The PTO championships are finally upon us and not only does it look set to be the biggest race of 2020, but it also looks to be one of the most competitive races in the history of the sport. With only a handful of names missing and the inclusion of some of the biggest ITU stars, this weekend will be the most comprehensive showdown of the long course athlete vs. the short course athlete we have ever seen.
The two notable absences from the men’s field are the two German athletes that have shared the top spot at the Ironman World Championships for the last five years, Jan Frodeno and Patrick Lange. The jury is still out on why these athletes are not in Daytona, and some may even argue that neither would start as favourite regardless. The number one ranked PTO athlete on the start list is HUUB’s Alistair Brownlee (GBR), the double Olympic Champion has continuously improved and impressed throughout the year and in his last outing pushed Vincent Luis (FRA) all the way before being narrowly outsprinted. Brownlee’s experience over the longer distances which has seen him become an Ironman Champion and claim silver medals at the 2018 and 2019 70.3 World Championships will undoubtedly pay dividends.
If you go on current form Luis presents the greatest threat from the out and out ITU stars, he remains unbeaten in 2020 and also retained his ITU world title from 2019. The favourite for the Tokyo Olympics won’t be as familiar with a TT bike and non-drafting format, but the way he is racing, you can’t put the win out of his capabilities. HUUB’s Jonny Brownlee (GBR) and Henri Schoeman (RSA) are two others to look out for, along with Alistair; they made up the podium in Rio and will back themselves on performing on the big stage.
Other contenders include Gustav Iden (NOR) and Javier Gomez (ESP) both of whom have an impressive palmares, with the former considered as one of the greatest of all time. The long-distance talent is also immense, leading the way as potential challengers are Sebastian Kienle (GER), Lionel Sanders (CAN) and Rudy von Berg (USA), although there are easily ten others with the ability to make it onto the podium. One of those is HUUB’s Frederic Funk (GER); the young German athlete has been noted as one to watch out for in the future. This race will certainly be fire!
The women’s race is a little more open than the men’s; this is mainly due to several athletes that have been unable to make the trip. The two biggest long distance athletes of the past few years, Daniela Ryf (SUI) and Lucy Charles (GBR) are absent along with a few other notable athletes that you would certainly put up there for a top 10 finish. From the ITU side of things, many people were keen to see Flora Duffy (BER), and HUUB’s Jessica Learmonth (GBR) and Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR). All three have dominated the ITU scene in recent years. Duffy was untouchable for much of 2015 and 2016, and with many of her victories coming from solo breaks her ability over a non drafting format has always been speculated. Taylor-Brown was also coming off the back of her maiden World Championship victory.
Anne Haug (GER) possibly edges it as the favourite this weekend. The German athlete dethroned Ryf to claim victory at the 2019 Ironman World Championships. She comes from an ITU background and claimed many WTS podiums, including winning the WTS Grand final in 2012. Also, with beginnings in the ITU scene is Nicola Spirig (SUI), she is arguably one of the most successful ITU athletes in the last ten years. Nicola won Olympic gold at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016 and is 6-times European Champion. The 38-year-old also won Cozumel Ironman in 2014 showing she has the ability to perform over a long distance as well. Holly Lawrence is another notable favourite, and she has consistently been able to perform on the biggest stages in long distance. She has claimed pretty much every 70.3 Continental Championships going and is also a past 70.3 World Champion. Her recent victory at Cozumel the other month shows she is in great form.
Other athletes to watch out for include Sarah Crowley (AUS), Heath Jackson (USA), Laura Philipp (GER) and rising star Katrina Matthews (GBR) who has shot onto the scene in 2019/20, recently claiming victory at Ironman Florida. HUUB’s Fenella Langridge (GBR) who narrowly finished second to Holly Lawrence at the 70.3 European Championships in 2019 will also be out there to take some scalps. As with the men, this race will be fascinating!