Murray and Holland Make One Last Sprint for the Finish in Edmonton

Vicky Holland takes the win.

Let’s all chill out about Ironman and Kona points for a second, and focus on the part of triathlon the rest of the world pays attention to once every four years: Olympic ITU racing.

With the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final coming up next week in Chicago (actually, slightly more than a week away, since the woman’s championship race is randomly on a Friday), the ITU World Triathlon Series race in Edmonton — which, for abbreviation’s sake, let’s just all agree to call “ITU Edmonton” — was a nice last tune-up race for those looking to move up the rankings or win some part of the $150,000 prize purse. ($18,000 for first, $12,000 for second, $8,000 for third, or $1,000 all the way down to 20th.) Plus, as a sprint distance event it’s not too hard on recovery, at least as long as you don’t crash in the rain.

Because it was definitely raining this morning. Just in case ITU sprint racing wasn’t crazy enough already.

With only a 750m lake swim, which had a left turn about 100m in, everyone knew it was going to be fast and hard from the start. Athletes then had to not to wipe out jumping on their bikes for a 20k, four-lap course. That meant, by the way, that each 5k lap had a couple slight hills, multiple sharp corners, and U-turns, making things even sketchier with cold hands and wet roads. Then, as it often does in ITU races, it was all likely to come down to the run. But with only 5k to run your way to the front, there wasn’t a ton of ground for any mistakes. Not that there ever is.

It was, evidently, so cold and rainy and miserable that there was discussion of it possibly being a duathlon. But it wasn’t, which is fun for us to watch and rough for them to race.

Holland’s Day in the Sun

The top three Americans, who also happen to be the top three in the world right now, sat out the Edmonton event — presumably because they don’t need the points and because at least two of them already have their Rio Olympics spots secured, so there’s not much point in heading to Canada. (Not that it isn’t lovely.) Without Gwen JorgensenSarah True (Groff), or Katie Zaferes racing, or Andrew Hewitt, who is 4th in the world rankings, the race was a bit wide open. But not that wide open. Basically, it was just enough open that people like Flora Duffy and Vicky Holland could have their turn to shine.

Anastasia Abrosimova and Carolina Routier were first out of the water in about 9 minutes flat. But this is ITU racing and everyone’s a fast swimmer. They were followed just a handful of seconds later by Holland, Duffy, Rebecca Clarke, and Helen Jenkins. 

It was cold and rainy and miserable. (Courtesy: Specialized)

It was cold and rainy and miserable. (Courtesy: Specialized)

Fairly early on the bike, that group merged with another small group of women right behind them to form a pack of about 15 that included all those previously mentioned, plus Emma Moffatt, Gillian Backhouse and some others too of course. They managed to get about 20 seconds on the next group, that included of note Ashleigh Gentle and Kristen Sweetland, and then another 20 seconds or so back of that was a second chase group (or third group overall, depending on your point of view) that included Non Stanford.

Yes, it can be a little confusing. Welcome to ITU racing.

The groups all managed to more or less hold those places and the front pack came in after taking just 30:45 to cover the 20k. The cold and rain slowed some of the women’s transitions to a pedestrian 40 seconds. (Hah.)

But, despite losing about 10 seconds to Anja Knapp while they got their shoes on, Holland and Duffy very quickly took the lead on the run. Backhouse moved into third, with Routier right on her heels. I mean, really everyone was on everyone’s heels, because this is a 5k and getting a three second gap is a big deal. But relatively speaking, Holland never lost control of the race once she took the lead. She crossed the line after a 17:14 run, a whopping nine seconds ahead of Duffy, who ran a 17:29. That was the exact same time Backhouse ran to take her first ever WTS podium in third, six seconds back. Routier was fourth and Knapp was fifth. Stanford did have the fastest run of the day (16:52), but simply couldn’t make up the time she had lost earlier in the day. Moffatt and Gentle followed her — all still within a minute of the winner.

A Clash of Titans

Unlike in the women’s race, almost all the top-ranked men showed up to the start line in Edmonton — even Javier Gomez, who has to be a little tired from the 70.3 World Championships and ITU Hamburg, right? Even he has to be a little human?

Gomez, Mario Mola, Vincent Luis, and Richard Murray — four of the top five in the world right now — basically guaranteed it was going to be an extra tough little race before the really tough title race in Chicago. (If the only male ITU athletes you can name end with “Brownlee,” sorry you were out of luck today. And also behind the times.) 

While Eric Lagerstrom and Raoul Shaw exited the water first around 8:25, really we’re splitting hairs. The men had virtually no break between athletes as they ran into T1. It was just one long line of fast swimmers. Among those who came out of the water in about 8:30 were Gomez and Luis (and a lot of others). 

A large pack quickly formed on the bike with Aaron Royle and Thomas Bishop at the front for a bit. But they couldn’t hold off the chase group, which had Mola leading it, and it all became one giant mass of athletes at the bell lap, with all of the contenders in the mix.

One giant pack comes together in the men's race.

One giant pack comes together in the men’s race.

People biked different amounts of time, depending on if they were at the front or the back, how they had to close gaps after T1, etc. And really the time it takes to bike the 20k is a bit irrelevant except as it compares to others. So suffice it to say most of the men biked somewhere between 27:40 and 28:05 and then it was one big giant wet mess in transition.

By the end of the first lap on the run — yes, there were multiple laps on the 5k run — Gomez and Murray had taken over the lead and were running shoulder-to-shoulder, with Royle in third. Mola passed him for third about halfway through and Luis moved into fourth, but the real fight for every second was at the front. Murray and Gomez were battling it out as they neared the finish line. And maybe one of them was just a tiny bit more tired than the other, a few steps slower? Murray managed to pull ahead as they started to sprint and ran just four seconds faster (15:11 v. 15:15). He broke the tape — or, rather, lifted it over his head — four seconds ahead of Gomez. Mola ran a 15:22 for third, Luis was fourth, and Royle took fifth. In the end, the top 20 spots were separated by just 1:04.

And now everyone needs to go get warm clothes, and make sure they don’t get sick before the Grand Final, which is possibly the most amazing name for a race ever.

Women

  1. Vicky Holland – 58:55
  2. Flora Duffy – 59:04
  3. Gillian Backhouse – 59:10
  4. Carolina Routier – 59:20
  5. Anja Knapp – 59:41

Men

  1. Richard Murray – 53:19
  2. Javier Gomez – 53:23
  3. Mario Mola – 53:34
  4. Vincent Luis – 53:39
  5. Aaron Royle – 53:40

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly is a reporter and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She quit triathlon for a few years, because triathletes can be annoying, but now she's back into it and only hanging out with the non-annoying triathletes. She blogs about stuff at Sunny Running.

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