The British women rescued Collins Cup triumph for Europe after the USA threatened to pull off a shock result as triathlon’s answer to the Ryder Cup took place for the first time in Slovakia.
Victories in head-to-head match-ups from Lucy Charles-Barclay, Emma Pallant-Browne and Katrina Matthews accounted for half of Europe’s six wins in the 12-match contest and led to a final points tally of 42.5pts (Europe), 31.5pts (USA) and 25.5pts (Internationals).
The inaugural event in Samorin took place over a 2km out-and-back swim in the Danube, an 80km cycle through the region just outside Bratislava and an 18km run on mixed terrain that included one of the world’s foremost equestrian courses at the host venue of the x-bionic sphere.
It was triathlon’s biggest ever prize purse with $1.5million shared between the 36 triathletes on show who dived from the pontoon in groups of three starting, women first, at 10-minute intervals.
The race wasn’t short of drama. The USA women caused early upsets by recent World Triathlon Edmonton winner Taylor Knibb beating four-time Ironman world champion and number one ranked Daniela Ryf, and the unfancied Jackie Hering upsetting reigning Ironman world champion Anne Haug.
Then when the heavens opened just over an hour into the contest, the slick roads also made for multiple crashes, including the Internationals’ Lionel Sanders and Sam Appleton, a bloodied and bruised Holly Lawrence, and New Zealand’s Kyle Smith, who saw one of his time-trial handlebars snap off and his bike get stuck in a 58-11 gear so hard to pedal he likened it to riding a track bike.
Knibb set the tone, opening the scoring for the USA with a maximum six points and the fastest women’s time of the day in 3:30:10. More surprising still was that this included the fastest bike split – on a road bike with clip-on aerobars – as she put a whopping 16mins into a clearly off-colour Ryf.
Charles-Barclay responded for Europe by shaking off double-Olympic medallist Katie Zaferes with 10km to go on the bike in a high-calibre Match 2, but then Hering pulled off another shock success by taking down Haug in Match 3.
After Lawrence’s spill, Australia’s Ellie Salthouse grabbed the first of four victories for Team Internationals that still wouldn’t be enough to prevent them being awarded the wooden spoon, aptly named the Broken Spokes trophy for the Collins Cup.
Matches 5 and 6 saw Pallant-Browne and Matthews exert their authority on proceedings before Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno, who recently turned 40, still showed he had speed in his legs to post the fastest time of the day.
Norwegian Gustav Iden kept the blue of Europe on a roll with a victory just 27 seconds slower than the 6ft 4 German’s, before Lionel Sanders – despite a crash – delivered the day’s fastest bike split to win Match 9 from Sebastian Kienle and Andrew Starykowicz.
Daniel Baekkegard took Match 10 for Europe to wrap up the overall win, before Internationals put some respectability into the scoreline by taking the last two matches through Braden Currie and an elated Jackson Laundry, who overtook GB’s only male representative, Joe Skipper, in the last 2kms.
“You never know how many races you’re going to get as a pro athlete so every time it’s going well you’ve really got to milk it and soak it up,” Charles-Barclay said, having remarkably not only beaten Zaferes and Paula Findlay in her own match-up but also caught both Teresa Adam and Ryf, who started 10mins ahead.
“It wasn’t until the run I knew what was happening in the first match. I came past Teresa and Dani, and Dani was cheering me on and that was cool. I thought I’ve just got to put the hammer down and see if I could get maximum points.”
Matthews came through on the run to beat USA’s Jocelyn McCauley into second and just fell shy of getting the maximum bonus points too. She said: “I’m glad I gave it everything, and I honestly did. I think I started sprinting from 2km out.”
Lawrence stayed stoic and strove on for her team despite the tumble. She said: “I’m ok, just a bit bruised and battered, but it’s ego more than anything,” after recovering from her crash midway through the bike to finish within 6mins of Salthouse and USA’s Skye Moench and prevent them picking up maximum bonus points.