PTO 2020 Championship – How the Race Might Unfold

Based on my seedings for Daytona, it’s interesting to have a look at how the race might unfold and what to look for at various points of the coverage.

Of course all data-based predictions have some limitations: First of all, some athletes have never raced at the half-distance – so even if Vincent Luis and Jonny Brownlee are likely going to play big roles in the race, I can’t really data-predict how they will be able to do in Daytona. Next, the data predictions don’t take into account how race dynamics will impact an athlete’s behavior in the race. With small differences, athletes will probably stay together, usually because some athletes swim, ride or run just slightly faster to stay with someone else. Then, especially some young athletes have made lots of progress from season to season and it’s difficult to properly assess their current capability. And of course there is also a “2020-special factor” when a lot of athletes had to take a long break because of Covid, and some of them haven’t raced at all in 2020 before Daytona.

So even with all these caveats and the “limited time and space” meaning we can’t discuss the chances of every athlete on the Daytona start line, I hope that the following discussion gives you a good indication of what to look for during the race .. and to quickly spot when something unexpected happens.

Women’s Race

Here’s the expected race development graph for most of the female contenders (click on the graph for a hi-res version):

Swim

  • Lucy Hall and Lauren Brandon are two very strong swimmers in the field who will likely battle for the lead into T1. On paper, I have Lucy ahead by nine seconds – which is of course too close to make a solid prediction. Maybe Jodie Stimpson will be able to hold on to the feet of Lucy and Lauren.
  • Among the rest of the field, Holly Lawrence is probably the strongest swimmer, and it’ll be interesting to see if she is able to swim away from the other contenders, maybe even staying with the front group.
  • The rest of the contenders will do their best not to let Holly get a gap from the start. With Pamella Oliveira, Jen Spieldenner, Nicola Spirig, India Lee, Paula Findlay and Meredith Kessler there are quite a few experienced women who usually come out at the front of other races. They will probably try to stay with Holly, probably meaning that the swim pace will be “on” from the gun. On paper, this group would lose about 2 minutes to the swim leaders.
  • When the athletes enter T1, look how much time the strong bike riders such as Lisa Norden, Sarah Crowley (based on seed times about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes slower in the swim) and maybe Heather Jackson (4 1/2 minutes) are behind – a good swim with a smaller gap to the front can boost their chances for a good result. Another interesting athlete to look for after the swim is Kona winner Anne Haug: She will mainly shine on the run, but a good swim (on paper 3 minutes behind in T1) and catching a good bike group will be part of her plan.

Early Bike

  • The main question at the front of the race will be how long it’s going to take Holly to work her way into the lead and who can stay with her. Last year, Lisa Norden and Paula Findlay rode hard at the start of the bike to catch up to swim leader Lucy Charles (unfortunately not racing this year). After they caught up to her the group of three were watching each other and stayed together – maybe this year Holly will be able to break away from the others?
  • Behind the lead group, will there be a “chase group” and who will be in that group? Or will the 20-meter draft rule in Daytona lead to a splintered field?

Into T2

  • On paper, Holly should be the strongest athlete on the bike, so the question will be if she can ride away from the other good swimmers and if any of the strong bike riders will be able to make up time to her.
  • If a “chase group” forms, will Nicola Spirig or Jackie Hering (slower bike riders on paper) be able to stay with them? Will Heather Jackson be able to make up time and ride up to them?
  • Here’s a look at some of the main contenders and their bike capabilities (without any tactical considerations and group dynamics):
    • baseline: Holly Lawrence (well under 2 hours, probably around 1:57 for the 80k bike course)
    • + 1minute: Lisa Norden
    • + 2 minutes: Heather Jackson, Sarah Crowley, Amelia Watkinson, Paula Findley, maybe Jodie Stimpson
      (with just one 70.3 race – a second place at 70.3 Bahrain 2019 behind Holly – it’s difficult to predict how Jodie is going to perform in Daytona)
    • + 3 minutes: Skye Moench, Laura Philipp
    • + 5 minutes: Anne Haug, Lauren Brandon
    • + 7 minutes: Lucy Hall
    • + 8 minutes: Nicola Spirig
      (Nicola will be an interesting one, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her ride much faster than in her previous races where she didn’t race a field of the Daytona caliber)

Run

  • If things go according to plan for Holly, she should already have a solid gap in T2. Except for Anne Haug, no one should be able to put more than two minutes into her on the run. Anne would need to be within five minutes of Holly to still have a shot at winning, but even if she’s further back she’ll still be running for a podium finish.
  • The strong swim/bikers such as Lucy Hall, Lauren Brandon, or Lisa Norden will need a great day to not be overtaken by the faster runners.
  • Here’s a look at the run capabilities of the main contenders:
    • – 5 minutes: Anne Haug
    • – 2 minutes: Nicola Spirig, Jackie Hering
    • baseline: Holly Lawrence, Laura Philipp (probably around 1:10 for the 18k run course)
    • + 1 minute: Sarah Crowley, Jodie Stimpson
    • + 2 minutes: Heather Jackson, Paula Findlay, Amelia Watkinson
    • + 9 minutes (and more): Lisa Norden, Lucy Hall, Lauren Brandon

