UPDATE: March 9, 2020
Super League announced it will be postponing “Neom 2020: The Opener” due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus. The race was set to take place in Saudi Arabia at the end of March. Officials say a new date towards the end of the year will be announced soon.
Originally published on March 4:
There’s plenty to be excited about when it comes to following pro triathlon in 2020. On the ITU circuit, athletes are aiming for the Tokyo Olympics in both individual races and the first-ever mixed relay. The highly-anticipated Collins Cup finally makes its debut. Hawaii, of course, brings us the usual excitement of the Ironman and XTERRA World Championships. And the 70.3 World Championship’s unique November timing this year gives Olympic athletes the opportunity to qualify for and jump into the race. (Flora Duffy, for example, has already grabbed her spot).
With all of this happening, it hardly seems like there’s room for another pro series. Yet, organizers of the Super League Triathlon Series are looking to get their slice of the attention with a kick-off event, qualifying series, and championship series in 2020.
A Little Bit of Super League History
Super League kicked off in 2017 with events in Hamilton Island, Australia (men only) and Jersey, U.K. (men and women). The idea was to bring high stakes, fast spectator-friendly races, and TV coverage. Each event featured a three-day mixed format: the triple mix (short swim-bike-run, run-bike-swim, bike-swim-run races with 10-minute breaks in between); the equalizer (an individual bike TT, followed by a pursuit swim-run-swim-bike-run based on time differences); and the eliminator (three short rounds with the bottom athletes eliminated each round). An overall champion was crowned at the end.
However, Super League has so far only actually pulled off one complete “season,” with Katie Zaferes (USA) and Vincent Luis (FRA) being named champions at the culmination of the 2018-2019 season after five events. (The original 2017 announcement promised a complete season for that year, but only ended up with the two test events.)
Last fall, Super League’s second season (the 2019-2020 season) kicked off with races in Jersey and Malta, with Zaferes and Luis leading after those two events. They then took “a pause to allow athletes to concentrate on the Olympics.” The same announcement promised the final five races between August and November of 2020 to wrap up what will ultimately be a seven-event season.
We don’t yet know the full schedule for the fall, but Super League’s website does say Singapore will host an event in August, Jersey will host an event in September, Malta will host one in October, and then there are two more spots listed as “TBA.”
The Opener in Neom
But before that all even gets started, the series announced it will first host “Super League Triathlon Neom 2020: The Opener” later this month.
What does that mean? The event will showcase several pros against top single-sport legends in the “futuristic mega city” of Neom in northwest Saudi Arabia. The event appears to be Super League’s attempt to stay relevant and not disappear from championship-level racing for an entire year, but the format is a little funky.
Cadel Evans (cycling), Paula Radcliffe (running), Inge de Bruijn (swimming), and other legends will compete against current professional triathletes in their respective sports. There will be separate swim, bike, and run races—and the legends will post their times in their respective disciplines against the SLT athletes. So there’s no triathlon, but instead three individual races of biking, running, and swimming. The schedule looks like this:
Friday (3/27): 20km Bike Time Trial
Saturday (3/28): 5km Run & 750m Swim
There’s also $100,000 on the line, though they have not yet said how the money will be split up. There are several pros committed, but it appears many of the top names are focusing their full efforts on Olympic prep. You can keep an eye on the start list here.
So there’s this “opener” in Neom, and then the Super League Triathlon Series Championship series in the fall. And, then, in between there’s a qualifier series.
Every professional and elite athlete around the world can compete in these qualifiers as a pathway to entry into the Championship Series with “golden tickets” up for grabs. There are currently five qualifying events on the calendar, but what will most interest U.S.-based athletes is the new U.S. qualifier in Tempe, Ariz.—set for May 22-24. This marks the first time a Super League event will take place on U.S. soil. It represents a pretty awesome opportunity to see the crazy format firsthand and—as with all Super League races—there’s an age-group race that coincides with the event.
What’s extra unique about the Super League qualifier in Tempe is that the age-group race is the only one that will closely mirror the wacky pro format. Age-group athletes will swim 300m, bike 5km, and then run 1.6km—two times through. There are also relay options, as well as races for the junior level. In case you want to see what this is all about for yourself—and not just watch and cheer for the pros.