The Balearic Island of Ibiza treated us to an unforgettable weekend of racing with the long-awaited PTO European Open on Saturday, followed by the World Triathlon Long Distance Triathlon Championships on Sunday.
Saturday didn't disappoint, with arguably the greatest field ever assembled in the men's and women's races and the biggest names in the sport lining up to claim the title and $100k prize. Head to heads that have been talked about for years propelled the racing into new territories, culminating in a race weekend that will be written in the history of our sport.
The swim played a key role in the development of the race, with a small lead group of 8 athletes getting away, including HUUB's Alistair Brownlee (GBR) and Tom Bishop (GBR). The Aussie-style exit allowed spectators to gauge where the big players were throughout the 2km swim, and a small gap after the first lap grew to over a minute to Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) and the chasers.
Going onto the bike, this pack had firepower from the likes of Kyle Smith (NZL), Jan Frodeno (GBR) and Max Neumann (AUS), as well as Brownlee and Bishop. The gap grew to the chasers as the leaders forged on at impressive speeds. It was Magnus Ditlev (DEN) who had any chance of making inroads to the leaders, and he soon caught Blummenfelt after already passing over 10 other athletes on the course. Further on into the bike, Ditlev was closing in and dragging Blummenfelt along with him as athletes up front started to falter. Ditlev and Blummenfelt soon caught the back of the front pack, and the action lulled. The stalemate didn't last long, and soon Brownlee and Smith forced a small break, and only Ditlev and Neumann could respond, and gaps started to appear for the athletes already on the rivet. Frodeno and Blummenfelt were first to fall back, followed by Bishop and Aaron Royle (AUS).
Onto the run, Alistair continued taking control of the race and soon had built a gap of 30 seconds to 2nd place. He was the fastest on course and running time into a chasing Blummenfelt and Frodeno. However, just before the run hit 10km, Alistair began to fall off the pace, presumably a lack of run sessions taking its toll. Neumann caught and passed Brownlee, and on the course the only challenger was Blummenfelt. Although the fastest on course, he still had close to a minute to make up. Onto the last lap, it was in the balance, but the Aussie held strong and in the latter stages even built on his lead after it had dropped to 23 seconds. Neumann claimed the biggest win of his career, with Blummenfelt 27 seconds back. Ditlev rounded out the podium with Frodeno 4th, Jason West (USA) running through to 5th and Brownlee in 6th. HUUB's David McNamee (GBR) and Bishop finished 11th and 12th.
As expected, Lucy Charles (GBR) led proceedings in the water. Gaps were not as large as they could have been, leaving it all to play for on the bike. Two chase packs soon established on the road with India Lee (GBR), Fenella Langridge (GBR), and Paula Findlay (CAN) first on the hunt for Charles and shortly after them followed Emma Pallant (GBR), Chelsea Sodaro (USA), Daniela Ryf (SUI) and HUUB's Anne Haug (GER).
There was little to split the athletes on the road in terms of pace, and although positions did swap throughout the 80km, the 20m non-drafting almost eliminated packs working together - a nod to the effectiveness of Race Ranger, which was introduced for this weekend's races. Haug looked in a great position going into T2, having closed in slightly on the initial chase pack. Her biggest rival at that point was Ashleigh Gentle (AUS), who had won the previous two PTO Open races and had long been labelled as one of the sport's best runners. However, the same could be said for Haug and with her early season form, the hunt was on.
Haug soon reeled in the athletes between her and Charles, and as she passed Gentle effortlessly, it was clear that this run split would be something special. She caught and sailed past Charles and continued to build on her lead despite the victory being sealed with over 10km to go. Haug finished over 2 minutes 30 seconds ahead of Gentle, who had also caught and passed Charles. Her run split, beating many of the male professional athletes. Charles rounded out the podium with Pallant in 4th, Findlay 5th and Tamara Jewett in 6th.
The weekend was undoubtedly a success, with a Global television audience and two races that will go down in history. The PTO Tour moves on to the US Open on the 4th and 5th of August in Milwaukie.