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#34: Now, on to Japan
If only we could see all this amazing racing allegedly happening.
issue #34: May 10, 2023
All sporters, welcome to your free Wednesday morning newsletter of all things triathlon & loosely related to triathlon. (Reminder: This weekly newsletter is always free & I love all of you equally, but if you want to support me and get fun surprises + the Sunday evening weirdo extra newsletter, then become a paid subscriber.)
One of those fun surprises is: Our first ever Triathlonish Book Club.
We’ll be reading this awesome book, Up to Speed, on the sports science of female athletes. It comes out next week, so order your’s. And then we’ll have informal book club for everyone + a live Q&A with the author, Christine Yu, for paying subscribers on June 8.
To get us started: I’ll be giving away an extra copy of the book. If you want to enter to win a copy of the book, just give me your email here.
Know someone who’d want to join us? Who would love Triathlon-ish things? Send this to them.
The PTO European Open: A Verdict
If you had Max Neumann and Anne Haug picked to win the $100K at the European Open on Saturday, you’re lying. Not that they would have been bad picks—both have the record and resume to back the wins—but both were flying under the radar going into Ibiza. (Personally, my two picks—Kristian Blummenfelt & Ashleigh Gentle—ended up second.)
Per usual for these PTO events, the racing was excellent. As far as I could tell.
On the men’s side, I agree with the assessment that the decisive move was actually on the bike (even though the splits show the difference was in the swim). We could probably spend all day arguing over whether Kristian was unable to go with Magnus Ditlev when the split in the front group happened or if he made a calculated choice that turned out to be wrong. Everyone plays their cards. Either way, when it came down to the run—after Alistair Brownlee “imploded” (by Alistair Brownlee standards) and Kyle Smith couldn’t hold it anymore and Kristian dropped Jan Frodeno—there’s a point, if you watch enough of these things, where you can see when Kristian’s running shifts into chase-them-down mode and I thought ‘oh well, it’s over now.’ But then he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t close the gap to Max or, viewed differently, Max was able to hold off the gap. Either way. (If you watch enough of these, you can also see the moment when Alistair’s form shifts and it starts to deteriorate.) And then Max, who flies under the radar and has no Youtube and last posted on IG six weeks ago and was 100% Aussie back at the Kona post-race press conference, gave another classic Australian post-race interview where he denounced bullshit science. It’s unclear whether he meant that he doesn’t use bullshitty science or that he doesn’t use any science because it’s all bullshit. Either way.
On the women’s side, I’ve been trying to decide if the races play out differently because of some larger point about women’s field size and depth and density and style, or if they simply play out differently because of Lucy Charles-Barclay. Once Lucy takes off at the start of the swim, the whole race really becomes one of attrition more than of surges or moves. (If Lucy wasn’t capable of holding it all the way to the finish—as is the case with many uber swimmers—then maybe everyone else wouldn’t chase her the way they do. But she is, so here we are.) The obvious danger on the bike came from the chase group that formed too close for comfort with Paula Findlay, Ashleigh Gentle, and Anne Haug. And, of course, that’s then what happened on the run: Anne and then Ashleigh eventually caught Lucy. (If you watch enough of these, it was also clear coming out of T2 that Emma Pallant-Browne and, even farther back, Tamara Jewett were going to run their way up, too. And they did.) I don’t know Anne personally, but I’d say it appears, at 41 years old, that she’s got a point to make this season. She ran over a minute faster than even those uber runners back in the field, and put down the fastest ever 100K run split since that started being a thing. Both Daniela Ryf and Chelsea Sodaro DNF’d, dealing with different health issues.
Anne Haug - 3:38:00
Ashleigh Gentle - 3:40:30
Lucy Charles-Barclay - 3:40:56
Emma Pallant-Browne - 3:42:19
Paula Findlay - 3:43:34
Max Neumann - 3:13:46
Kristian Blummenfelt - 3:14:13
Magnus Ditlev - 3:15:36
Jan Frodeno - 3:16:02
Jason West - 3:16:05
Full results here.
Of course, the quality of the actual racing is never really in question with the PTO events. The question is always instead: Was the overall event a success? Is the product profitable? (By which we almost always mean the broadcast.) Can it be?
Look, I’ll admit it probably plays out differently on-the-ground. For example, that run course looked wildly stupid on TV and Alistair Brownlee almost took out some confused guy wandering across the course, but by all accounts it was quite exciting to watch in-person.