Men’s Race

Here’s the expected race development graph for a selection of the male contenders (click on the graph for a hi-res version):

Swim

  • The swim is probably going to be dominated by the fast ITU athletes racing Daytona, most notably Henri Schoeman. He’s often leading the swims in ITU races, and if he goes hard in the swim he should be able to put at least a few seconds into other Olympic Distance racers such as Jonny Brownlee or Vincent Luis (who are racing their first longer race and are therefore “unseeded”) and probably a bit more into the ones moving “back and forth” between distances, such Ali Brownlee, Javier Gomez or Ben Kanute.
  • The longer-distance athletes such as Sam Appleton, Rudy Von Berg or Pieter Heemeryck are probably going to be around 90 seconds behind after the swim.
  • A few more notable athletes are going to be further back: Gustav Iden and Magnus Ditlev will lose a bit more time (probably just over two minutes), but the field could be deep enough for just one large group.
  • As is typical for them, Sebastian Kienle and Lionel Sanders will start “from behind” after the swim, according to the seedings they will have to make up around four minutes on the bike.

Early Bike

  • Even if there are going to be a few seconds between the fastest swimmers, we will likely see a bigger “lead group” with Henri Schoeman, Alistair Brownlee, Javier Gomez, Sam Appleton, Ben Kanute, probably also Vincent Luis and Jonny Brownlee and maybe a few others. Who will set the pace in that group, and who will struggle to stay with the group?
  • There are two more athletes that you should follow in the early parts of the bike: Gustav Iden and Magnus Ditlev might be able to make up time to the front group. Will they also drag other athletes with them?
  • Lionel Sanders and Sebastian Kienle will also want to ride up to the front group – but their larger gap after the swim means that it’ll take them a good while longer to close the gap. Sam Long could be another athlete that starts to make up ground after losing some time in the swim.

Into T2

  • Will someone such as Magnus Ditlev be able to ride away from the lead group? Or will Ali Brownlee and the others keep the group more or less together? With the flat and fast bike course in Daytona it is unlikely that there are going to be multiple bike groups such as on the mountain course at 70.3 Worlds in Nice last year.
  • How well will the ITU athletes be able to ride on the longer distance? The flat course in Daytona will demand them to ride in the aero position for most of the 80k bike – a position that they might not be as accustomed to as the athletes with more experience on the longer distances. Watch for signs of being uncomfortable in the aero position, such as moving around on the saddle.
  • You can expect some hard efforts to drop athletes in the last quarter of the bike ride when maybe their concentration starts to slip a bit. If Lionel and/or Sebi are able to ride up to the front group, watch for the pace to pick up even more when they work their way through the group.
  • Here’s a look at some of the main contenders and their bike capabilities (without any tactical considerations and group dynamics):
    • – 2 minutes: Magnus Ditlev, Lionel Sanders
    • – 1 minute: Gustav Iden, Sebastian Kienle
    • baseline: Alistair Brownlee, Sam Appleton (around 1:45)
    • +1 minute: Rudy Von Berg, Pieter Heemeryck
    • + 3 minutes: Javier Gomez, Henri Schoeman
    • (Please note that Vincent Luis and Jonny Brownlee are unseeded as they haven’t yet raced longer than Olympic Distance.)

Run

  • Even if it’s hard to predict who is going to run well in Daytona, you can expect the pace to be extra-hard coming out of T2. Everyone will want to impress with their run speed. Gustav Iden would like to show that Daytona is going to be a repeat of his win at 70.3 Worlds in Nice, while Javier and Ali will want to show that they can run faster than in Nice or South Africa 2018 (when Jan Frodeno was able to gap them). I expect the winner to run under an hour for the 18k run course in Daytona.
  • Where are the ITU athletes at the start of the run, and how well will they be able to run, especially beyond the 10k mark? It won’t be a surprise to see “unseeded” Vincent Luis and Jonny Brownlee fight for the win or finish on the podium.
  • Which athletes from the bike lead group will be able to run well? Some of the 70.3 specialists such as Rudy Von Berg or Pieter Heemeryck would love to battle it out with “the ITU group” at the front but will likely lose some time to them.
  • What will Lionel and Sebi be able to do on the run? Sebi has run well in Nice (second fastest run split behind Gustav) and Lionel is always ready to work extra hard on the run – as evidenced by his run duel with Pablo Dapena in last year’s Daytona race.
  • Here’s a look at the run capabilities of the main contenders:
    • – 2 minutes: Gustav Iden
    •  baseline: Alistair Brownlee, Javier Gomez, Lionel Sanders (around 1:02)
    • + 1:30 minutes: Sebastian Kienle, Rudy Von Berg
    • + 2:30 minutes: Pieter Heemeryck, Sam Appleton
    • + 4 minutes: Magnus Ditlev
    • (Please note that Vincent Luis and Jonny Brownlee are unseeded as they haven’t yet raced longer than Olympic Distance.)
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