The high stakes race at the 2023 US PTO in Milwaukee began with an impressive show of strength and speed in the swim leg. Australian triathlete Aaron Royle led the first lap, setting a blistering pace. He was accompanied by a strong front group comprising Jan Frodeno, Kristian Blummenfelt - yes you read that correctly, Marc Dubrick, Ben Kanute, Daniel Baekkegard, Matt Sharpe, and Josh Amberger, who collectively managed to distance themselves from the rest of the pack, including formidable athlete Magnus Ditlev who was lagging 47 seconds behind.
As the second lap commenced, the front group further consolidated their lead, with German triathlete Frodeno, Norwegian Blummenfelt, and Aussie Royle, setting the pace. This lead pack was closely tailed by Americans Dubrick and Kanute, Dane Baekkegard, Canadian Sharpe, and Australian Amberger.
Exiting the swim leg and entering the transition phase, Royle upped the ante with an unexpected surge that put Frodeno under pressure. This strategic move led to a minor hiccup as Frodeno almost mounted his bike with his swim skin still on! Nevertheless, he quickly recovered, leaving the transition zone hot on the heels of Kanute and Blummenfelt.
Further down the field, Ditlev was struggling to catch up, trailing the leaders by 1:31. Home favourite Sam Long was 2:45 behind, while Canadian Lionel Sanders was more severely hampered with a deficit of 4:06. British athlete Tom Bishop, German Frederic Funk, and Frenchman Margirier were less than a minute behind, forming a strong secondary group as the race progressed into the bike leg.
The 2023 US PTO race presented an intensely competitive field, with 19 of the top 30 male PTO athletes participating. With a whopping $600,000 prize and precious PTO points on the line, athletes put their all into the challenging 2-kilometer swim in Lake Michigan, consisting of two loops with a lengthy 'Aussie exit', where they left the water for about 125 meters before diving back in.
One critical point of the race was when the athletes exited the water at the end of the swim leg. Mark Dubrick, Daniel Baekkegard, Josh Amberger, Jan Frodeno, and Christian Blummenfelt were amongst the first to emerge. However, Blummenfelt found himself slightly behind the main group, potentially complicating his transition as he had to adjust his suit before mounting his bike.
This first leg of the race set a thrilling tone for the rest of the event, as athletes jostled for position, battled the clock, and showcased their skills in the swim setting the stage for an unpredictable and exciting bike leg to follow.
The adrenaline-fueled bike leg of the 2023 US PTO Race had spectators on the edge of their seats as Norwegian triathlete Kristian Blummenfelt took the reins, surging ahead to open a significant lead of approximately 30 seconds after just two laps. This sudden advance left the remaining members of the lead pack scrambling to keep up. As Blummenfelt continued to stretch his advantage, other athletes began to make their mark on the course.
At the 21.3km checkpoint, only Margirier and Frodeno remained within half a minute of Blummenfelt's impressive pace. The only other athletes to stay within a minute of the leader were Baekkegard, Royle, Kanute, and Amberger. Notably, Ditlev and Funk were fast on their tails, displaying impressive speed and endurance.
The bike leg of the 2023 US PTO Race was a showcase of tactical decisions, powerful athleticism, and intense competition. From Blummenfelt's audacious early surge to Ditlev's smooth overtaking, every moment kept us guessing.
As the race wore on, Margirier left Frodeno behind, narrowing the gap between himself and the leading Blummenfelt. This change left Frodeno isolated, and by the race's midpoint, he was overtaken by Ditlev, who maintained a smooth and powerful cycling performance.
By the time the cyclists reached the 50km mark, Margirier had joined Blummenfelt at the front, followed closely by Frodeno and Ditlev. Funk was the only other athlete within a minute of this leading quartet. In a concerning turn of events, Tom Bishop, who had started strong, was forced to withdraw due to a mechanical.
In the final 20km stretch of the bike leg, Ditlev made a strong surge, temporarily overtaking Margirier and pushing Frodeno and Blummenfelt to their limits. As the athletes transitioned to the run, Ditlev was the first to enter transition, closely followed by Blummenfelt, Margirier, and Frodeno. A hiccup arose when Blummenfelt experienced cramps while transitioning to the run - not the first time we have seen this happen.
Funk trailed behind the leading group, about 1:24 down. A large cluster of 18 athletes were between 3-5 minutes behind the leaders, battling it out for the minor places. Among them were local favorites West, Kanute, and Long. With the top 10 positions still up for grabs, the stage was set for a nail-biting run to finish.
The excitement started early as Jan Frodeno, the German triathlete and Olympic champion, took an early lead in the run segment of the 2023 US PTO race. It was immediately apparent that the race was going to be an uphill battle for Blummenfelt, who had been dealing with a persistent cramp since the transition phase. Despite the clear discomfort, Blummenfelt attempted to close the gap between him and the leading trio of Margirier, Frodeno, and Ditlev.
Frodeno, noticing Blummenfelt's struggle, made a strategic move to increase the distance between himself and the Norwegian champion. His efforts resulted in a +0:16 gap on Margirier and Ditlev at the 4km mark. Blummenfelt, who was trailing by +0:25, made an effort to catch up, but the recurring cramp became a major obstacle, costing him over a minute as he attempted to alleviate the pain.
Meanwhile, Frodeno seemed to be on top of his game, looking like he never left the professional circuit. The veteran athlete built a steady lead, putting more distance between himself and Margirier, while Ditlev and Blummenfelt were stuck in their positions. West and Baekkegard, however, were making progress and closing in on Long in the fifth position.
By the 12km mark, Frodeno had widened the gap to +1:15 over Margirier, making it clear that he was the favorite to win. His competitors, however, did not give up easily. As the race progressed, West started closing in on the podium, while Ditlev succumbed to the heat and was forced to step aside from the race. This allowed West to move past Blummenfelt into third place.
In the final lap, a surprise twist saw Blummenfelt and West overtake Margirier, setting up an exciting battle for second place. Despite the pressure, Frodeno managed to maintain his lead in the last few kilometers, winning the race with an incredible performance that showcased his extraordinary skill and endurance. Behind him, West managed to pull ahead of Blummenfelt in the last stages of the race to claim the second spot.
As the athletes crossed the finish line, the tension and excitement of the race gave way to celebrations and relief. For Frodeno, it was another remarkable achievement in a career filled with impressive victories. For West, the second-place finish represented the pinnacle of his career so far, while Blummenfelt had to be content with third place, after a race fraught with physical discomfort.
1. Jan Frodeno (GER) – 3:14:12
2. Jason West (USA) – 3:14:40
3. Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) – 3:14:50
4. Mathis Margirier (FRA) – 3:15:45
5. Sam Long (USA) – 3:17:27