Ashleigh Gentle takes dramatic win at PTO US Open

Ashleigh Gentle snatches victory out of Taylor Knibb's hands in a dramatic PTO US Open. Here's how the action unfolded

Ashleigh Gentle winning the PTO US Open

Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle pulled an incredible performance out of the bag to take the win in dramatic fashion at the PTO US Open in Dallas.

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All eyes had been on the women’s race this weekend, with a particularly strong line-up that included a resurgent Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR), Olympic, Commonwealth and World Triathlon champion Flora Duffy (BER) and Sub8 star Kat Matthews (GBR). But the day’s best performances came from elsewhere.

For roughly 70km it looked as though Taylor Knibb had the win in the bag. The American, who’s not competed since WTCS Yokohama in May due to injury, delivered a near-faultless race as she stuck with, passed and pulled away from British ace Charles-Barclay.

But the spectre of Gentle, who won the PTO Canadian Open in July and performed impressively at the Collins Cup, loomed large. The Australian had been in the chase pack for much of the race, but ran brilliantly to overtake both Charles-Barclay and Knibb late in the race.

What happened in the swim?

The women’s pro race gets underway with athletes wearing a mix of swimskins and tri-suits (Credit: James Mitchell/PTO)

Given the heat (and the balmy 26°C waters), the athletes lined up on the swim platform without wetsuits, some sporting swimskins, others sticking with tri-suits.

As we’ve become accustomed to, Charles-Barclay was straight out into the lead. However, Knibb, was hot on her heels, which is where she stayed for the remainder of the 2,000m swim.

Duffy couldn’t stay in touch but was in the chase pack with the likes of Holly Lawrence (GBR), Gentle (AUS), Lotte Wilms (NED) and Rebecca Clarke (NZL).

An Aussie exit came halfway through the swim, with Charles-Barclay and Knibb emerging from the first lap 31secs ahead of the chase pack.

That lead only grew over the course of the second lap, with the two leaders coming into T1 a minute ahead of the chasers.

Charles-Barclay’s decision to stick with a tri-suit looked to give her the edge in transition, with Knibb having to strip her swimskin before moving on. She eventually left T1 some 16secs down.

A large chase pack eventually emerged from T1, though Brits Matthews and Ruth Astle crossed the time check a hefty 3:45 down on the leaders, leaving themselves a lot to do to catch up.

What happened on the bike?

Taylor Knibb works hard on the bike leg of the PTO US Open (Credit: James Mitchell/PTO)

The 80km bike leg was taking place on an out-and-back course that would see athletes complete a total of seven laps.

Knibb, racing on a dedicated triathlon bike for the first time, quickly caught up with Charles-Barclay and surged past the Brit just 5km into the leg.

Further back, Lawrence, Ellie Salthouse (AUS), Gentle, Paula Findlay (CAN), Fenella Langridge (GBR), Duffy and Clarke were laying chase, often switching places while trying not to fall foul of drafting rules.

Joining them were the likes of Lisa Norden (SWE), Sara Perez Sala (ESP) and Sarissa De Vries (SWE).

But much of the focus remained on the front two, with Knibb gradually stretching her lead over Charles-Barclay.

To compound matters, Charles-Barclay lost a bottle from her saddle-mounted cage early on, which is far from ideal in warm conditions such as these, while also had to stop and replace a battery on her electronic groupset.

Knibb’s lead continued to grow over the remainder of the 80km bike leg, with both Charles-Barclay and the rest of the chasers losing time.

The chasing pack gradually became more strung out, with Lawrence, Duffy, De Vries, Findlay, Norden breaking away from the best of the rest. With 30km to go, they were sitting 3:32 back from Knibb, with Charles-Barclay just a minute up the road.

By the end of the bike, that gap to Charles-Barclay had grown to 3:47, while Lawrence, Duffy, Findlay and Norden arrived into T2 over six minutes down on Knibb.

What happened on the run?

Lucy Charles-Barclay attempts to put an eventful bike behind her with a steady run (Credit: James Mitchell/PTO)

Knibb looked like she settled straight into her stride as she left T2, heading out with a strong pace onto the 18km run.

A few minutes behind her was Charles-Barclay, who lost a bit of time trying to get her bike into its rack and then took on a lot of hydration at the first aid station, clearly attempting to make up for what she lost on the bike.

As expected, Duffy quickly found her rhythm in third and at the 4km mark was running at a quicker pace than the two women ahead of her.

But she soon had Gentle for company. The Australian, who’s shown great form on the run leg this year, made her move 5km into the run and started chasing down Charles-Barclay.

Such was her pace that the inevitable soon happened and she breezed past the reigning Ironman 70.3 world champion. It was an overtake worth a staggering $20,000, with the prize fund paying out $70,000 for second and $50,000 for third (plus $100,000 for the winner).

For all her run pedigree, Duffy wasn’t able to come with her and never really looked like challenging Charles-Barclay for third.

Gentle wasn’t just about to settle for second, though, and set about her task with laser focus. She was given encouragement, too, with all of Knibb’s efforts seemingly catching up with her and affecting her pace, so much so that she even slowed to a walk at one point.

The gap was dropping, and fast. With just 4km remaining it had dropped to just under a minute. Could Knibb hold on?

Gentle answered the question in emphatic fashion, storming past Knibb with just a couple of kilometres to go and stretching away into the distance for the win in a time of 3:37:18.

Next, it was Charles-Barclay’s turn to chase down the American, but didn’t quite have enough road. Knibb held on for second 1:15 later and the Brit crossed the line in third, a further two minutes back.

Lawrence was best of the rest in fourth and was followed by Norden, Duffy, Jocelyn McCauley (USA), Clarke and Matthews, who made up a number of places on the run.

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Top image credit: James Mitchell/PTO