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PTO Canadian Open Women’s Preview – Can Paula Findlay thrill the hometown crowd?

Canadian star takes on stacked field in Edmonton

Photo by: Professional Triathletes Organisaion

It’s hard to imagine just how loud the cheers would be if Edmonton’s very own Paula Findlay could take the win at tomorrow’s Professional Triathletes Organisation Canadian Open, but the 2012 Olympian is all too aware of what it would mean to the community for her to have a great race.

“(It’s) More nerve wracking than usual, because I want to live up to expectations,” Findlay said in an interview after today’s press conference, “… for myself and everyone else. I also think in the back of my mind I think about how cool it would to be on the podium in Edmonton and that gets me nervous.” 

Interestingly enough, the fact that Findlay arrives here in Edmonton this weekend in great shape isn’t exactly helping with the nerves.

“I have done a lot of racing in my life where I’ve come in not healthy, and wondering if I can even finish the run,” she said. “That’s not the case this time – I’ve got a really good block of running, a really good block of cycling and that also makes me more nervous. Coming into a race injured or unhealthy almost takes the pressure off. Now I know I’m healthy so I know I could win this race and that makes me more nervous.”

Findlay on her way to the national time trial title. Photo by: Stefan Ritter

Last month Findlay won the Canadian time trial championships here in Edmonton, which proves that she’s in outstanding cycling shape and likely ready for the technical and hilly bike course she and the rest of the pros competing here at the PTO Canadian Open will face. She’s coming off a great block of training from a training camp in Canmore, Alberta, too, which sets her up nicely for a great day tomorrow.

Even if she’s at her best, though, taking the win in this stacked field won’t be easy. Germany’s Laura Philipp, fresh off an incredible Ironman Hamburg performance that saw her finish just seven seconds shy of Chrissie Wellington’s world-best time, is arguably the race favourite. Philipp will try to tell you that she’s an Ironman specialist and doesn’t have the speed to compete with the women lined up here, but you have to remember that earlier this year she blazed to a 3:53 half-distance race at Ironman 70.3 Dubai, the fastest time ever for the distance. You don’t do that without having some pretty decent speed.

The list of potential winners here is huge. There’s $1 million in prize money up for grabs, with $100,000 going to the men’s and women’s winners. Philipp will wear #1 as she is currently ranked third in the PTO rankings. As strong as Philipp has been this year, it’s easy to see her point that this is a nutty-fast field. American Skye Moench has been on a tear of late with some great finishes, but might also struggle with the speed we’re likely to see from some of the athletes in the field who are more focussed on half-distance racing. That list includes Emma Pallant-Browne and Jeanni Metzler, who have both earned silver medals at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Add to that list 2016 Ironman 70.3 world champ Holly Lawrence, or Olympian and Clash Miami champ Ashleigh Gentle. Or Challenge Championship winner Sara Perez Sala, who will likely lead out of the water with American super-swimmer Lauren Brandon. Finally, if Canada’s Tamara Jewett comes off the bike close enough to utilize her incredible running talent, she’ll be in the hunt for the podium, too.

Oh, and did we mention 2012 Olympic champ Nicola Spirig, who has excelled over ever distance over the years and has a virtually unblemished full- and half-distance record?

“I’m not going to lie, there’s an extremely intimidating list of people at this race, in the women’s race and the men’s race,” Jackie Hering said at the press conference today. “I just think it’s amazing the amount of Olympians and champions. Even just sitting up here with these guys I’m like, ‘how am I possibly sitting up here?’. But it’s important for me to try not to think about that and just focus on my own race and controlling how I execute my race, which I do feel confident in doing, and just not worry about everyone else.”

“It’s an incredible event, an incredible thing to be a part of the first one,” said Pallant-Browne. “To win? I don’t think there would be many words to describe it. The quality of the fields here… there’s so many people with so much potential and it’s going to make for a really exciting event.”

Suffice it to say that we’re in for a great race tomorrow, one that Paula Findlay is very capable of winning. Like all the rest of the women in this field, to nail the win she’s going to have to have a great day – there is just too strong a field for that not to happen.

You can watch the PTO Canadian Open on the PTO+ app or on CBC Sports.