Racing finally returns after a long hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The ITU has managed to stage the odd race in recent weeks, but Hamburg WTS this weekend is the first major race of 2020. Hamburg, in fashion with World Championships pre-2009 and the introduction of the World Triathlon Series, is a one-off race for athletes to be crowned World Champion. In recent years Hamburg has seen the World sprint and mixed relay championships, but with no WTS in 2020, this resembles the World Championships of old, heightening the importance of the racing this weekend. Hamburg will also host the Mixed Relay World Championships on Sunday, making it a whole weekend of racing to look forward to.
Along with Hamburg WTS, this weekend also sees the first major long-distance races of 2020. Challenge Davos should have been last weekend, but in true 2020 fashion, this was cancelled 30 minutes into the race due to a thunderstorm that rolled into the valley. As it stands, it looks like IRONMAN's Les Sables d'Olonne-Vendé 70.3, Gdynia 70.3 and Tallinn 70.3 will all be going ahead this weekend. In the UK, the PTO has recently announced the support of Helvellyn Triathlon, a long-standing race noted for its brutal course. With minimal racing, it has attracted a host of British talent, including a certain Olympic Champion.
In the past few seasons, racing has become extremely competitive and wide open. We were used to the dominance of the Brownlee Brothers, Javier Gomez (ESP), then Mario Mola (ESP), however, 2019 proved that a number of men were capable of becoming World Champion. Going into this weekend with the impact of Coronavirus, predicting the outcome has become even harder. As we have seen across all sports, the absence of competition has affected athletes in different ways. There are some that will have entirely written off 2020 and are now focusing on a hopefully uninterrupted 2021. On the other hand, some athletes have carried on as normal, trying to get ready for any event that is confirmed. We certainly could see some unexpected surprises!
2019 World Champion Vincent Luis (FRA) is on the start line ready to defend his title. He will be up against some of the World's best, including Olympic medalists Alistair and Jonny Brownlee (GBR), multiple World Champion Mario Mola, 2019 WTS Grand Final winner Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), 2019 70.3 World Champion Gustav Iden (NOR) along with Fernando Alarza (ESP), Richard Murray (RSA), Alex Yee (GBR), Leo Bergere (FRA) and many more. With the race a sprint distance format you can expect the top 10 to be spread out by no more than 30 seconds and if the race comes together, it could be significantly less than this, creating some high octane racing on the streets of Hamburg.
In similarity to the men's scene, women's racing has ignited in recent years. Having once been dominated by Gwen Jorgensen (USA), then Flora Duffy (BER), the World Triathlon Series has been hotly contested, and several athletes have taken victory in WTS events. Racing has largely been dictated by the presence of a breakaway out of the swim and onto the bike, changing the dynamic of racing from past years. Katie Zaferes (USA) was crowned World Champion in 2019, just ahead of HUUB's Jessica Learmonth (GBR) and Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR), all three will be toeing the line on Saturday ready to fight out for the title once again. They won't have it all their own way with two-time World Champion Flora Duffy back in action after an injury-plagued 2019. Also in contention will be Rio 2016 medalist and 2018 World Champion Vicky Holland (GBR). Other athletes to watch out for include Taylor Spivey (USA), Summer Rappaport (USA), Rachel Klamer (NED) and Cassandre Beaugrand (FRA). HUUB's Beth Potter (GBR) could also be one to look out for if she is there after the bike, the Olympic runner is the quickest on two feet in the field.
Athletes will have 24 hours to get ready to race the World Mixed Relay Championships the following day. With very limited racing opportunities, it is guaranteed that all athletes will be eager to give it their all, and with the majority of the World's best gathered, we will see some close racing. Across recent events, the key protagonists have been Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Team USA. France will be looking for their third straight title and have looked unbeatable in past events in Hamburg. However, with the relay event being a relatively new concept and the Olympics coming up, team tactics and the dynamic of racing can easily shake up proceedings.
This weekend presents itself as the first major opportunity for long distance athletes to test themselves since February. With Challenge Davos unfortunately cancelled last weekend there were several last-minute additions to various start lists adding to already stacked fields. Les Sables d'Olonne-Vendée 70.3 looks the most prominent of these, with athletes such as HUUB's David McNamee (GBR) and Anthony Costes (FRA) featuring, as well as European 70.3 Champion Rodolphe von Berg (USA), Past Kona runner up Bart Aernouts (BEL) and Pieter Heemeryck (BEL). In the women's race, perhaps stand out favourite will be HUUB's Fenella Langridge (GBR).
Back in the UK, the infamous Helvellyn Triathlon is set to take place on Sunday. This year we will see a PRO field with the support of the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO). The race will see a number of UK professionals, but standout athletes will be non-other than HUUB's Alistair Brownlee, who is set to compete in Hamburg WTS just 16 hours before! The race will be handicapped with the professional women's field setting off 28 minutes and 3 seconds before the professional men. Joe Skipper (GBR), who won Ironman New Zealand at the start of 2020 will be Brownlee's biggest rival. Skipper also 'unofficially' broke the 12hr record recently, covering 326 miles in 12hrs on his bike! There will also be challenges from HUUB's Elliot Smales (GBR), George Goodwin (GBR) 2012 Olympian Lucy Hall (GBR), 2019 Lanzarote Ironman Champion Nikki Bartlett (GBR) and multiple race winner Lucy Gossage (GBR). The handicap format is going to undoubtedly add a twist to the racing on an already challenging course which features a 16km trail run to finish over the top of Helvellyn!