Ashleigh Gentle wins first-ever PTO Canadian Open

Australia's Ashleigh Gentle completes the perfect race to take the tape, while runner-up Paula Findlay takes second on home turf and the USA's Chelsea Sodaro has a fight for third position

photo by Darren Wheeler (www.thatcameraman.com)

A sunny and bright Edmonton greeted some of the world’s best female triathletes on Saturday 23 July for the first day of the inaugural PTO Canadian Open. 

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Racing the unusual PTO 100km format for a share of the $1m prize purse and qualification spots for the PTO Collins Cup, the women left it all out on the field today, here’s how it all went down…

What happened in the PTO Canadian Open women’s swim?

The swim comprised of three 667m laps plus Aussie exits. (Credit: PTO)

The vast majority opting for hydrodynamic swimskins over wetsuits in the sunny 17°C Canadian sunshine, the elite women lined up on the blue carpet for the start of the inaugural PTO Canadian Open in Edmonton.

From the get-go, it was Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes who took dominance over the 2km swim, with Spanish swim star Sara Perez Sala (ESP) struggling to stay on her feet and Lauren Brandon (USA) just behind in third. The rest of the athletes including Aussie pros Ashleigh Gentle and Ellie Salthouse jostling amongst themselves, heading a larger chaser pack.

As Lopes extended her lead curving round the central island, she ended up swimming on the inside of an orange marker buoy, earning herself a 30s penalty to take later during the bike leg.

The initial 667m lap took the athletes on a loop of the lake around a central island, before they had to wade out for a lung-busting Aussie exit. By the end of the first lap of three, Lopes had already broken away from the crowd with a 13s lead, sprinting out the water in a time of 8min43s, striding round a lakeside tree, and diving back in for lap two.

By the end of the swim, Lopes was first to run into transition while Sala Perez managed to cut that lead to 13s, with podium hopefuls Paula Findlay (CAN), Holly Lawrence (GBR) and Nicola Spirig (SUI) leaving the swim only a minute behind.

What happened in the PTO Canadian Open women’s bike?

Lopes led the women’s swim and first 20km of the bike (Credit: PTO)

After a slow T1 for some who wrestled getting tight swimskins off, others like Sala Perez and Spirig benefitted from only wearing tri-suits in the water. It was Lopes, though, who spun out first onto the 80km bike leg, re-instating her 30s solo lead.

Whether she’d maintain that lead was anyone’s guess, Lopes having actually raced over Olympic-distance triathlon before.

An initial 5% hill greeted the athletes on the first of four laps of downtown Edmonton, with several more hills as well as cool straight patches awaiting them. Large sections of the course had been recently re-tarmacked for the arrival of the Vatican’s Pope Francis, who was set to visit the Canadian city the following day (Sunday 24).

Unlike some of the World Triathlon Series racing, this race’s not draft-legal, cyclists having to keep over 20m from each other’s slip streams or risk accruing penalties.

That means no chaser packs in this race, the field stringing out into solo riders including the likes of Spirig, Findlay, Salthouse, Gentle and GB’s India Lee making up the top ten.

By the end of the first 20km lap of four, Findlay had worked her way up to second place with only 10s separating her and Lopes. As Canada’s home hope and racing in her hometown no less, Findlay’s connections to this race are two-fold with her mum as the official race director.

After a total 1h35s of racing, Findlay sped past Lopes and set her claim on the lead position. Further back in the field, one of GB’s main hopes ahead of the race Emma Pallant-Browne unfortunately suffered a puncture, the wait for assistance completely wiping her from contention.

By the last bike lap, USA’s Jocelyn McCauley made her way up to second position, while a loose chase group of four in the shape of the two Aussies Gentle and Salthouse, along with Spirig and Lopes sat over 2mins behind front runner Findlay. Meanwhile, women’s middle-distance record holder and PTO ranked #1, Laura Philipp (GER) made her way up to seventh position after losing some places in the swim.

What happened in the PTO Canadian Open women’s run?

Edmonton native Paula Findlay heads out onto the four-lap, 18km run course at the PTO Canadian Open. (Credit: PTO)

After 2:25hrs of racing, Findlay passed through T2 without issue for the start of the four-lap, 18km run course.

A huge 2min+ behind were chasers McCauley, Spirig, Gentle, Salthouse and Lopes, but it’s Philipps who made strides on the runners ahead, overtaking Spirig and McCauley within the first few minutes.

As the run wore on, Gentle started cutting down Findlay’s gap, slowly but surely gaining on the front runner until a swift pass was finally made 2h54mins into the race. Meanwhile, Philipp remained 2min36 behind Findlay, as the three front racers consolidate their claims on the podium and prize purse.

Meanwhile strong runner USA’s Chelsea Sodaro made her way up to fourth place behind Philipp, Lopes retaining her position in fifth.

The final few kilometres saw a fight break out for third position between Philipps and Sodaro, the latter forcing the German champion to up her game and pace in the final few minutes.

Who won the women’s 2022 PTO Canadian Open? 

Gentle had the fastest run of the day, destroying the competition. (Credit: PTO)

A stacked field didn’t deter two-time Olympian Gentle from ripping through the competitors and claiming the win along with the whopping $100k prize in a time of 3:30:54.

Coming in second and claiming the $70k prize to the cheers of family, friends and hometown fans was Findlay in a time of 3:33:16, while Sodaro sprinted it out with Philipp to overcome the German and take the final podium spot with $50 prize in 3:34:59.

In fifth was Julie Derren (SUI), sixth Lawrence, eighth Salthouse and tenth Spirig.

Quotes from winner Ashleigh Gentle

On what was going through her mind coming down the finish line: “I’m super happy, super excited. I had the most amazing day today. It’s not been the easiest two or three years, I’m just grateful for the people who kept believing in me… because I’m really proud of myself right now.”

On what winning that $100k mean to her: “It’s an absolute dream. It’s going to take a really long time to sink in. I didn’t start the sport of triathlon for money, but I have bills to pay as an adult… that million-dollar prize purse will go a long way.”

Quotes from runner-up Paula Findlay

On how it felt to race to a home crowd: “Honestly, racing at home I was more nervous than I’ve ever been. More nervous than the Olympics, because I had all this support behind me and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

“I knew I was fit, I knew I was healthy, but you never know what’s going to happen on the day. Of course I wanted to win, but there couldn’t be a more deserving champion, Ashleigh’s such a classy runner. I’m just so happy I could hold onto second.”

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Top image: Darren Wheeler (www.thatcameraman.com)