Chris McCormack on Alistair Brownlee and the PTO race at Challenge Daytona

Macca: Alistair Brownlee Can Humble The Field At The PTO’s Race In Daytona

COLUMN: Four-Time World Champion Chris McCormack

Everyone who is a fan of triathlon will this weekend not only get to see an exciting race but a snapshot of the evolution of the sport that Super League is delivering.

I’m really excited to see the PTO event at Challenge Daytona, and to be able to watch where long course racing is heading.

Super League has really changed the game for short course triathlon, and after the Olympics it will change the game for long course as well as some of those athletes move across.

While we should also remember that a lot of these Super League and ITU athletes are not 70.3 trained as they are still prepping for an Olympic Games, we are going to see how their raw speed fares against athletes specialising in these distances.

Ben Kanute at RBC Super League Triathlon Jersey

I remember going from ITU to my first 70.3 and thinking the pace was ridiculously slow, but you just get very tired. The distances for this race are 10km less on the bike and 3km less on the run than a standard 70.3, which could be significant. It brings the time nearer to 3 hours and closer to what the ITU athletes are accustomed to.

There was a part of me that questioned whether this event was a good idea, and whether there was a need to have an international race in December 2020.

I initially felt ‘why not keep the money and provide an environment that everybody could get into in early 2021 as the world starts to open up? Going to America is a hotspot, a lot of athletes can’t travel there or don’t want to travel there.’

But then I thought ‘who am I to pass judgement on anyone? Who am I to deny somebody the chance to work or race or the freedoms to make their own choices. Who am I to be one of these social media internet tough guys with huge opinions and opinionated substance to their argument.’

That seems to be a reality in today’s world and something I most certainly want to avoid.

I am all for an opinion, but having one after consideration and thought is something many people could benefit from today.

It was with that check of my initial emotions that had me sit back and think, ‘why not? Let’s just enjoy the beautiful things about this event, and the pent up emotions that many of these athletes will be bringing to the racing circuit’. It is quite a special moment.

I then started looking at the event and all it offers after an horrific year for sports and decided to enjoy it for what it is.

We have been robbed of a year of racing. If anything it has shown me personally how fickle life really is in the sports world. It can be taken from you in an instant.

A lot of people have reflected on that and having followed athletes on social media it’s been interesting to see the dynamics of how they have handled COVID and, honestly, the narcissistic ways of a lot of them.

Often that is obscured by the racing that is happening, but when there’s no racing and you follow a few of them you think ‘what world do you live in?’

It is an interesting media and self prompting world we find ourselves in today, with social media sitting at the forefront of literally every athlete’s “must do list of things in a day” and it has shown the blinkered world in which many athletes exist, but more so this very mindset that enables them to be so successful.

It is being closed off and almost self absorbed that makes you successful in sports, but when there is no racing happening such as we have seen in 2020, I found it at times quite bizarre to be honest.

I think the racing is what athletes need to express themselves. It is in our DNA and at the core of our being, and that is what was taken this year and that is what this race represents a return to.

Ultimately, 2020 has drawn us to this end of season race where all athletes – the narcissists and the quiet ones – have the opportunity to come together and compete with substantial money on the line, and full credit to the PTO for delivering it.

They all return to what they are programmed to and dream of doing – racing. I know that all the athletes on this start line will feel the need to express themselves physically and it is this cocktail of possibility that excites me the most about following this event.

While there is always the honour of winning a big race, with not much history this isn’t a title per se, but it will be the race of 2020 so it will be one that is talked about in the COVID year.

I think 2020 will be remembered in triathlon for Hamburg and Vincent Luis and Georgia Taylor-Brown winning the World Championships, the Arena Games from Super League and the first marriage of eSport and real sports in a competitive and broadcast quality offering, and this event at Daytona. So let’s sit back and enjoy the action.

Women

I was really looking forward to the women’s race, but then Flora Duffy pulled out, Lucy Charles-Barclay isn’t racing, Daniela Ryf is injured and Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown now also aren’t racing and suddenly the big depth in that field diminished.

Georgia Taylor-Brown SLT Arena Games Rotterdam for Super League Triathlon

I was really keen to see Flora racing. I believe Flora Duffy is the best 70.3 athlete on the planet. She doesn’t really do it yet but when she does it’s game over. She is remarkable.

I felt the way she races with that ITU power up front was going to make this a very interesting event.

We had so much swimming power in the field in the original start list and more so a group of front racing women who are programmed and almost love to race from the front. This sort of dynamic when you put a group of them in the same race together tends to rip fields apart.

This is now dulled down with the withdrawals and throws the race wide open in that sense.

I see Nicola Spirig as an Olympic champion giving this a real go and the superb Holly Lawrence dominating.

Holly has really made this distance her own in recent years and I think the 20 metre draft rule will play into her favour in this event with many holes in the field across bike talent leaving gaps that will amplify as the distances go on.

I am usually very attentive to the women’s racing because over the last few years the dynamics have been more interesting at a longer distance and there’s been more competition than the men’s side where Jan Frodeno has been dominant, but the dropouts have made this, on the face of it, a little less engaging, which is disappointing.

That said, Lisa Norden is racing, Amelia Watkinson and Jodie Stimpson is back after a rough year losing her father. She is finding her way again and had a great 70.3 last year in Bahrain where she finished second to Holly in a very close race.

