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Ironman 70.3 Dubai preview: First leg of the Million Dollar Triple Crown

A number of the sport's biggest names won't be on the start line this weekend for the first leg of the Nasser Bin Hamad Triple Crown.

While a competitive field is set to line up for this weekend’s Ironman 70.3 Dubai, a number of names we’re used to seeing gun for the Triple Crown aren’t on the start list.

Imogen Simmonds wraps up a stellar 2019 with a big win at the Laguna Phuket Triathlon. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Friday’s Ironman 70.3 Dubai has, in years past, been looked on with some excitement as triathlon fans from around the world got to try and guess who might be in the running for one of the sport’s biggest paydays – the $1 million dollar Nasser Bin Hamad Triple Crown. There’s only been one winner since the man behind the Bahrain Endurance 13 team, His Highness Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, announced the triple crown and the big paycheck that goes to anyone who can win the 70.3 races in Dubai and Bahrain, along with the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. That one and only winner was Daniela Ryf, a member of the Bahrain Endurance 13 team, who managed the triple in 2015.

Jan Frodeno won the 70.3 worlds in Zell Am See in 2015 and appeared to be looking for his $1 million payday when he journeyed to Dubai in 2016, but the German gold medalist took a pass on the 70.3 worlds in Mooloolaba that year.

In 2017 Javier Gomez and Ryf took the wins in Dubai, won the 70.3 worlds in Chattanooga, but both ran out of gas by the time they got to the late November race in Bahrain – Ryf, who was coming off a Kona victory, couldn’t hold on to the lead on the run and had to settle with third. Gomez, who ended up finishing second in the WTS standings that year and took fourth at the Grand Final just six days after his win in Chattanooga, couldn’t keep up the pace through the bike and run and had to settle with fourth in Bahrain.

In 2018 Alistair Brownlee and Anne Haug took the wins in Dubai, only to come second and third at the 70.3 worlds (Frodeno, Brownlee and Gomez destroyed each other in South Africa in what many deem the most exciting long-distance triathlon ever, while Haug found herself on the third step of the podium behind powerhouses Ryf and Lucy Charles-Barclay).

Last year’s champions were Adam Bowden and Holly Lawrence, both from the UK. Lawrence put up a gallant fight, but found herself second to another masterful performance by Ryf. Bowden was never really a factor in the men’s race and would finish well behind the leaders.

2020 Dubai field

Bowden is back to try and defend his title, and while he won’t face the likes of Frodeno, Brownlee or Gomez (the latter pair getting ready for WTS Abu Dhabi next month), the men’s field will certainly be tough enough. Pieter Heemeryck (BEL) racked up numerous Challenge Family wins in 2019 – enough to take the men’s Challenge Bonus Pool. Other notable names to watch include David McNamee (GBR), who owns a pair of third-place Kona finishes and has been working hard at improving his early season results these days. Matt Trautman is fresh off a home-country win at Ironman 70.3 South Africa, where Bart Aernouts (BEL) was fourth – both are in the field and are showing excellent early season fitness.

The women’s field will be lead by Switzerland’s Imogen Simmonds, who was third at the 70.3 worlds in Nice last year and we got to watch race in impressive style at the Laguna Phuket Triathlon at the end of November – the beginning of her build for 2020. Simmonds will even get to enjoy some of the spotlight being put on another athlete – Great Britain’s three-time Olympian Helen Jenkins is competing in her first race since the ITU WTS Grand Final in Cozumel a few weeks after the Olympics in Rio. During her long break from racing she’s had two children and endured spinal fusion surgery, but when you’ve been on as many ITU podiums as Jenkins has over the years, no one will be counting you out.

South Africa’s Annah Watkinson ended up fifth in South Africa a few weeks ago (she won there last year), so she’ll be another to watch on Friday. Canada’s Angela Naeth withdrew from the race a few weeks ago (even though her name remains on the start list) – she’ll make her season debut in Campeche. The lone Canadian in the pro field appears to be long-distance specialist Jennifer Lentzke lives in Utah these days.

You can see the entire entry list here.