Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

This weekend will see a top field of highly motivated long-course stars converge in Galveston for what promised to be a hugely competitive edition of Ironman 70.3 Texas. Meanwhile, down under, the Australian race season continues with a strong domestic field at CHALLENGESHEPPARTON – the country’s only CHALLENGE event.

Ironman 70.3 Texas 2021 Preview

While several postponed races have slowed the start of 70.3 racing in the USA this year, the upside is that a stellar field of highly ranked PTO athletes will be competing in this weekend’s de-facto season opener in Galveston.

There’s $30,000 on the line as well as a chance for athletes to test their fitness and see who’s fared best through this most extraordinary off-season.

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

RACE INFORMATION – WHAT’S THE LOWDOWN?

Date: 11 April
Location: Galveston, Texas, USA
Time: 11:45 GMT
Prize Money: $30,000 – pays 8 deep $4,000 to $750
Format: 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run
Course: Sea swim, flat bike, flat run

KEY ATHLETES

USA:

Matt Hanson (USA #2) / Sam Long (USA #4) / Ben Kanute (USA #6)
Skye Moench (USA #4) / Jackie Hering (USA #5) / Heather Jackson (USA #7)

Europe:

Joe Skipper (EUR #5) / Andreas Dreitz (EUR #8) / Magnus Ditlev (EUR #12)
Kimberley Morrison (EUR #40)

International:

Lionel Sanders (INT #1) / Sam Appleton (INT #4) / Jackson Laundry (INT #16)
Sarah Crowley (INT #3) / Jeanni Metzler (INT #10) / Pamella Oliveira (INT #16)

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

THE BIG STORIES

With a who’s who descending on Galveston, there will be plenty of intrigue from big-time performers going blow-for-blow to inter-team rivalries for Collins Cup points.

The men’s race is headlined by Lionel Sanders (INT #1) who showed himself second only to the great Jan Frodeno (EUR #1) at CHALLENGEMIAMI. While some swifter swimmers like Ben Kanute (USA #6) will be up the road, between Sanders, Sam Long (USA #4), Joe Skipper (EUR #5), Matt Hanson (USA #2), Andreas Dreitz (EUR #8) and Magnus Ditlev (EUR #12), there’s some serious firepower on the bike, so expect things to come down to a very competitive run.

Once on that half marathon, everyone will be eyeing Hanson, who’s shown himself – both in Daytona and Miami – as the sport’s fastest runner against the world’s best. The good news for us is that Sanders will turn himself inside out if they hit the course together while Britain’s Joe Skipper could give us a preview of a Collins Cup match-up against his International and USA counterparts.

The women’s race is also stacked. Unable to show her best in Daytona and Miami, Sarah Crowley (INT #3) will be looking to this longer distance to unlock her form and will have tough competition from fellow Internationals team hopeful, Jeanni Metzler (INT #10) – née Seymour – who won 70.3 Texas in 2019.

Meanwhile, the American trio of Skye Moench (USA #4), Jackie Hering (USA #5) and Heather Jackson (USA #7) and will be fighting it out to top the Team USA leaderboard in a race not just for Collins Cup points, but the attention of team captains Karen Smyers and Mark Allen.

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

KEEP AN EYE ON

Sam Long is one of the sport’s biggest personalities and ‘The Big Unit’, who skipped CHALLENGEMIAMI to continue his prep, will be looking for a big performance. He’s currently ranked USA #4, which means automatic qualification for the Collins Cup, but is only a point ahead of nearest challenger – and Kona podium-getter – Timothy O’Donnell.

Magnus Ditlev has been steadily moving up the rankings and now sits in EUR #12. Galveston’s flat bike course could provide the Dane another chance to show he’s a totally new breed of uber-biker that could force everyone to raise their game or get left behind. That makes him a tempting pick for Collins Cup captains Normann Stadler and Chrissie Wellington.

Much like Ditlev in the men’s race, Britain’s Kimberley Morrison (EUR #40) will likely tear things up on the bike. She has the third-fastest 70.3 bike split ever (2:08:21 in Dubai 2017) and Texas has been good to her with a win here in 2017 and a fifth place at Ironman Texas in 2019.

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

UP AND COMING

As if the women’s race wasn’t competitive enough, keep an eye out for Great Britain’s Simone Mitchell, who turned pro in 2019 but hasn’t raced since breaking both the bike and overall course record to win at Ironman Wales in September that year.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Rachel Olsen will want to put in a strong home-race performance. She’s been training hard in Tucson, Arizona, with partner Andre Lopes and the likes of Sam Long, sharing their stories on the Chasing Triathlon YouTube channel.