Anne Haug is the Ironman World Champion that everyone seems to forget is the Ironman World Champion, which is bizarre to me. She’s a phenomenal talent and I think she will win more Ironman World Championships by the time her career finishes.

Ironman world champion Anne Haug at SLT Arena Games for Super League Triathlon

Her run is amazing, and her bike strength has really developed in the past two years. I expect Anne to rip through the field on that run and if she is close enough could be a very dangerous athlete to contend with for all the women. We know one thing, she knows how to win on the biggest stage.

Men

I think Alistair Brownlee is going to do a complete and utter number on this field, especially over the 80km bike and 18km run.

Watching Alistair come off Kona about 13 months ago has been amazing. He had to eat humble pie after that race. He raced like a total rookie, even by his own admission, and had a run-in with Jan Frodeno at the finish line that was a little blown out of proportion but added to the drama of the transition to longer racing of the sport’s most dominant ITU athlete of all time.

But then he went across to Busselton a few weeks later and dropped the third fastest Ironman ever with a 7:45 in a ridiculous display and looked very easy and controlled in his delivery of that performance in 33 degree temperatures. It was a large statement race in my opinion.

Alistair Brownlee is racing in the Super League Triathlon eSports Cycling Series on Zwift

He has built his engine during the year having anticipated a big season and been able to nurse his injuries along, and made a step back to short course racing, which I think is a big plus after preparing for Kona.

He was right there in Hamburg with Vincent Luis breaking the front group up. He was right there in Valencia and had a sprint with Vincent. He has been race active all year and from an outsider’s perspective just looks to have that Alistair healthy body back again, and we know what that does when it’s activated. It absolutely dominates.

I am Vincent’s biggest fan. I think he’s the man. A dual World Champion. Flawless across everything he does, attentive to his competitors and their strengths and patient in his planning for titles.

He wants Olympic success and is focused entirely on this, and I think he comes into this race more as a bit of fun and a “let’s see how it goes” attitude with his head still 8 months down the road and built around Tokyo.

I just think that in this race he will struggle with this TT at the 20m draft. Henri Schoeman too, and Javier Gomez potentially as well.

I am not disputing their bike strength in any capacity. What TT over this distance requires from an athlete is sustained power and position which is a lot lower than they are used to holding and the fatigue comes later in the race. This is where they may struggle, especially if the big bike power from behind comes quicker than anticipated.

Alistair is a master tactician and I think that will play into his favour.

He knows that he and the other Super League athletes could get out of the water three minutes ahead of the long course power bike riders like Lionel Sanders and Sebastian Kienle.

Most likely that front group out of the water will include the likes of Alistair, Henri, Vincent, Javier, Tim O’Donnell, Rudy von Berg.

Alistair is going to want to use the ITU horsepower early to nurse himself through the first 30km-40km, getting those guys to take turns or keep pace knowing that experience shows that after about 50-60km things can start to get very difficult and the ITU athletes may struggle here and he can capitalise on this.

By that stage we will get a real feel for where the likes of Sebastian and Lionel are and what damage they can do.

Though Vincent will likely try and tag Alistair, I think he will find the 80km bike ride in the TT position very tough. His fitness will carry through for 40km but the 20m draft rule is a very fair rule and makes a true emphasis on bike riding and more so an ability to understand your power numbers and your pacing for the length of the bike.

These guys are just not experienced enough in this as of yet and will rely on others to establish that pace. They will have a ‘sit and wait and follow’ attitude.

Lionel has just done the Canadian hour record, won this race last year, is very strong on this type of course where it’s big gear and relatively flat. The record Lionel posted on the track is deadset remarkable.

I have to mention that here, as if he brings that sort of power to this race, the damage he can do to everyone will be not only painful for them, but will be incredible to watch.

I hope the swim does not disrupt any of the bike power Lionel comes to town with. He is the big mover in this field and the defending champion on the course. Sebastian should be strong too and will be able to use Lionel as a sounding board and a one way ticket to the front group and beyond, if he can tag the strong man.

So much will depend on that gap out of the swim and how effectively Alistair can use the others to keep an advantage, and if the overtake does happen when it happens and who can hang on.

Alistair has all the artillery to go with anything those guys throw at him, especially knowing his pure run speed will be superior. I’m not sure many of the others do.

He will also be motivated after getting burned in Nice at the 70.3 World Championship. There he came steaming out of transition, Gustav Iden picked him up and they ran together for 10km before Gustav dropped him. I think it will be a different Brownlee this year as he has learned his lesson from that.

Gustav Iden Super League Triathlon

Alistair has been robbed of much of the last few years by injury woes. When you’re an athlete and you are injured you always have an urgency to come back because you have a season and there are races or you need points. When there’s been no racing he has been able to sit down and fix his injuries with nothing tempting him.

That has been a blessing in disguise and looking at him he is lean like he was when he won two Olympic gold medals.

I would just say that usually at this end of the season we are talking about 70.3 World Championships and Kona and we have had a whole season of racing to judge our parameters, but we are running blind and a lot of the athletes I am talking about are people I have seen race.

It makes it unpredictable and for athletes that require a series of races to find their run legs and they may miss their timing peak.

I can’t wait to be a geek and watch it with no expectations other than to enjoy it.

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