The PTO 2020 Championship men’s race features 58 of the world’s best triathletes from all distances of the sport. Here’s who to look out for.
Even more so than the women’s race, there are more short-course specialists in the PTO 2020 Championship men’s race – and serious talent at that with multiple ITU world champions in the field.
The race at Challenge Daytona will be a rare opportunity to see world-class athletes who specialise in different distances going head-to-head over a unique course. First up, the 2km swim in Lake Lloyd at the heart of the Daytona International Speedway. Then, an 80km bike taking in 20 flat, fast laps of the legendary circuit. Finally, there’s an equally flat 18km run to the finish.
With so many variables set to create such dramatic racing, the final result is anyone’s guess. But with a field this strong, there’s no doubt we’ll see a worthy victor rise to the top to be crowned the first-ever PTO Champion.
As with the women’s race there’s a huge caveat here: this is the best field of triathletes ever assembled so picking favourites isn’t easy. There are just so many athletes here who could end up on the podium and even take the win. With that said, here are some key athletes who could define how the race plays out.
Alistair Brownlee (GBR)
PTO Ranking: 2nd
With two Olympic gold medals, two silvers at the 70.3 worlds and an Ironman best of 7:45:20, the elder Brownlee brother has shown he can compete with the best at all distances.
Brownlee is one of the very best swimmers in the sport, has shown real strength aboard a TT bike and running is his speciality. Despite splitting his time between short and long course, the speed is still there – Brownlee recently ran a 14:33 5k off the bike, pipped in the sprint by Vincent Luis (FRA) at last month’s ITU World Cup in Valencia.
The physical side is only part of it. That incredible speed no matter the distance is complemented by the brain of a master tactician and an ability to dig incredibly deep. Pair all this with the fact he’s probably the most reliable big-day performer there is and Brownlee is undoubtedly a strong favourite.
Gustav Iden (NOR)
Iden might have only tackled three Ironman 70.3 races, but what he lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in confidence and speed. Iden took the win at last year’s 70.3 worlds ahead of Brownlee, outrunning the Brit by over two minutes. He’s also looking ahead with the aim of Olympic gold in 2021.
While that stellar 70.3 performance in Nice marked him out as an exceptional athlete, he’s been outdone by Alistair Brownlee, Vincent Luis and Javier Gomez at ITU events this year. This makes Iden’s 2020 form a little hard to judge, even if he did win the non-drafting nearly Olympic-distance Pushing Limits triathlon in Germany this September.
Lionel Sanders (CAN)
PTO Ranking: 4th
Taking victory at the PTO 2020 Championship has been a goal for Sanders since winning Challenge Daytona a year ago. Knowing the field would be stronger this time around, he’s taken his preparation incredibly seriously.
In October, Sanders set a new Canadian hour record on the track, covering 51.304km. That paired with his experience on the Daytona circuit should certainly give him the edge on two wheels, especially on his brand new Canyon Speedmax CFR bike. On top of that, he also set a new 5km PB of 14:34 and can take confidence from outdoing Pablo Dapena Gonzalez’s ITU tactics on the run at last year’s event.
The only area that Sanders isn’t world-class-fast is in the water. He’ll probably lose a couple of minutes to Brownlee and the rest of the top swimmers over the 2km but with that sheer bike power and an ability to embrace the suffer like no-one else in the sport, you can never write him off.
Javier Gomez (ESP)
PTO Ranking: 10th
One of the most consistent, talented and versatile athletes in the history of triathlon, Gomez has unparalleled championship palmares across all formats and distances.
The Spaniard has won five ITU World Championships, two Ironman 70.3 world titles, the Xterra worlds, the ITU Long Distance crown and four ITU European Championships. He’s also earned a silver medal at the Olympic Games.
So, no one on the start line can boast the experience Gomez has when it comes to taking on the best in the world. That alone makes him a contender, but he’s also an amazing swimmer and one of the most beautiful runners the sport’s ever seen. The real test for Gomez will be whether he can put the power down on such a flat course. If he can, the Spaniard will certainly be vying for the win.
Sebastian Kienle (GER)
PTO Ranking: 3rd
Two-time Ironman 70.3 Champion and 2014 Ironman World Champion, Kienle was once labelled an uber-biker who could hold it together on the run. Now he’s a stellar runner in his own right. His 1:09:31 run split at the 70.3 worlds in Nice last year was bettered only by winner Gustav Iden.
Kienle, like Sanders, is likely to have some time to make up after the swim – especially with ITU athletes like Luis pushing the pace. However, his bike prowess is such that he’ll start picking off athletes from the moment he rolls over the mount line on his new Scott Plasma 6.
Whether Kienle can make the podium will depend on how close he can get to the front by the end of the bike and whether his practised skill of running fast off a hard ride will see him maintain his pace while others falter.
Vincent Luis (FRA)
He’s only been on a TT bike for a few weeks and has never raced for more than two hours, but the two-time ITU World Champion is a favourite nonetheless.
A dominant name on the short-course circuit over the last few years, Luis will certainly figure in the swim and then it’ll be exciting to see how close he can stick to Brownlee throughout the ride – double his usual Olympic distance and with no respite from riding in a group.
Assuming he comes off the bike with the leaders, his competitors will need to drop him well before the last couple of kilometres as the Frenchman has shown time and again that he’s the master of the sprint – beating Alistair Brownlee only a few weeks ago in Valencia.
Rudy Von Berg (USA)
PTO Ranking: 7th
Third in Nice at the 70.3 worlds last year, Von Berg is strong and fast in all three disciplines, which has led to the top of the podium with alarming consistency for his competitors.
Since 2018, Von Berg has wrapped up seven Ironman 70.3 victories including consecutive European Championships at 70.3 Elsinore, the US champs at 70.3 St George and the South American champs at Buenos Aires.
In short, he’s definitely one to watch on Sunday.
Timothy O’Donnell (USA)
PTO Ranking: 11th
A true Ironman powerhouse, O’Donnell is our dark horse pick from the established Ironman crew. He’s one of the few long-course athletes who could hold onto the feet of faster swimmers during the swim. If the American can do that, he’s proven year after year in Kona that he can ride with the best of them.
While he might lack the all-out run speed of Brownlee et al, O’Donnell’s a tough competitor and a shrewd tactician who could stay in contention by pure strength alone. He’s also no stranger to showing up for the big days either, having been on the podium twice at the Ironman World Championships.
Others to keep an eye on
It’s perhaps easier to pick those who won’t figure in the standings, but others who could certainly hit the top 10, top five or even the podium could include…
Sam Long (USA), the 24-year-old rising star who’s already bagged five 70.3 wins.
Jonny Brownlee (GBR), who’ll be wanting to stick with his brother like their best ITU races.
Henri Schoeman (RSA), who’s a consistent short-course star with one 70.3 podium to his name.
Tim Don (GBR), a former ITU World Champion and Ironman world record holder.
Ben Kanute (USA), a triathlon chameleon who excels at mixed relay right up to 70.3.
Ben Hoffman (USA), whose 2:36 run at Ironman Florida says it all.