Events

Last Weekend Now: It Wasn’t COVID That Canceled The First Major Pro Race to Return

Davos got stormed out, the PTO keeps pros afloat, and everyone but me is mad at ITU.

For 30 glorious minutes on Saturday morning, triathlon was back. A few hundred age groupers and a few dozen pros gathered in in Davos, high in the Swiss Alps, for what would have been the first major international triathlon since early March. But a half-hour into the race—just as the pro men were starting the first climb of the bike and the pro women were exiting the water—2020 continued its undefeated streak by hurling a massive thunderstorm at the area, forcing organizers to make the difficult decision to cancel what would’ve been the fourth edition of Challenge Davos.

The responses to Challenge Family’s tweet announcing the cancellation read like someone had actually died: “My heart goes out to everyone,” was one reply. Others were “gutted” and “heartbroken.” “F*ck 2020” probably summed it up best.

I get it. If you’re reading this column, you probably miss triathlon more than you ever expected you would. But the doom and gloom of March and April—when it appeared triathlon would be on an outright hiatus for 2020—is finally clearing. This upcoming weekend, I fully expect a pair of major events to both start and finish, and I don’t think there’s a thing 2020 can do about it [knocking on wood].

But first, back to Switzerland. The Professional Triathlon Organization continues to be sport’s most generous charity, and is doing its best to ensure that the athletes who traveled to Davos this past weekend won’t come away empty handed (look for an official announcement tomorrow). It’s part of PTO’s ongoing commitment to inject a little money into the pro triathlon economy, and in the coming days and weeks, you can expect them to do more of the same—putting money behind more events that are given the greenlight across the globe. Between their trust funds and the few thousand bucks PTO keeps throwing their way, most long-course professional triathletes may make it through 2020 just fine.

A World Champs for Some of the World?

Athletes line up for the 2019 ITU Hamburg World Triathlon race. Photo: Ben Lumley/Triathlon.org

While the PTO is doing all it can to prop up the long-course arm of professional triathlon, ITU is doing all it can to piss off as many of the short-course elites as possible. In case you missed it, last week ITU announced that this upcoming weekend’s World Triathlon Series race in Hamburg would become a one-day world championship race, something it hasn’t done since 2008. This announcement led to a flurry of bitter posts on social media from athletes who can’t make it to Germany in time because of travel restrictions. Countries that won’t be in attendance (unless their athletes are already in Europe) include Canada, Australia, and most of South America.

Surprisingly, even though most of the world is trying their best to keep Americans out, there are a number of exceptions, so the Team USA contingent is already on the ground in Hamburg and will have a shot at both individual and relay world titles*. That means this year’s world title* will be a battle of U.S. women vs. British women and Spanish/French men vs. British men. So basically nothing has changed.

I understand the frustrations of the athletes, coaches, and federations that have to sit this one out. There’s no other way to feel. But regardless of if they were able to attend or not, Hamburg deciding the 2020 ITU World Championship* was inevitable. It doesn’t matter if the announcement came 10 days or 10 weeks before the race, or if it didn’t come at all. With the cancellation of WTS Bermuda and Montreal, Hamburg is the only race on the 2020 WTS calendar, so it would determine the 2020 ITU world champions* no matter what. And everyone seems in agreement that the 2020 ITU world champions* will have an asterisk next to their names either way.

It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. The mentality of “if I’m not allowed to compete for a world championship* then no one should be” doesn’t do the sport any good. I, for one, can’t wait to tune in to this weekend’s racing, and the athletes I’ve talked to are simply thrilled to have the opportunity to race in 2020. As Matt McElroy put it: “I don’t care if they call it a Continental Cup or a World Championship. I’m just stoked to race.”

If you’re interested in following the action on TriathlonLive.tv, the racing will kick off with the elite men on Saturday at 16:00 pm CEST (10 a.m. ET), followed by the elite women two hours later. The Mixed Relay World Championship* will be decided on Sunday at 13:30 CEST (7:30 a.m. ET).

And Ironman (Finally) Returns

Ironman racing will also make its long-awaited return on Saturday with Ironman Tallinn, which has the greenlight from the Estonian government to become the first Ironman event since New Zealand on March 7. Estonia has maintained strict measures to contain COVID-19, but is relaxing travel restrictions for the first time this weekend to allow for the Ironman and the WRC Rally Car race, provided all athletes receive a negative COVID test before departing their country of origin.

Keep your fingers crossed that both events go off without a hitch, and check back next week so you can finally read about other people getting to race.