This is why I asked Tim Heming to write an on-the-ground report for our Sunday evening newsletter: Postcard from Ibiza
I’ll also admit that the PTO is making improvements, both with the courses, venues, and coverage. And I’ll admit the PTO’s race broadcast is completely fine. As my husband said, who wandered in and is probably the actual core target demographic for all these heavily-funded ventures: “If this was a random race and you were Anne Haug and I just wanted to see how you did, I’d be like ‘Oh cool.’”
Unfortunately, the problem is he’s not simply checking in on how I (imaginary Anne Haug) am doing and this is not a random race. For better or worse, the PTO’s races and broadcasts are not judged against existing triathlon products. They are judged against their stated objectives: to elevate and revolutionize the professional side of the sport via a high-quality and innovative mass spectator product that generates profitable broadcast and advertising revenue. And they have to do that before they run out of money.
So, may I suggest, if that is the goal, fixing, just for example, these three small things that made me yell at the TV:
Multiple pace graphics on the broadcast said Ashleigh Gentle was running 4:30/km and Kristian Blummenfelt was running 4:00/km. These graphics directly and repeatedly contradicted the previous pace graphics that had been on screen, and were also clearly factually wrong—as evidenced by simply looking at the athletes running. Ashleigh has never run a 45-minute 10K in a race in her life.
No information (and then incorrect information) about how much distance was left as Kristian tried to run Max down. At one point, it said 1.9km to go on screen; then, after six or seven minutes has passed, the announcers said there was 1.5km left; and then about two minutes later Max abruptly rounded the bend to the blue carpet and the finish. When someone is chasing someone else down for the win, the amount of time and space they have to do that in is essential information for creating viewer interest.
Chelsea Sodaro ultimately dropped out on the bike. (As did Daniela Ryf on the run.) However, we never saw or heard about her or what had happened. She just disappeared. For comparison, I’ve been watching a lot of NBA Playoffs lately and can you imagine if Steph Curry simply didn’t come out on court after half-time and no one said anything about it.
I really do want the PTO to succeed. I really do think the racing is top-level and the fundamentals are sound. I really do believe a profitable pro triathlon series can and should exist. So things like watching a live feed camera that’s aimed at the ground fill me with rage.
All those other races
The problem or the perk of this past weekend—either way—was that in addition to the biggest name race, there were also two other major races + two or three smaller ones, depending on what you count.
I have mixed feelings about whether this is good (people can follow lots of races! pros have options at different levels! it’s not like the NFL only shows one game per week!) or bad (it’s very confusing! triathlon isn’t big enough to support that much racing! maybe we should get one right first!). But here we are.
World Triathlon’s Long-Distance World Championships
First up. Also in Ibiza. Sorta a distance between a half and a full. Yes, that all made it even more confusing. But after some bigger names either struggled with recovery from recent races, injuries, or mechanicals, we ended up with quite a few DNFs and an interesting French dual victory: Marjolaine Pierre and Clement Mignon (in a close finish and after a crash into T2). From what I hear, on the ground it was quite exciting. Over here, it was less so.
Ironman 70.3 North American Championships - St. George
Maybe it’s because I’m oh-so-very American, but it seemed like the next best racing was actually in St. George. Where Sam Long won on one of his favorite courses, and never really seemed under significant pressure. (Let’s also all give a shoutout to newbie pro Trevor Foley for outrunning Jackson Laundry and Lionel Sanders to take second).
But, out of everything happening all over the world, the big tear-jerker of the weekend was in the women’s race in Utah. Back in 2021, Jeanni Metzler took second place at the 70.3 World Championships here on this course. Then she struggled with the pressure, stress, and depression—and stepped back from racing last year to take care of her mental health. To see her back out there, in St. George, taking the win, I think made everyone cry. Even Danielle Lewis in third.
For all the people who made the choice to opt for St. George or for the Long Distance World Champs (or even one of the other races) over the European Open, the question was: Would it be worth the trade-off in PTO points & prize money? Could you get more points doing better at a smaller race than doing worse at a bigger race? Is 2nd at St. George > 11th at Ibiza? (Approximately.)
Take a look over at the PTO points from this weekend’s races and judge for yourself. It appears the answer for many of them was: Yes! For example, Sam Long would have had to get 7th at the European Open to equal the points of his 1st in St. G and even better to equal the money. Not to mention sponsor bonuses. Seems like saving the travel money paid off for him.
