The PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA® attracted the most talented field ever assembled for a triathlon – with athletes battling to earn a share of the biggest prize purse ever put together for a race of this kind.
Prior to the race, there was a lot of talk over the format of the race – it wasn’t quite a middle distance triathlon but was well above the Olympic and sprint course distance many triathletes specialise in.
In the end, the 100km race at the world-famous Daytona International Speedway® saw the finest triathletes from the short-course world take on their long-course counterparts – and here’s how they fared.
Short-course stars came to the party
Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee and Spain’s Javier Gomez have enjoyed unrivalled success over the Olympic and sprint distances – Brownlee is a two-time Olympic gold medallist, four-time ITU World Champion and four-time European Champion, while Gomez is a five-time ITU World Champion – although both have enjoyed measured success in the longer race formats, making them hot contenders for the Daytona crown.
Current ITU World Champion Vincent Luis is another who excels over the shorter distance – the 2019 and 2020 World Champion was undefeated in his last four short-course races heading into the PTO 2020 Championship – while Gustav Iden had enjoyed an excellent short-course 2020 season and is the reigning IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion.
On the women’s side, several of the short-course favourites were unable to take part in the event due to injury, but there was still plenty of talent on show from the standard-distance specialists.
The likes of Flora Duffy, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jessica Learmonth, who reside in the top 10 of the ITU World Rankings, were among those unable to make the start line.
However, former Olympic Champion and six-time European Champion Nicola Spirig was there, along with super-swimmer Lucy Hall and 2011 ITU World Champion Jodie Stimpson, both of whom were ready to test themselves over the longer distance.
Long-course athletes keen to defend their turf
The PTO 2020 Championship took place over a 100km course at the Daytona International Speedway® – with the distance closer to the longer end of the distance spectrum rather than the shorter.
PTO #3 Sebastian Kienle is a two-time IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion and an IRONMAN World Champion with an almost unrivalled pedigree over the past decade – especially with Jan Frodeno not appearing on the start line.
On the women’s side, the race was filled with long-course stars, with the likes of 2019 IRONMAN World Champion and PTO #4 Anne Haug among the favourites for the race along with PTO #6 and 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrence.
With both worlds colliding, there was no doubt that the field at the PTO 2020 Championship was the most illustrious ever assembled for a triathlon event – which led to some verbal sparring between the two camps during the lead-up to the race.
Long v Pearson: An Instagram fable plays out
Sam Long and Morgan Pearson, two Americans who specialise over different triathlon distances, got into a war of words on social media ahead of the race in Daytona.
Long posted a message on his Instagram story of a chat involving the two men, which Pearson quickly rebutted.
“I hear Morgan Pearson is going to embarrass the long-course athletes,” said the PTO #42 ranked Long. “I hope you’re working on your time trial position.”
“Embarrass isn’t a strong enough word,” responded Pearson, who ranks #23 over the shorter distance races. “Working on your TT positions is easy; learning to swim is not.”
The two Americans are friends and both enjoy bantering with each other – especially over Long’s swimming times and Pearson’s bike times. They are regulars on each other’s Instagram comments sections and added a little fuel to the rivalry.
Unfortunately for the viewing public, after a stunning swim that saw Pearson take a commanding lead between the two, the short-distance aficionado’s hamstrings seized up and he chose not to risk injury by completing the race.
Long, meanwhile, came out of the water in 50th place after what he described was a ‘terrible’ swim. The Unbreakable series star worked hard during the final two disciplines of the race to finish ninth.
The long and short of it
Unsurprisingly, in both the men’s and women’s races, it was the short-course athletes who dominated the early stages of the race as their swimming prowess came to the fore.
Schoeman, Luis, Gomez and the Brownlee brothers were part of the lead group heading out of the water and in the women’s race Hall, Stimpson and Spirig were all situated towards the front of the field.
As the race progressed, however, the long-course stars gradually closed in. The bike and run distances were nearly double those of a standard short-course race.
Paula Findlay – a former ITU World Champion who has spent the last few years focusing on the middle distance – stole the show in Daytona, winning the event for the second successive year with a dominant display on the bike and run.
The short-course women’s field performed admirably across the 100km distance, though, with Spirig earning a top 10 finish, Britain’s Hall producing a stunning display in the swim and Stimpson finishing 15th.
In the men’s event, Norway’s Iden produced an outstanding split in the run to overtake his rivals and claim victory. Only second-placed Matt Hanson beat the victor’s run time.
ITU #3 Alistair Brownlee was in contention for the majority of the race before retiring through injury. Schoeman (7th), Luis (8th) and Gomez (11th) also represented the short-distance athletes well.
Long-course talents dominated the top five outside of Iden – who had enjoyed success over the longer distances prior to Daytona – with Hanson, Goodwin, Sanders and Rudy Von Berg following the Norwegian over the finish line.
However, with the top 12 in the field covered by just three minutes, both sides of the debate will be happy with their performances in Daytona.