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#35: Pro triathlon can be exciting. Really.
If you do it right.
issue #35: May 17, 2023
All sporters, welcome to your free Wednesday morning newsletter on all things triathlon-ish. A heads up: I’m off to Morro Bay 70.3 this weekend and then taking a few days to go camping. (Next week’s newsletter will be light.) If you’re in Morro Bay, say hi. Usually I tell people to yell ‘go faster’ at me, but given the spate of health issues I’ve been dealing with, my morale is low. So, if I make it to the run, just tell me ‘you look amazing, like a gazelle.’
A few quick announcements before we get to this week’s news:
Christina G. won the free copy of Up to Speed—our first Triathlonish Book Club book. Reminder: Paying subscribers will get to participate in a Q&A with the author in a few weeks (so start reading the book!)
We made a big change to the podcast last week and merged with the If We Were Riding podcast (for a number of reasons), but you’ll still get all of your triathlon-ish news, Sid Talks, and the best chatting from our new group ride. We’ll be consolidating over the next few weeks, so subscribe to the new feed to keep getting all the episodes.
As always, much love to the Triathlonish paying subscribers, who make me the happiest.
Now, we’ve got a long set of links this week. On to it!
Does it always rain in Yokohama?
Yes. But this weekend it really rained. It rained so hard the live feed went out just as Sophie Coldwell was about to lock down her first WTCS win. (That’s a big deal, the C & S, after all, stand for Championship & Series.)
From what I could tell, in between the storm, it was an intense race. Sophie Coldwell ran away from the front group with a wet 33:53 10K (her fastest) and proved she’s no longer “just” a swim-biker. Rosa Maria Tapia Vidal ran into second for the first WTCS podium from a Mexican athlete. (She did take 4th at the New Plymouth World Cup a few weeks ago, so it’s not out of nowhere.) And Taylor Knibb is back post-surgery and back to whatever the hell it is she does in races: attack, fall all the way off the back of the group, power along on the front without worrying about others pulling through, attack again. It’s a mysterious strategy but it works well enough for her. She ended up third, and I think that’s got to be a victory coming off the injury she’s had. (I also think, and this is just my opinion, that she’s still learning and testing out the complex strategy involved in World Triathlon races and once she figures out what works for her she’ll ultimately be unstoppable.)
The big question—and it only became even more of a question this weekend—is: What the hell are the U.S. and British women’s teams going to do with their Olympic selection?
The Americans: The U.S. had all five of their women in the top 15 in Yokohama (Knibb, Taylor Spivey in 4th, Kirsten Kasper in 8th, Summer Rappaport in 10th, and Erika Ackerlund in 13th). And that doesn’t include 2021 Olympic bronze medalist Katie Zaferes, who was winning a Continental Cup in Punta Cana instead as she works her way back up the points list post-pregnancy. And it doesn’t include 2016 Olympic champ Gwen Jorgensen, who was vacationing in Japan waiting to see if she’d roll off the waitlist as she fights for points post-return-to-triathlon.
The Brits: Team GBR now has two WTCS wins in two races, from two different athletes (Beth Potter and Sophie Coldwell)—neither of whom was on the Tokyo Olympic team and neither of whom is the defending Olympic silver medalist, Georgia Taylor-Brown, who was 7th in Japan as she returns to form. With Jess Learmonth off this year having a baby it seemed like the team decision would be simple, but now you have Kate Waugh in there too at 5th place this weekend.
Fun for everyone except the athletes.
The men’s race, on the other hand, was one giant pack of screeching brakes in the rain. Kristian Blummenfelt rode his way up from a swim deficit and then straight through to the front to string it out. Hayden Wilde alternated taking over on the front and positioned himself well when it came down to transition. And in these huge pack races, everything is about positioning. (A tactical fact that would make me go insane.) Hayden was never really under pressure. And, while I know Kristian will be ready when it counts, it feels like next year in Paris is really going to be more about Hayden v. Alex Yee (who didn’t race in Japan) v. Leo Bergere and the intense French men’s squad.
For a non-commercial entity, World Tri actually does an OK job of their broadcast. But this weekend they shook it up with an alternate commentary feed from ProTriNews. I think the PTN crew would now be the first to tell you live commentary the way triathlon does it—by which I mean simply giving people a feed to watch and the same tracker we all get, and telling them to talk—is not easy. (I would argue that the biggest thing that has to change in triathlon broadcasts are not the commentary teams, but the behind-the-scenes production work that goes into it making those teams sound and look good.)