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

WHAT THE PROS SAY

Sam Long on his first hit-out of the year: “I sat out Miami to properly prep and periodise the year. I am now fit and ready. I want to prove I can compete with the top dogs. An awesome match up at Collins Cup would be Joe Skipper, Lionel and myself. This will be a pre match of what I think could be fireworks.”

Joe Skipper on making his mark for Collins Cup selection:
“To be honest, with Europe being so strong, the only thing that will catch the team Europe captains is a win in dominating fashion, anything else will go unnoticed!

Skye Moench on proving herself the best USA athlete in Texas:
“To come out on top in Texas, it’s going to take my full focus and effort all day. I think the biggest American competition will be Jackie Hering. She showed at Challenge Miami a few weeks ago that she is in good form and ready to race.”

Sarah Crowley on flying the flag for Team Internationals in the USA:
“After Daytona, I realised that there would be more opportunity for racing top-ranked athletes from the other teams in the US. So, I have remained here to put myself amongst it and so that I can adapt my training to be ready and in form for the Collins Cup in August. Texas is one step in this plan.”

CHALLENGESHEPPARTON 2021 Preview

Also taking place this weekend, the Australian triathlon season continues with the country’s next big name triathlon race – CHALLENGESHEPPARTON, which was last run in 2018.

Held around 200km north of Melbourne’s golden beaches, CHALLENGESHEPPARTON offers a rare lake swim and has drawn a strong field of the country’s top long-course talent who will duke it out to take home a slice of the AUD $20,000 prize purse.

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

RACE INFORMATION – WHAT’S THE LOWDOWN?

Date: 11 April
Location: Shepparton, Victoria, Australia
Time: 22:35 GMT (Saturday 10 April)
Prize Money: AUD $20,000 – pays 5 deep $4,000 to $500
Format: 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run
Course: Lake swim, flat bike, flat run

KEY ATHLETES

International:

Steve McKenna (INT #12) / Simon Hearn (INT #14) / Josh Amberger (INT #21)
Ellie Salthouse (INT #4) / Amelia Watkinson (INT #5) / Grace Thek (INT #13)

THE BIG STORIES

Provided there are no last-minute COVID restrictions put in place, we’ll see the continuing battle of Australia’s top long course triathletes in Shepparton.

The women’s race will offer Kiwi Amelia Watkinson (INT #5) another shot at taking down her Aussie rival Ellie Salthouse (INT #4), who is planning to head stateside to continue her 2021 campaign and reinforce her Collins Cup positioning.

It’ll be a tough ask for Watkinson, however, as Salthouse has shown powerful form to outshine all competition in 2021. Recent victories at the Big Husky Australian champs and 70.3 Geelong put the Kiwi into second on both occasions while Salthouse also won in Shepparton back in 2016.

In the men’s race, Steve McKenna (INT #12) will have the target on his back following his breakthrough win in Geelong. But he’ll face tough competition from Australian champ Simon Hearn (INT #14) and Max Neumann (INT #25), a two-time 70.3 victor and current Ironman Asia-Pacific champion following his maiden long-course victory in Cairns last September.

Josh Amberger (INT #21) and New Zealand’s Trent Thorpe (INT #24) will also be a big factor in setting up the race, with both athletes’ swift swimming offering Team Internationals captains a potential tactical pick for the Collins Cup.

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

KEEP AN EYE ON

In 2018, the last time Challenge Shepparton took place, Levi Maxwell took a convincing win and course record in 3:46:43 while Grace Thek (INT #13) took silver that year.

Caleb Noble showed real strength to best McKenna and take bronze at the Big Husky a few weeks ago, so he’s certainly one to watch in Shepparton.

WHAT THE PROS SAY

Steve McKenna on proving he’s bigger than his 70.3 Geelong win alone:
“I’m just going to keep aiming to improve as rapidly as I have been and keep telling myself this is just the beginning with the sky being the limit. I still see so much to work on from my Geelong performance, I’m bloody hungry and want captains to expect many more breakthroughs.”

Ellie Salthouse on being the one to beat in Shepparton:
“I feel as though I perform best under pressure, so having a target on my back doesn’t scare me. I plan to go out at Challenge Shepparton and race hard from the start, the way I always do. Of course, there will be other girls on that start line who want to win, but ultimately it will come down to who wants it the most. I hope that another dominant performance can prove that I’m ready to take on the best from Teams Europe and USA come August”

Weekend Preview: Ironman 70.3 Texas & Challenge Shepparton

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