the top spot of the podium at Challenge Mogán Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands. For European triathletes, it was one of the first races back but the names at top were anything but new.

Crushing in the Canary Islands

The Men

After the longest racing hiatus of his career thanks to COVID and a lingering injury, Frodeno is two-for-two in 2021, and that’s terrible news for anyone with aims of winning either the Ironman or Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

Frodo wasn’t nearly as dominant on Saturday as he was at Challenge Miami in February, but he still managed to run away from a world-class field that included Patrick Lange. The 2017 and 2018 Kona winner finished two minutes behind Frodeno in fourth, which is actually a pretty good showing given that Lange has never been one to perform well early in the season.

Finishing second was Spaniard Pablo Dapena Gonzalez, who has a cooler name and training partner than you. (He hails from the same town as Javier Gómez and the two frequently train together.) The 33-year-old has been steadily climbing up the long-course ranks since winning the 2018 ITU Long Distance World Championship, which is the easiest world title to win in the sport. Currently 34th in the PTO World Rankings, he’ll likely be left off of a stacked European team for the inaugural Collins Cup in August, but he’ll be one to watch at the half-distance for the rest of the season.

Frodeno’s favorite training partner, Australian Nick Kastelein, rounded out the podium, finishing just 12 seconds behind Dapena Gonzalez.

The Women

Nine years after the closest finish in triathlon history at the 2012 Olympics, Nicola Spirig and Lisa Norden are still sharing the podium. The two have had very different life paths since that incredible race in London’s Hyde Park all those years ago: Spirig had three kids and somehow managed to find time to win a silver medal at Rio 2016; Norden has become a professional cyclist, winning the Swedish national championship in both the road race and time trial and representing her country at the UCI World Championships.

In Gran Canaria, it was Spirig once again getting the best of her old rival, and this time there was no photo finish necessary. A challenging bike course on a volcanic island proved to suit her much better than the flat racetrack at Challenge Daytona (where she finished a disappointing 10th). She even managed to reach T2 90 seconds ahead of Norden, who started the run alongside two-time Dutch national champion Sarissa De Vries.

The win was never in doubt for Spirig, who turned a 90-second lead at T2 into a five-minute margin at the finish. De Vries and Norden dueled side-by-side for much of the half-marathon, with the Dutchwoman surging ahead in the last two kilometers to claim second, 24 seconds ahead of Norden.

As with every major long-course race over the coming months, Challenge Gran Canaria has Collins Cup implications, with a handful of athletes desperate to claim one of the captain’s picks for their respective teams. There were no changes to the PTO World Rankings after this race, but word is European captains Chrissie Wellington and Normann Stadler are very impressed with Spirig’s performance, so don’t be surprised to see her racing in Slovakia this August even though she is currently outside of the top 100 in the rankings.

With $1.5 million up for grabs at the Collins Cup, the battle for the captain’s picks should be one of the most interesting storylines to follow this season. Next weekend’s Ironman 70.3 North American Championship in St. George will be a make-or-break race for many athletes hoping to score one of the final spots on Team Europe, USA, or Internationals.