The PTO 2020 Championship women’s race has one of the best fields in triathlon history. We take a look at the athletes to watch this Sunday.

With 47 of the world’s best going head-to-head in the inaugural PTO Championship at Challenge Daytona, we’ll get to see athletes from all spectrums of the sport going head to head.

Related: How Will The Race Play Out?

The event features a 2km swim in the speedway’s central Lake Lloyd, an 80km, 20-lap bike around the hallowed asphalt of the race track and an 18km run to finish.

These unique distances along with the 20m draft rule on the bike and the unknown form of many of the athletes makes the outcome difficult to predict. But whoever makes it to the podium, we should see some fascinating and exciting racing along the way.

Contenders

With the caveat that the strength of depth at the PTO 2020 Championship means virtually anyone on the start list could cause an upset, here are some of the contenders to look out for.

Holly Lawrence (GBR)

PTO Ranking: 6th

Since stepping up in distance and moving stateside following the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Lawrence has been a dominant force in Ironman 70.3 racing. The 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and a serial podium-topper at 70.3 events around the globe, the Brit is one of the finest athletes in the sport.

Over the last five years, Lawrence has proven herself to have the full works – a strong swim, outstanding bike and relentless run. After overcoming some serious injury issues, Lawrence was back to her best in 2019. She came second at the 2019 70.3 worlds in Nice and also took 70.3 championship titles for the North American, Asia-Pacific and European regions. In short, she’s one of the best in the business and a proven big-race performer.

Anne Haug (GER)

PTO Ranking: 4th

The reigning Ironman World Champion, it wasn’t so long ago that Haug was running with the best at ITU WTS races. The combination of the run speed she’s managed to maintain along with her strong biking makes this pocket rocket a keen favourite for the top step of the podium.

Despite being slower through the water than the best swimmers in the sport, Haug’s proven she can chase down virtually anyone thanks to her incredible foot speed. With an off-the-bike half-marathon PB of 1:14:11, anyone wanting to keep ahead will have to build a serious lead.

Laura Philipp (GER)

PTO Ranking: 9th

Certainly one of long course tri’s strongest bike-runners, Philipp has shown time and again that you don’t need to be first out the water to be first across the line. Her impeccable 70.3 form includes third at the 70.3 world champs in 2017 and a total of eight victories at the distance.

Taking on Ironman for the first time in Barcelona in 2018, the German went 8:34:56 – the fastest ever woman on debut. The German followed this up with a fourth place in Kona, running 3:02 despite the pain of a still-healing broken fibula!

Daytona has been Philipp’s focus and now fully healed and run fit, the top step of the podium could be hers this year.

Nicola Spirig (SUI)

Wildcard Competitor

With no Daniela Ryf, Spirig will be flying the flag for Switzerland. It’s hardly a second-class substitute given Spirig’s career highlights include Olympic gold and silver medals, six European titles and an Ironman victory. This not only proves Spirig’s strength over all distances, but the ability to focus on a race and perform when it counts.

Spirig has taken time out over the years, whether for study or to have three children, seemingly disappearing from the international tri scene. She always seems to come back strong. While she admits she’s not been on a TT bike since Ironman Cozumel in 2014, Spirig is sure to be a force on the bike while a 1:14:22 half marathon PB in October shows the 38-year-old isn’t slowing down one bit.

Paula Findlay (CAN)

PTO Ranking: 15th

A former ITU star at a young age, Findlay made the move to long course in 2017, showing promise from the off. The Canadian is still progressing at the 70.3 distance and has had to overcome injury setbacks but the end of 2019 showed her class by winning Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells, followed closely by Challenge Daytona.

To take victory at the speedway, Findlay left the water in the main group – just 1:10 behind mermaid Lucy Charles-Barclay – and set the day’s fastest bike and run splits to beat the Brit by a minute and clinch first. With a combination of strong swimming, cycling and running plus her experience of the course and the confidence that comes from a win last year, Findlay’s definitely one to watch.

Sarah Crowley (AUS)

PTO Ranking: 3rd

Another athlete who can certainly perform for a big race, Sarah Crowley has twice been on the Kona podium and has a host of Ironman and 70.3 wins to her name. Second behind Amelia Watkinson (NZL) at both Ironman Cairns and 70.3 Sunshine Coast in September, the Aussie has made the PTO 2020 Championship her focus.

Crowley has been working on her swim speed to increase the chances of coming out the water with the front pack. If she manages it, she’ll surely figure in the overall with impressive bike and run pedigree.

Lisa Norden (SWE)

PTO Ranking: 55th (Wildcard Competitor)

The 2012 Olympic silver medallist is another ITU athlete who’s moved over to 70.3 racing in the last few years. After a tough period following such an incredible Olympic performance, the Swede has been following a path back to her best form at a new distance.

As well as winning the Swedish time trial championships in 2018 and taking the national road race honours in 2019, Norden also came third behind Lucy Charles-Barclay in Daytona last year, so she’s got the bike legs and knows how to race around the speedway.

A good swimmer in the world of 70.3, Norden will likely need to get to the front of the race before the end of the bike to hold off faster runners or leave T2 in a leading group to employ some tactics from her ITU days.

Amelia Watkinson (NZL)

PTO Ranking: 19th

Possessing the full swim, bike, run package, Amelia Watkinson shouldn’t be underestimated. The softly-spoken Kiwi has raced twice in 2020, pipping Sarah Crowley to the top spot at both Ironman Cairns and 70.3 Sunshine Coast.

A strong swimmer, she came out the water just behind ITU athlete Ashleigh Gentle in the Sunshine Coast, before solid bike and run splits saw her consistency rewarded with the top spot. If she can stay on some good feet in the swim, Watkinson could certainly challenge for the podium.

Related: PTO Supports Pro Mums With New Maternity Leave Policy

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…

Jodie Stimpson (GBR), an ITU specialist beginning to make the move to 70.3.

Heather Jackson (USA), whose recent run focus could see her become even more of a bike-run weapon.

Emma Pallant (GBR), one of the sport’s best bike-runners, who’s been targeting swim improvements.

Katrina Matthews (GBR), who just smashed Ironman Florida in 8:40:50.

The women’s race starts at 10:00am EST (3pm GMT). The PTO will be streaming the race live free to all, but the organisation is encouraging triathlon fans to donate to the COVID-19.

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