And other results
Nikki Bartlett also defended at Marbella 70.3.
And in Australia, there was quite a men’s race, with Steve McKenna (another Australian who does not do IG) only outkicking Tim Van Berkel and Sam Appleton as the run got on.
Find all the results on our Results page.
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But wait! That’s not all
Just as you catch your breath, it’s time for another big weekend of racing. We head back to the Olympic qualifying circuit, for the next WTCS race. This time in Yokohama. (I know the first WTCS back in March in Abu Dhabi counted, but for a lot of reasons—like, we’re tired of Abu Dhabi—it didn’t feel like it counted.)
There are a few big names missing from the start list, including Alex Yee, Flora Duffy, and Beth Potter. But we’ll have Taylor Knibb back in action after her surgery over the winter, plus Taylor Spivey, Georgia Taylor-Brown, and Maya Kingma. (Can a breakaway stick??) For the men, Jelle Geens, Marten van Riel, and the whole French contingent (minus Vince Luis) will almost definitely beat the Norwegians. Yes, even though Gustav Iden skipped Ibiza to focus on this race and even though Kristian Blummenfelt is Kristian and came straight from Ibiza.
How to watch: As always, World Triathlon races are on TriathlonLive. Women go on Friday at 5:45 p.m. PT/8:45 p.m. ET (no idea what time that is in Japan). Men go after at 8:30 p.m. PT/11:30 p.m. ET.
P.S. There is also another 70.3 streaming on Outside Watch this Saturday, because there is always a 70.3 happening somewhere in the world.
Everything else from around our sports that I think you might want to know about, or that I just think is interesting.
At the age of 42, after a heart attack, Tim O’Donnell won Peru 70.3 a few weekends ago. Sure, it’s not the biggest win of his career, but it’s the most meaningful. He talked about why and what’s next. Not retirement, yet. (Triathlete)
I didn’t realize Jan van Berkel is one of the many athletes on his final retirement tour season. (Instagram)
Sophie Watts announced she’s taking a permanent leave of absence from pro triathlon. (Instagram)
Daniela Ryf is back working with Brett Sutton. (NTT)
Heather Jackson is getting ready for Western States. Triathlete-to-ultrarunner/gravel-rider transition complete. (TrailRunner)
Or Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce. (The Guardian)
I had never heard of the Flying Pig Marathon until last year when a family (of health influencers?) let/made their 6-year-old run it. Controversy ensued. The family was back this year—despite the new age limits on the race. And, the race got extra controversy for going off in a storm that prompted shelter-in-place orders 45 minutes in. Just sounds great all around. In case you were wondering, that’s Cincinnati. (Running Magazine/Cincinnati.com)
On the other end of the spectrum, how do we feel about the rise in luxury adventure races for thousands of dollars? (Wall Street Journal)
This guy is starting his second attempt at 102 iron-distances in 102 days. Honestly, I feel like there are pros who basically cover these distances in training, but just don’t talk about it? (220Triathlon)
A super in-depth look at the Strava data from Boston tells us that people run fast there because the people who run there are fast. (Outside)
A cyclist was killed when hit by a driver in a pick-up truck during the Rasputista gravel race. What is the responsibility of these growing races to close roads? (Bicycling)
Lance Armstrong is evidently participating in some kind of reality show that simulates who would make a good colonist on Mars. Or as Escape Collective put it: 1998 Tour of Luxembourg winner to pretend to go to Mars. (Escape Collective)
For years, I’ve been following the story of Mavericks (the massively huge surf contest out here) being required to let in women and the growth of women’s big wave surfing. And the arguments all have a certain mid-90s Reddit vibe to them, plus also there’s in-fighting and venture capital and power dynamics and regular old surfer dude dynamics. So, imagine my surprise to hear that the legendary contest could come back—with a lot of caveats. (KQED/espnW/Washington Post)
I was also surprised to find out deep water free diving is a big new thing around San Francisco Bay. FYI, that’s not really the kind of place you’d usually free dive. (San Francisco Chronicle)
And the best piece I’ve read—plus the only one I read all the way through—on the new wonder weight loss drugs and what they could mean v. what they do mean. (New Yorker)
One last thing
Warm fuzzy feelings.