I did enjoy Chelsea Burns and Flora Duffy’s insight, though. [I only watched half the men’s race before going to bed, so I assume Matt Sharpe filled that same role in the men’s race.] There’s something to be said for commentators who know the athletes so well they can ID them on sight, even in wetsuits, and know exactly who is having a good day and who isn’t. (Mirinda Carfrae offered this ability in Kona, and I think Dede Griesbauer does it well for Ironman.)
BONUS: It also appears the person who runs the World Tri TikTok either has a sense of humor or went insane.
The point of pros
I’m of the opinion that pros help the long-term health of a race. They get the race more publicity, more stories, more attention, more exciting racing, more people who care. It’s easy to think in the short-term, and only view pro athletes as athletes who aren’t paying registration fees, as just a cost or burden. But that’s short-sighted.
With that in mind, let’s talk about Escape from Alcatraz. It’s my favorite race. I’ve done it 10 or 11 times (since I DNF’d with a dead Di2 last year, I dunno if that counts), but ever since the race management company changed, the vibe has changed. (It’s very VIP now.) And one of the things that changed was they moved from an open pro field with lots of support (homestays, etc) to a very small “exclusive” pro field that feels more like someone trying to convince you how exclusive their club is to get into.
There are multiple problems with this:
When there are only six women and seven men, all it takes is one flat or mechanical, one injury or DNF, and suddenly we don’t even really have a race at all anymore. This will ultimately erode the prestige of the event.
When a race organizer selects very small fields, they miss the possible excitement of a winner they didn’t think of, someone they didn’t give a chance. The year Eric Lagerstrom beat Andy Potts in a sprint down the chute, he wasn’t supposed to have been invited. You miss good stories when you think you already know the story.
When an event (or really, advice for anyone) aims for perceived exclusivity, it ultimately keeps out people they’d actually want to have, because it changes the reputation, process, and flexibility. I have heard of big names, names you’d know, who have been turned away by Alcatraz organizers. That doesn’t make the race more desirable, it makes it a PITA and it stops other pros from even wanting to bother. Word spreads.
One of the things Alcatraz used to do well was stock the race both with world champs and with well-known local pros (who often have as big an impact on the perception of the race regionally). While there’s still a Bay Area man & woman in the field, I was disappointed to hear they didn’t let in, for example, last year’s third place man, Greg Harper—who is a local up-and-coming pro, son of a former winner of the race (Dean Harper), and a Triathlonish reader.
While I appreciate there is limited space on the boat, there was no issue with 20-25 person fields. It did not impact the number of registrations that were sold. If anything, it helped sell more—back when Alcatraz had a different vibe and really sold out. You should want excitement and numbers. Really.
Pros can help your race. If you use them right.
The rest of the races
The stars the World Tri Para Series also battled it out in Yokohama: Lauren Parker topped Kendall Gretsch in the wheelchair race; the U.S. women swept the PTS2 division; and a new star, Owen Cravens, took the visually impaired title with guide Ben Hoffman.
Katie Zaferes kept moving up the points list with a win at the Continental Cup in Punta Cana. (It’s tough trying to decide which move is the right move as you chase points, but she ultimately made a good pick this weekend.) And in the men’s race, two young Americans topped the podium, including one I’ve been keeping an eye on, Ka'eo Kruse—a Hawaiian runner who went to Harvard makes an interesting athlete.
The other race happening in the Dominican Republic was the juniors race—which the U.S. used to lock up their quota spots for Junior Worlds.
Gulf Coast 70.3: Many of the men who opted to stay here in the U.S. last weekend instead of traveling to Ibiza, then chose to back up St. George with another 70.3 this past weekend (it was only a pro men’s race) in Florida. And again it was the same names, slightly different order: Sam Long, Lionel Sanders, Jackson Laundry.
The rest of the results from this weekend are on our Results page.
Mark your calendar
There’s actually a whole bunch of stuff coming up this weekend—some of which is interesting, some of which is not.
Challenge Championships: That’s happening. In that x-bionic sphere thing in Slovakia, as these races do. My picks are Fenella Landgridge or India Lee, and Matt Hanson or Fred Funk.
How to watch: On Challenge’s live site starting at 11:30 p.m. PT on Saturday night/2:30 a.m. ET Sunday morning (as best I can do the math)
Just like it’s always noon somewhere in the world, there is also always a 70.3 happening somewhere. This weekend it’s:
Aix-en-Provence 70.3: Also no live stream, but with the other big European names and those there post-Ibiza: Emma Pallant-Browne v. Tamara Jewett.
Chattanooga 70.3: In the same way that the N. American men who stayed here for St. George hit up Gulf Coast this past weekend, all those women (+ Paula Findlay) are now moving to the pro women’s race in Chattanooga
How to watch: It is going to be streamed! On Outside Watch, at 6:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.
