Events

Last Weekend Now: An Off-Season That Wasn’t Off

Over the off-season, the PTO announced the biggest race in triathlon, coronavirus changed a lot of travel plans, and some Southern Hemisphere studs still raced a lot.

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.)

What a weird off-season in the world of professional triathlon. The PTO made the most noise by proving that the Collins Cup will actually be a thing—albeit a stranger thing than any of us could have imagined. The coronavirus caused the “postponement” of the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi and could have a huge impact on the Tokyo Olympics. Cam Wurf signed with Team Ineos and had to grow up, making triathlon Twitter a lot less fun. Flora Duffy smashed her first 70.3; Josh Amberger kicked off the season in impressive form; and I started running again.

Starting today, we’ll bring you this column every Monday to recap the big races and small prize purses. Let’s begin by getting you caught up on the past few months.

PT-Oh?

Over the past three months, the Professional Triathletes Organization has gone from a running joke to running one of the biggest events in the sport. Regardless of how you feel about the inaugural Collins Cup—which will take place in Samorin, Slovakia, at the end of May—one thing that’s for certain is it’s having an immense impact on how the world’s top triathletes are outlining their 2020 seasons.

It’s also going to create plenty of early-season drama, as triathletes vie to be one of the 36 haves and not one of the many have-nots. The record-breaking $2 million prize purse will be shelled out based on each athlete’s “PTO World Ranking” instead of on where they actually finish in Samorin. So the rich get richer, even if they get beat by the poor. The “prize purse” is essentially $2 million worth of appearance fees, but the FAQs on the Collins Cup site adamantly claim that it will not impact the quality of racing:

“We will be polite here (OK, maybe not). The suggestion that our professionals will not give it their best is pretty offensive and disrespectful. They are PROFESSIONAL TRIATHLETES, when the gun goes off, they can’t stop themselves from competing their hardest.”

I will not be polite here: That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Human beings, even professional triathletes, are motivated by money. There are literally thousands of psychological studies dating back more than a century that have shown this to be an irrefutable truth. I get paid to write articles, and I put a lot more effort into the ones that pay a lot more. That’s why this one isn’t very good.

My only issues with the Collins Cup are the “prize money” structure and the incessant comparisons to the Ryder Cup. I don’t have an issue with only 36 athletes getting the invite. That’s how real sports work. And if some Welsh billionaire wants to inject $2 million into the pro triathlon economy, then I could think of worse ways for a billionaire to lose money. And $2 million is just the start. I don’t think the Collins Cup will be the only big-money event the PTO organizes this year, and you can expect the next event to be more inclusive and more in the United States.

Coronavirus Cancellations

Whether you think the coronavirus is a hoax or you’re a reasonable person, it’s going to have a significant impact on the 2020 triathlon season. Over the weekend, ITU announced the postponement of the first race of the WTS season, which was set to take place in Abu Dhabi this week. According to ITU, they’re looking at dates later in March and April, which means the race is effectively cancelled. Travel restrictions throughout the Middle East aren’t going to become less restrictive over the next few weeks, and a summer race is out of the question.

The next race on the WTS calendar is Bermuda on April 18, followed by Yokohama (Japan) on May 16. Bermuda currently has no reported cases of the virus or travel restrictions, and all signs point to that race going off as planned. The potential cancellation or relocation of the Yokohama race is what could have the biggest impact on the Tokyo Games, as it’s the final event in the selection window for a number of countries and is an automatic qualifier for American athletes looking to make their Olympic team. Japan is doing everything possible to prevent a potential cancellation of the Olympics, itself, and that could include cancelling any large, international events leading up to them.

Both Ironman and Challenge also have April races in Taiwan, which has already cancelled a number of large gatherings and sporting events to attempt to control the virus. This might be the year to support your local races.

Early-Season Studs

Josh Amberger demonstrated that he’s motivated to get some of that Collins Cup money with a win at Ironman 70.3 Geelong two weeks ago, running away from fellow Aussie Sam Appleton, which isn’t an easy thing to do. While they’re two of the top 70.3 athletes in the world, it’s very possible that one of them will be left out of the Collins Cup, as they’re currently in sixth and seventh in the PTO rankings for the “Internationals.” (Six men and women will be selected for each of the three teams.)

Kiwi Hannah Wells also had a big start to 2020, winning in Geelong a week after finishing second at Challenge Wanaka. And she won Ironman 70.3 Taupo in December. She’s also a doctor who dissects sheep intestines and tries to figure out ways to graft them to humans. She’s a busy person.

Flora Duffy made her 70.3 debut in her adopted home country of South Africa in January, winning after surrendering 11 minutes to runner-up Emma Pallant on the bike. Duffy, whose success in ITU and Xterra has been largely thanks to her prowess on the bike, will have to get more familiar with her TT bike if she wants to be a factor at the 70.3 World Champs in November.

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I’ll be back next Monday with a recap of Ironman New Zealand, which will be one of the 19 races livestreamed by Ironman on Facebook Watch this season. The race starts at 7 a.m. local time Saturday in Taupo, which is 1 p.m. Friday EST (or 7 p.m. in Europe). With 16 male and 14 female starters, there will likely be two Kona slots up for grabs for each gender. Teresa Adam and Meredith Kessler are racing but already qualified, so the rest of the athletes, including Americans Jocelyn McCauley, Lisa Roberts and Kelsey Winthrow, will be vying for slots. Joe Skipper has already qualified with his Ironman Florida win in November, so the top contenders for the men’s slots are Kiwis Braden Currie and Mike Phillips, Switzerland’s Philipp Koutny, and Denmark’s Mathias Petersen.