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Last Weekend Now: The Last Races for A While

Campeche 70.3 and the ITU Mooloolaba World Cup took place this weekend—but should they have?

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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.)

Reporting on triathlon seems particularly trivial right now, but there were two major races that actually somehow took place this past weekend. The Mooloolaba ITU World Cup in Australia and Ironman 70.3 Campeche in Mexico went off as planned, and they’re likely to be the last races to report on for some time, so here it goes.

ITU Mooloolaba World Cup

I’m surprised Mooloolaba wasn’t called off. In addition to being one of the more significant races on the World Cup circuit for professionals, it’s also one of the largest age-group tri festivals in the world, bringing together nearly 5,000 competitors.

I think racing was a bad look for both the ITU and the local organizing committee, but I’m not sure canceling it would’ve made much of a difference. By the time things got serious last Thursday—basically when Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19 and March Madness got canceled—most of the athletes had already traveled and would have to travel home whether they raced or not. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure air travel puts people in greater risk of contracting a virus than triathlon—although swim corrals and porta-potties are probably good places to spread disease too.

The optics, though, of not taking this pandemic seriously were not good. Even Formula 1 called off the Australian Grand Prix, which is one of the biggest annual sporting events in the country. NASCAR made the last-minute decision to cancel Sunday’s race in Atlanta. Just about the only major sport to compete this weekend was the UFC, which hosted fights in Brasilia without fans in attendance.

ITU issued a statement immediately following the races in Mooloolaba saying that all races are suspended until the end of April. Obviously, they had a very tough call to make on Friday, and I’m not sure there was a right decision to be made. I worked at Mooloolaba in 2010. It’s a massive event that I’m sure has grown up even more since then. And keep in mind Australia is about as far into the future as you can go; by the time everything else was canceled, it was almost race time down under.

The point is, I’m not going to fault race directors for any decisions that had to be made over the past 96 hours, or how long it took to convey those decisions. Putting on a large-scale triathlon involves a lot of behind the scenes work with local government—most of whom were dealing with a lot themselves late last week.

Should the Olympics actually take place this summer, then Mooloolaba marked the last time we might see some of the medal hopefuls until Tokyo. If that’s the case, things are looking up for the British women, who have a chance to do what the British men have done each of the last two Olympics and win multiple medals. Vicky Holland ran away from compatriot Georgia Taylor-Brown, winning by 15 seconds and avoiding any opportunity for British women to hold hands at the finish. Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle rounded out the podium, out-sprinting Kiwi Andrea Hewitt, who is racing in her 15th ITU season at age 37. Kirsten Kasper was the only U.S. finisher for the women, taking 10th place.

The men’s field was a bit more watered down, with New Zealand taking the top two spots after Ryan Sissons narrowly out-sprinted Hayden Wilde. Aussie Luke Willian finished four seconds later to claim third. American Kevin McDowell faces an uphill battle to get a ticket to Tokyo, but he started off his 2020 campaign in solid form, finishing sixth.

In ninth place was Azerbaijan’s Rostislav Pevtsov. The internationalness of the International Triathlon Union never ceases to amaze me. Among the 109 elite athletes competing in Mooloolaba were athletes from Iceland, Israel, Mauritius, and Ecuador. Triathlon is truly doing its part to bring together people from around the world—for better or worse.

Ironman 70.3 Campeche

Having also worked at a couple of races in Mexico, I wasn’t surprised to see Campeche go ahead as planned. Working with local governments in Mexico presents its own unique challenges for race organizers, and decisions can take a bit longer to come down from up top.

According to Sarah True, who finished second, “Many of the pros acknowledged that we shouldn’t have raced. It felt irresponsible. We were grateful to race, knowing that it would be the last opportunity to try to earn money for a while. We also understood that it would be rightfully perceived as a poor decision from the social security standpoint.” True is back home in New Hampshire and noted that she will self-quarantine for two weeks.

In what will definitely be the last Ironman event for the foreseeable future, American Matt Hanson took the win ahead of Canadian Jackson Laundry and Austria’s Michi Weiss. It will be interesting to see how these results are factored into the PTO World Rankings—or if the Collins Cup will even take place at the end of May—but it would make Matt Hanson a near lock for the American team and a pretty nice payday in Slovakia.

American women swept the podium, with Wisconsin’s Jackie Hering taking the win ahead of True and Missouri’s Danielle Dingman. Based on the current rankings, all three women would be a longshot to race in the Collins Cup, if it indeed does happen.

It’s not an easy time to be a race organizer, and that’s especially true for those behind the Collins Cup. After five years and a lot of stumbling blocks, they had finally cobbled together a lot of money to put together a marquee event—and now a minor apocalypse should throw a yet another wrench in their plans.

There are still 10 weeks until the Collins Cup, though, and no one knows where we’ll be by then. We certainly won’t be racing anytime soon, even though triathlon Youtuber Talbot Cox has plans to change that. Best of luck finding a pool.