With the likes of Daniela Ryf, Anne Haug and Laura Philipp – the top three women in the PTO World Ranking right now – taking a pass on the PTO US Open this weekend, you’d think that the race might have lost some of its lustre. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, as triathlon fans get set for a smoking-hot women’s race that features a stacked field full of long-distance specialists and short-course athletes making their move towards longer distance events.
A perfect example of that mix was on display at today’s press conference, which featured Great Britain’s Lucy Charles-Barclay along with American’s Taylor Knibb and Jocelyn McCauley (photo above). While Charles-Barclay is a three-time runner up in Kona, she’s also the reigning Ironman 70.3 world champion and made some inroads on the draft-legal world (and a possible Paris Olympics run) last year with a fifth-place finish at WTCS Leeds followed by a 12th-place finish at WTCS Abu Dhabi. Knibb was part of the American silver-medal mixed relay team at last year’s Olympics. Then you have McCauley, who is a four-time Ironman champion who took Ironman Texas earlier this year.
This is the third event in the PTO Tour for 2022. The events have all been contested over the 100 km distance – 2 km swim, 80 km bike and an 18 km run – which makes this a distance a bit shorter than a half, but long enough (and without the draft-legal component on the bike) to make it a good challenge for the World Triathlon specialists. We’re seeing lots of those folks dabble in 70.3 racing these days, though, so it’s hardly a surprise that we’re seeing reigning Olympic gold medalist Flora Duffy jump into the fray this weekend here in Dallas.
All of which should make tomorrow’s women’s race here in Dallas more than a bit of fun to watch. Charles-Barclay made a triumphant return to racing with a stellar performance at the recent World Triathlon Long Distance Championships in Samorin, Slovakia, and appears on track to be ready to defend her world title in St. George at the end of October. Knibb is also returning to racing after coming back from an injury. She certainly seems fit and was her usual exuberant self at today’s press conference, so it should be fun to see how she fares as the home-country hero here in Dallas.
While Duffy wasn’t able to threaten Ryf in their match at the Collins Cup last month, she’s now been given a wild card spot for the 70.3 worlds in St. George, so she’s spending more and more time working at longer distance racing, along with valuable time on her time trial bike. Whether there’s been enough of that to put her in contention for the win this weekend is still in question, but you’d be nuts to bet against the Bermudan here.
Another woman to keep an eye on is Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle, the winner of the PTO Canadian Open in July. She’s another former World Triathlon athlete and Olympian who has now made the decision to move to longer distances, and she appears to keep getting better and better at this new endeavour. Canadian Paula Findlay was second to Gentle in Edmonton, and certainly could be in the mix this weekend, too – especially since she won’t be dealing with all the pressure of trying to perform in her home town.
Spain’s Sara Perez Sala has also been dabbling back in the World Triathlon race scene this year as she appears to be gunning after a spot in Paris, so look for her to try and stay with Charles-Barclay in the water and on the bike. She probably doesn’t have the run skills to hold off the speedsters in this field, but if she can help keep the pace going so Charles-Barclay can stay clear off the bike, she could make a big difference in the race dynamics this weekend.
So where does the top-ranked woman in the PTO standings competing this weekend – Kat Matthews – fit in the mix? That’s where we come down to that interesting mix we talked about earlier. Matthews will likely be well back after the swim, so the question will be whether or not she can use her prodigious cycling talents to ride her way to the front of the race. Along the way she’ll likely scoop up the likes of 2016 70.3 world champ Holly Lawrence and McCauley, and possibly Jackie Hering. If that group can get themselves close enough to the front of the race by T2, we could see some fireworks out on the run course. If the speedy swimmers can stay well enough clear through the end of the bike, we could see a race for the podium between the likes of Knibb, Charles-Barclay and Duffy.
Where all that leaves Canada’s Tamara Jewett is a bit of a question mark. She had an impressive performance at the Collins Cup last month, swimming and riding with Haug for much of their match. If those swim and bike improvements continue, and she can pull out another of her amazing run splits, she could run herself towards the front tomorrow, too.
And, of course, we could see none of that happening! Heat could play a big factor in the racing this weekend, with temperatures expected to be well into the 30s. The race could turn into a battle of attrition, especially for those who pushed too hard, too early.
With this field, though, it seems hard to imagine that the race will be anything other than exciting. Stay tuned – it should be a fun one to watch!