And finally: Ironman Lanzarote. With Cam Wurf and Sam Laidlow.
Everything else from around our sports that I think you might want to know about, or that I just think is interesting.
Next year’s World Triathlon Championship finals will head to Malaga, Spain—since, you know, Europe never gets these races. (World Triathlon)
Over in Australia, Simon Cochrane set a new record and apparently logged the first-ever Ultraman under 20 hours. That’s a 10K swim + 90-mile bike the first day, a 172-mile ride the second day, and a double-marathon the third day. It should be noted, Simon ran his double-marathon in 6:06. Easy. (Instagram)
Alistair Brownlee decided to do Xterra UK and won, duh. Will we’ll see him at the Xterra World Champs? It sounds like a hard maybe. And, of course, he’s going to throw in a UCI gravel race this weekend too. (Instagram/Triathlete)
Jesse Thomas won the Pole-Paddle-Pedal in his “old age.” (Instagram)
Chrissie Wellington has found new meaning post-retirement. That includes as a guide for wheelchair athlete Sam Perkins, who has MND (what we call ALS here in the U.S.). They weren’t able to finish the London Marathon because of mechanical problems, so this past weekend they finished the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon. (Triathlete/220Triathlon)
Hats off to Tim, who shared this: Rob Burrow was a big rugby player who also has MND now. The Leeds Marathon was created this year by his old teammate to raise money for the local hospital, and 12,000 people showed up. It’s a worthwhile video. (Youtube)
In terrible news, former Ironman champ Mary Beth Ellis’ young daughter was killed last week when she was hit by a tractor-trailer while crossing a street. The family has set up a scholarship fund in her name. (MassLive/SHED Children’s Campus)
Colleen Quigley caught up with Ironwomen about her triathlon journey. (Ironwomen)
Kristian Blummenfelt went on How They Train and talked about that epic training weekend right before Kona. I don’t really listen to HTT, but I appreciate how Kristian always answers questions. Who is the best athlete right now? Taylor Knibb. Who will win Ibiza? He answers, no hesitation, which triathlon needs more of. (Apple Podcast/Youtube)
He also confirmed that The Norwegians will attempt the week I don’t think I can do: Paris Test Event on Friday, PTO Asian Open in Singapore on Sunday, 70.3 Worlds in Finland the following Sunday. As someone who has been playing with the flights for this, it’ll be an impressive schedule if they pull it off. (Tri247)
Lots has been made of Sam Long leaving coach Dan Plews, who he only went to at the end of 2022. (So, let’s note, any success he’s having right now has less to do with ‘coaching himself’—since, from a physiological point of view, the last six months of training would be having an effect now—and more to do with his mental state.) Obviously, the mental part is working out since he backed two U.S. 70.3 wins in two weekends. And he seems to be fully back to being Sam Long. If you don’t want to watch whole Youtube video, the out-of-context compilation is worth the 60 seconds. (Tri247/Youtube/Twitter)
Flora Duffy confirmed that she’s been dealing with a knee injury and is aiming for Paris 2024. (Instagram)
For those Olympics, Paris better clean up the Seine if people are gonna swim in it. (New York Times)
Paying subscribers get my monthly-ish roundup of the most important research and gear news, but sharing this study here too because everyone’s been so excited about it: Yes, pre-race pooping helps your brain and performance. (Triathlonish/Physiologically Speaking)
Wahoo sued Zwift to stop them from selling their Zwift Hub smart trainer, saying it infringes on patents. But a judge has denied their injunction request. (DC Rainmaker)
Outside Inc—the company that owns Triathlete and mostly everything in our sports—is finally combining all its cycling publications into one new brand, Velo. Yes, I have feelings about this, ask me some time in person. (Bicycle Retailer)
COVID is wiping out the Giro peloton. And in classic fashion, many of the great cycling minds of the internet are convinced the guy who was winning but had to drop out with COVID isn’t really “that sick” and should have just toughed it out. (VeloNews/Bicycling)
The UCI is also upset that teams used helicopters to transfer between stages, because you should always focus on the most important things. (Road.cc)
About 0.3% of high school athletes will get a full college scholarship—so maybe chill the hell out about youth sports. The numbers really are not great. (Reformed Sports Project)
How swimming was set up to become so transphobic. (The Nation)
An excerpt from Christine Yu’s book of the science of female athletes. Shameless plug: It’s our first Triathlonish Book Club book, and she’ll be joining our paying subscribers in a few weeks for a Q&A. (Outside/Triathlonish)
Female tennis players do the same work for less money. (New York Times)
One last thing
When you’re just having one of those days. (Press play.)