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.)
Triathlon and NASCAR have proven to be a match made in COVID heaven. Friday marked one year since everything was canceled and the third time pro triathlon has taken place on a NASCAR speedway. This time it was 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Jodie Stimpson and 2008 Olympic champion/three-time Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno winning in dominant fashion.
Let’s start with Stimpson, who won five years to the day after winning her last race. She’s been one of the best triathletes in the world over the past decade, and she’s been passed over for an Olympic berth yet again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Stimpson has clearly found her niche in this style of racing.
After finishing 15th at Challenge Daytona, Stimpson wasn’t among the favorites in Miami, but she took advantage of the unique course in this part of Florida to win by 82 seconds over fellow Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay. Wisconsin’s Jackie Hering rounded out the surprising podium, 59 seconds behind Charles-Barclay.
Stimpson’s been one of the most consistent triathletes in the world for the past decade, never finishing worse than 16th on the World Triathlon Series over the past five years. However, that hasn’t been enough for a slot on the Brit Tri Olympic squad, which is arguably the hardest Olympic team to make in the sport.
What isn’t arguable is that the 32-year-old Stimpson will be one of the athletes to watch in 2021. She will once again be the fastest woman left off an Olympic team, but her non-Olympic future is looking OK. It’s been five years since someone other than Daniela Ryf has won the Ironman 70.3 world title, and finally Ryf has some somewhat legitimate competition.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. While Stimpson was brilliant on the bike, she was still two minutes slower than Lucy Charles-Barclay, who went on to serve a ridiculous two-minute penalty for passing lapped traffic on the inside. If we’re going to keep having major triathlons at NASCAR venues—which seems like it’s a thing that’s here to stay—we have to do away with that rule. Like auto racing, faster athletes should be able to pass on whatever line they deem faster.
The penalty robbed us of what could’ve been a spectacular finish between Stimpson and Charles-Barclay, who likely would’ve won the race without the penalty. Of course, that’s just a hypothetical, and we’ll never know how Stimpson would have risen to the challenge. She covered 10.5 miles in just over an hour, and probably could’ve gone faster if she needed to.
One woman who couldn’t have run any faster was Hering, who made a last-second pass of early leader Sara Perez Sala to take the final spot on the podium. The two-time mom and two-time snowshoe national champion is getting better with age, and all that time riding the indoor trainer in Wisconsin this winter clearly suited her on a course like this.
The other big surprise from Friday was former professional swimmer and cyclist Perez Sala, who achieved the impossible feat of beating Charles-Barclay to the bike. The Spanish Olympic hopeful will likely spend this summer still hoping to be an Olympian, but, like Stimpson, she may be better suited to non-draft racing.
After a 17-month hiatus from racing, the greatest of all time is back to doing greatest of all time things. Jan Frodeno returned to his winning ways with a dominating performance, finishing two minutes and 31 seconds ahead of Lionel Sanders, who painfully pounded his way up to second on the run.
At 39, Frodeno is well into the twilight of his career. Opening a hotel and coffee shop in his hometown of Girona, Spain, may signal that he’s ready for the next chapter in his professional life, but Friday’s performance reminds us that he’ll still be dominating long-course triathlon for at least another year or two. Not that this race was particularly long.
The win was never really in doubt for Frodeno, who entered both T1 and T2 in third position, just seconds behind the leaders. Then it took him all of 400 meters to take the lead on the run. While Frodeno’s 2:31 winning margin was massive for a race that only took two and a half hours, Sanders somehow managed to run 24 seconds faster, even though his run looked more like a controlled fall for 10.5 miles.
Ben Kanute used his new dad energy to finish third (67 seconds behind Sanders), with fellow Americans Chris Leiferman and Rudy von Berg finishing 11 and 37 seconds back, respectively.
At the end of the day, those were massive gaps for a race that wasn’t much longer than an Olympic-distance triathlon. The draft fest that we saw on the bike at Challenge Daytona was minimized by putting the bike on NASCAR’s road (infield) course, and hopefully that’s something PTO will consider for the Daytona race this December. And then the athletes were able to duke it out on the run.
The broadcast was as good if not even better than Daytona, thanks to the NASCAR film crew that was working their second triathlon. Even with the $2.99 charge to tune in on Facebook Live, I’m assuming Challenge North America lost a pretty penny broadcasting this race. Hopefully Friday’s stream and last December’s show at Daytona will be enough to bring in a sponsor or two, because charging for viewership is not how you get more eyes on the sport.