Team Sanders stormed to victory at the first PTO Pro Am with Haven Shepherd, Lionel Sanders and Paul Felder swimming, cycling and running to cross the tape first in Downtown LA.
The inaugural PTO Pro Am showcased the sizzling speed and spectacular strength of PTO professionals, Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) athletes and amateur special guests with Team Sanders coming out on top ahead of Team Baekkegard and Team Long. There were plenty of spine-tingling moments as the athletes moved through swim, bike and run from Venice Beach to Downtown.
You can watch the full race replay below or scroll on to read the race highlights.
How The PTO Pro Am Played Out
The swim was dominated by three-time Paralympian Chris Hammer (Team Jackson) and 2019 World Para Swimming Championships silver medallist Ahalya Lettenberger (Team Chura), the two trading the lead over the 1500m swim. It was Hammer who made the tag first, passing to Heather Jackson with Haley Chura leaving T1 close behind. Haven Shepherd put in a fantastic swim to minimise the deficit, giving Lionel Sanders just a couple of minutes to make up to the women. Emily Gray was next back to the beach, giving Sam Long a shot to chase down his rival. Next, Allysa Seely passed the baton to Daniel Baekkegard before Jamal Hill tagged in Skye Moench.
Jackson hung tough at the front but the catch from Sanders, reigning Canadian Hour Record holder, was an inevitability. There wasn’t even a glance to his competitor as Sanders passed, full of determination. Ripping through the 40km bike course, the reigning Canadian Hour Record holder had extended his lead by the time he reached Downtown LA and T2.
With Sanders tagging former UFC star Paul Felder into the action at the front of the race, Daniel Baekkegard caught Sam Long just before transition, meaning Modern Pentathlon Olympic silver medallist Heather Fell (Team Baekkegard) and five-time Paralympic medallist Rudy Garcia-Tolson (Team Long) started the run just steps apart. Further back, Team Jackson was out of the race after Heather Jackson suffered a blown tyre on the bike.
At the front, Felder was gunning for a new 10km PB, storming up the hills and pushing right to the line to ensure Team Sanders’ victory and the first-ever PTO Pro Am title. Despite a wrong turn between run laps, Heather Fell showed fantastic form – no-doubt honed by a never-ending stream of GTN challenges – to secure silver for Team Baekkegard. Rudy Garcia-Tolson, classy as ever, completed the podium for Team Long. That put Team Chura in fourth after an anchor leg from Roderick Sewell and Team Moench in fifth, Dr Kent Bradley taking it to the line.
Interviewed by new PTO presenter Rachel Stringer, Team Sanders were clearly buzzed by the event and their victory.
“I knew they had assembled a strong team because we were going to dominate this event from start to finish,” said Sanders. “Haven got us a big lead and then I just tried to hang on to it and then Paul brought it home so it was a lot of fun… It was a full-blown competition. I knew I’d be out here trying to compare my bike time to the pros and to Sam Long and to Daniel [Baekkegard] so I rode as hard as I can and I’m excited to go look at the results and see where I stacked in the bike portion of the race.”
“I would definitely say this is the greatest way to go into your late teens,” said Shepherd “I’d just turned 18 years old going into my Olympic Games and then being asked to do this triathlon with these guys… I was very thankful that they chose me to be on their team… I wanted to go out really nice and smooth but I definitely booked it on the way back to shore!”
“I didn’t do any course preview… the hills were for real out there. When you were going up that thing it was steep so I knew – OK, I could get sub-40… I ran hard and I got to run out there with all the pros and I had such a good start with these guys kicking it off for me so it was awesome.”
Elite Race Results
With $100,000 of PTO prize money up for grabs in the elite race, a fast swim and a strong bike legs from the USA’s Eric Lagerstrom and South Africa’s Jamie Riddle put these two at the front of the race by T2 with just over a minute’s lead to Australia’s Steve McKenna. Pushing the pace towards the finish, it was Riddle who kicked ahead to score the victory with Lagerstrom second and McKenna third.
In the women’s race, Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes was first out the water, first off the bike and first across the line to claim the win. New Zealand’s Amelia Watkinson was next off the bike ahead of the USA’s Amy Sloan in third, positions that reversed to put the American in second and the Kiwi third by the finish.