Events

Last Weekend Now: Racing Returns in Cozumel, Cairns, Spain, and the UK

The PTO puts dollars behind two more races, while Ironman awards some Kona slots in Australia and returns to racing in North America.

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.)

Professional triathletes got paid to professionally triathlon at races in Spain, England, Australia, and Mexico last weekend. Look at our little sport go. There were some 2021 Kona spots awarded, national champions crowned in Spain (spoiler alert: Javier Gómez is the best triathlete in Spain), and a new American long-course star emerged.

A New Favorite in Cozumel

In Boulder, some of the best triathletes in the world know Sam Long as the cocky kid who can put them into a world of hurt on long rides. Outside of Boulder, he isn’t a household name just yet, but that’s starting to change in a hurry. Cozumel was the 24-year old’s third Ironman 70.3 win, and he did it once again by riding the wheels off of the rest of the field, including Tyler Butterfield, who is a phenomenal cyclist in his own right.

Long’s 1:58:25 bike split on the very fast (but accurate) Cozumel bike course was six minutes better than Bermuda’s Butterfield, who finished second, and eight minutes faster than third-place finisher Mauricio Mendez of Mexico. While many athletes have taken somewhat of a sabbatical in 2020, Long has clearly taken a big leap forward, and is now just a few minutes on the run from being among the best middle-distance triathletes in the world.

If I’m handicapping the PTO World Championship at Challenge Daytona (which I plan on doing), I’d be hard-pressed not to make Long the odds-on favorite based on current form. Like most of Gen Z, Long is too cool for Twitter, but I suggest you give him a follow on Instagram or YouTube if you like arrogant Americans (who doesn’t).

Like Long, 2016 Ironman 70.3 world champ Holly Lawrence enjoys the luxury of riding so fast that she often doesn’t have to run very hard. The Los Angeles-based Brit rode nine minutes faster than her nearest competition, not that there was much to speak of. 2020 Olympic hopefuls Romina Biagioli of Argentina and Cecilia Perez of Mexico joined Lawrence on the podium, both finishing more than 10 minutes back. Lawrence looks like she’ll once again be the favorite to finish second to Daniela Ryf at a world championship, this time in Daytona.

Almost Aussies Only in Australia

New Zealand’s Amelia Watkinson is another young(ish) star on the rise and now she’s a lock for Kona in only her second season of full Ironman racing. She finished fourth at her Ironman debut in Frankfurt last year and now first in her second try at 140.6 at Ironman Cairns this weekend. Perhaps most impressive is that Watkinson pulled off the rare, late-race repass of runner-up Sarah Crowley, who held the lead until the final 5K of the marathon. While there was only one Kona slot available for the women, Crowley can rest easy because she’s locked into Kona 2020 (now 2021) by virtue of her Ironman Arizona victory in 2019.

Renee Kiley (3rd), Amelia Watkinson (1st), and Sarah Crowley (2nd) made up the podium. Photo: Andrew Watson Photography/Ironman Cairns

The men had two Kona slots up for grabs, and with strict travel restrictions making it an Aussie-only affair, it was a perfect opportunity to pick up a Kona slot without having to worry about one of those pesky Europeans or Americans coming over to steal one away. Max Neumann also took home his maiden Ironman title, out-dueling Ironman veteran Tim Van Berkel on the run to win by nearly three minutes.

Josh Amberger (3rd), Max Neumann (1st), and Tim Van Berkel (2nd) made up the podium. Photo: Andrew Watson Photography/Ironman Cairns

The 25-year old Neumann even swam stroke for stroke with third-place finisher Josh Amberger, and the two minutes that pair had on the field out of the water were a big reason they finished where they did. It looks like Amberger will finally have some company at the front of the swim in Hawaii—though he’ll have to qualify first, since the second slot of the day went to Van Berkel.

Who’s The Best Spanish Triathlete?

I did the Bilbao Triathlon in 2014 and finished somewhere close to dead last. I was in Bilbao for the launch of a new Orbea bike, and when they offered me a bike and an entry, I signed up a few days before the race. I don’t remember what my bike split ended up being; I just remember one of Orbea’s product managers coming up to me in transition and saying, “Brad, you have been gone for so long, we were starting to worry you had died.”

So it’s a hard course. It was made even harder on Saturday by strong winds and steady rain, but Javier Gómez made it look easy, and someone can now add the title of Spanish middle-distance national champion to his Wikipedia page. Not that we needed this race to know that Gómez is the best middle-distance triathlete in Spain.

Even though the conditions were awful, the Basque faithful still came out in style, upholding the Bilbao Triathlon’s reputation as one of the most raucous on earth.

“Racing in the Basque Country is always special,” Gómez said. “This was my first time racing in Bilbao, and even though the conditions were tough and there were some restrictions of where spectators could go, they were still lining the streets and cheering us on—all wearing masks and being very respectful of the athletes. This is a special event.”

Gomez on his way to the win. Photo: PTO

In the women’s race, New Zealand’s Anneke Jenkins made it two wins for the Kiwis this weekend—and two wins for the Jenkins-Gómez household. Lauren Gomez finished five minutes back to claim second and the title of Spanish Middle Distance National Champion as the first actual Spaniard across the line.

Another PTO-Backed Race—This Time in the UK

Bilbao was one of two races the Professional Triathlon Organization (PTO) put a €15,000 prize purse behind this weekend, with the other at the Outlaw X Triathlon, which takes place at a very swanky hotel in central England. There’s no telling how long the PTO will be able to shell out €15,000 (or $20,000 USD) to every race that wants it, but unlike the United States, the PTO is run by an actual billionaire, so the money shouldn’t dry up any time soon.

“The PTO talked the talk and now they’re walking the walk,” said third-place finisher Tim Don, who took home €1,500 for his effort. “There are many organizations that have taken a step back from professional racing this year, and they’ve done quite the opposite. At first I was a bit skeptical of PTO. I thought it was just something to benefit the top men and women in the sport. But you look at a smaller race like this—they’re paying some of the young up-and-comers in the sport. That’s what it takes to really develop professional triathlon. You have to give the younger athletes a chance to earn a living.”

Tim Don finished third. Photo: PTO

The biggest paycheck (€2,250) went to George Goodwin, who joins Sam Long as a 24-year-old to watch at this distance. Thomas Davis took home second place, a €1,875 check, and the title of most British name ever.

The women’s race was also an all-Brit showdown, with Katrina Matthews taking top honors and giving the BMC-Vifit Triathlon Team its second win of the weekend (Max Neumann is also a member of the longest-running and best supported professional team in the sport). Nikki Bartlett and Fenella Langridge rounded out the podium, earning a few bucks in what will likely be the last prize money race in the UK this season.

Continuing the tradition of throwing money at freezing cold races, the PTO’s next supported event will be this upcoming weekend’s Huntington Triathlon in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which will make some of the best triathletes in the U.S. do something they never imagined they’d do and visit Fort Wayne, Indiana.