The first edition of the PTO Canadian Open in Edmonton saw Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) take the title and the $100,000 prize purse with Canada’s race-favorite Paula Findlay coming in second.
The 2km-80-18km format mostly brought out middle and long distance specialists, but it was short-course racer Vittoria Lopes (BRA) who dominated the swim. No one was able to match the Brazilian’s pace for the duration of the three laps. Unsurprisingly, it was top swimmer Sara Perez Sala (ESP) who led the chase pack which consisted of Lauren Brandon (USA), Julie Derron (SUI), and Gentle in a string behind her. Lopes clocked a 27:25 swim which gave her a 12 second gap going into T1.
Lopes continued to lead the race for the first lap of the bike course but behind her a lot of women were on the move. After an hour of racing, Findlay had made up her 1:15 deficit from the swim and passed Lopes on an uphill section to take the lead. Lopes settled into the chase pack with Gentle, Ellie Salthouse (AUS), Nicola Spirig (SUI), and Derron for the remainder of the four-lap course. Behind them, the big movers were Laura Philip (DEU) who rode herself from 14th into 7th, despite struggling with hydration, and Jocelyn McCauley (USA) who joined the chase pack in the later stages of the bike.
After 80km of cycling, Findlay had a gap of 1:50 and hit the 18km run course in front of her hometown crowd looking calm, fast, and in control. Behind her, the racing was exciting with Gentle and Philip who were on the move. It was Gentle, however, who backed up an impressive swim and bike with an incredible run. It was only a matter of time before Gentle would take the lead and, at the halfway mark when she did, she flew past Findlay. While Findlay maintained her pace, Gentle would go on to increase her lead by over two minutes and claim victory with a final time of 3:30:54.
“I’m super happy and super excited. I just had the most amazing day today. It hasn’t been the easiest two or three years, so I’m just grateful for all the people who kept believing in me during that time…I’m proud of myself right now,” an emotional Gentle said at the finish line. Gentle added that she had the best swim of her life, which set her up for the rest of the day. “It hasn’t sunk in but that feeling of the last straight and crossing the finish line is one I’ll never forget.”
Findlay would maintain her second place, running down the finishing chute celebrating with a smile and her hands up. “I was more nervous than I’ve ever been,” said Findlay, who added that she relied on her cycling confidence to anchor her impressive performance. “To be able to have a good performance…I’m just so happy I could hold on for second.”
Late charger Chelsea Sodaro (USA), who said she almost pulled out after a difficult swim, sprinted past Philip with only 400 meters to claim the last place on the podium.
1. Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) – 3:30:54
2. Paula Findlay (CAN) – 3:33:16
3. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) – 3:34:56