Just as it was a week ago at Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells – La Quinta, it was an all-Canadian day at the top of the podium as Lionel Sanders and Paula Findlay both took the titles at Challenge Daytona, winning the signature race at the Daytona International Speedway in dramatic style less than a week after winning in California.
World champions duke it out on the run
After trailing the lead group out of the water by 2:30, Sanders found himself chasing uber-biker Andrew Starykowicz on the bike. The two would put on an impressive show of bike power through the 38-mile (61-km) ride that included 15 laps of Daytona International Speedway – Starykowicz would improve on his 29.7 mph average from a year ago to maintain 30.14 mph for the ride this year, with Sanders only 11-seconds slower. Spain’s Pablo Dapena Gonzalez, who was part of that lead group out of the water, managed to stay in the mix with the two speedy cyclists, coming off the bike alongside Sanders, both hitting T2 about 45 seconds behind Starykowicz.
The two former ITU long distance world champs (Sanders won the ITU worlds in 2017, Dapena took the title in 2018) quickly passed Starykowicz on the run, turning the race into a two-man duel. After making a wrong turn and accidentally running through the finish line, the two leaders got themselves back to the track to resume their duel.
With a bit more than a mile to go, Sanders managed to survive one of Dapena’s surges, then made his own move to the front.
“It was a fantastic day, one that I will never forget, one of the best battles I’ve ever taken part in,” Sanders said after the race. “You know me, I love the battle. This is one of those ones, if I’d finished second it wouldn’t have mattered. I just enjoyed that fight right from the beginning until the end. It required everything. I bike as absolutely hard as I could, I swam as hard as I could and I ran as hard as I could. My legs almost locked up in the final mile, I felt my hamstring tighten up, but fortunately it didn’t tighten up and I was able to seal the deal.
“That was an amazing event all around,” Sanders said of racing in Daytona. “Right now I don’t want to do that again because it was so insanely painful, but I’m sure in a couple of days I’ll want to do it again.”
Starykowicz was passed by countryman Jason West, just missing the podium.
|2||Pablo DAPENA GONZALEZ||ESP||2:23:31||0:20:44||1:17:22||0:43:31|
|13||Mikael STAER NATHAN||CAN||2:36:08||0:24:23||1:23:08||0:46:27|
Findlay runs clear of Charles-Barclay
Super-swimmer Lucy Charles-Barclay surprised no one to lead the way out of the water, starting the bike a little over a minute ahead 2012 Olympic silver medalist Lisa Norden and Findlay. It took the hockey-playing-country contingent a bit, but they caught Charles-Barclay on the bike by about the halfway point of the 15-lap ride. You don’t finish second in Kona for three straight years, be the only woman to ever win the Challenge Championship, win two-straight Ironman Africa titles or take this year’s Challenge Roth title unless you’re a competitive sort, though, and Charles-Barclay wasn’t going to let Norden and Findlay simply ride past. The three hit T2 together, setting up a road-race for the women’s title.
Norden, who has been injured for much of 2019 and been forced to focus on cycling (she won the Swedish road championships this year and represented the country at the world championships time trial) wasn’t able to stay in the mix on the run. Findlay was able to finally open up some ground on Charles-Barclay over the final half, eventually taking the day by just over a minute. Norden would hold off a charging Meredith Kessler to round out the podium.
“It’s a good way to end the year,” Findlay said of the back-to-back wins. “It was very unexpected, but kind of gives me confidence heading into the off season that I should continue in triathlon.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t healthy,” Findlay continued. “[I had a] stress fracture after worlds – I was sitting out for a couple of months watching Eric [Lagerstrom] and going to races with Eric. I was still training through it – I swam a lot, biked a lot and ran a little on the Ultra-G, but didn’t feel like I was in peak running fitness by any means. So, to come out and feel really good running in these races was a bit of a miracle.”
“That was my favourite part,” Findlay said of running shoulder to shoulder with Charles-Barclay. “I respect her so much and I was OK with second at that point – I was going to try and stay with her for as long as I could. I know she took a big break after Kona, and everyone’s at a different point in their season – not everyone’s in their peak championship fitness. But, to have the opportunity to race beside her won’t happen very often, I don’t think. It was one of the highlights of the race.”
Findlay hinted that were it not for her success at the end of this season, she might have been ready to call it a career.
“It’s been a rough journey for the whole family with all the injuries that I’ve had, but having races like this keeps me in for a little bit longer,” she said. “Going into the off season, knowing that I finished this way … gives me the confidence to take a big break, knowing that I finished on a high. There’s no panic to get back early next year.”