After a long break the 2020 pro race season gets under way again this weekend at Ironman 70.3 South Africa and all eyes will be on the half-distance debut races for two-time ITU world champ Flora Duffy and Olympic silver medalist Henri Schoeman.
While 2020 is an Olympic year, this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupo isn’t happening until November, which is why many Olympic hopefuls seem to be setting themselves up for a Tokyo/Taupo double by getting themselves a qualifying spot for the November race early so they can focus on their Olympic goals. We’ve already seen Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) and Javier Gomez (ESP) take care of their Taupo qualifications on the men’s side of things (Gomez and Alistair Brownlee have also nailed Kona slots, too, just to add some fun to the mix), while Australian Ashleigh Gentle made her half-distance debut in Xiamen with a win and Taupo qualification.
As much potential as Duffy has to become Bermuda’s second-ever Olympic medalist, there are more than a few triathlon fans who are keen to see just how well she would fare over the longer distances. Possibly the best cyclist on the ITU circuit, Duffy is a five-time Xterra world champ, too. She’s possibly one of the strongest women triathletes we’ve ever seen and that strength should, in theory, translate well to half-distance (and possibly full-distance) racing.
Duffy won’t have an easy time of it if she is to take her half-distance debut. Defending champion Annah Watkinson is back – last year the home-country-hero won a close race over Great Britain’s Emma Pallant, who would dearly love to move to the top of the podium this year after two consecutive runner-up finishes in East London.
You can find the official start list here.
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Champions look for another title
While Henri Schoeman is routinely one of the first swimmers out of the water at any ITU race and will likely lead the way to T1 this weekend, staying ahead of this field is going to be tricky for the Rio bronze medalist. It will be interesting to see if the South African can ride with the big guns who are in the field looking for a win.
Defending men’s champion Bradley Weiss is back, as is fellow South African and three-time champ, Matt Trautman. Another former champion on the start list is 2013 winner Bart Aernouts (BEL) – when he won in 2013 he actually rode through the field to overcome a three-minute deficit after the swim, coming off the bike with a two-minute cushion.
Those aren’t the only big names on the list, though – two-time 70.3 world champ Michael Raelert (GER) can’t be counted out, nor can France’s Cyril Viennot. Raelert is an excellent swimmer, so look for him to try and join Schoeman on a breakaway in the water, then trying to ride clear of the field.
ITU athletes, Ironman champs, 70.3 stars – this weekend’s race in South Africa doesn’t have a huge field (only 28 professionals are on the start list – 18 men and 10 women), but it certainly will be an interesting race to watch and a fun way to kick off the 2020 pro racing season.