In one of the strongest long-course women’s professional triathlete fields ever assembled, it was the punishing Texas heat that won the PTO US Open. Ice packs became precious commodities. With humidity, the temperature felt like 100 degrees. It was so hot that during the start of the second lap of the 2 kilometer swim, some athletes poured cold water on their head in the few seconds they were on land.
In the end it was Australian Ashleigh Gentle who managed to win the 100k race, overcoming a nearly seven minute deficit on the run to claim victory. Gentle surged into the lead with just over 2 kilometers to go, passing long-time leader American Taylor Knibb.
Gentle’s time of 3:37:18 was almost irrelevant. On a more humane day much of the field would have been able to match it.
“That was brutal,” said Lucy Charles-Barclay, who finished in third place. “I’m just happy to make the finish line.”
As athletes finished many appeared in distress. Canadian Paula Findlay peeled over after crossing the finish line and poured bottles of water on her head. Swede Lisa Norden fell to the ground and her leg appeared to seize from a cramp.
“I was just dying overheating,” Knibb said after the race. “I don’t know how I made the finish line.”
Knibb was the only athlete who could keep up with Charles-Barclay on the swim. Both returning from season-derailing injuries, Charles-Barclay barely edged Knibb out of the water in 27:01, but the pair had earned more than a minute over a trailing group of athletes. Once on land, though, it was Knibb who quickly surged on the bike and took the lead.
Charles-Barclay dropped back and so began her nightmare bike leg. The battery on her Di2 shifter died, and she was forced to pedal in a huge gear before stopping to get a replacement. She dropped at least two water bottles in the punishing heat and was lucky to not earn a penalty for doing so.
Knibb had the fastest bike split on the 80 kilometer course, finishing the leg in 1:56:18 and started the run with a 3:42 lead. Despite her troubles on the bike, Charles-Barclay started the run in second with a two-and-a-half minute gap over a group that included Findlay, Norden, Olympic champion Flora Duffy and Brit Holly Lawrence.
But the run, and the race, would be defined by Gentle staying cool in the Texas heat. Trailing by 6:51 at the start of the run, the Australian kept an even pace as others faded. The effects of the lost nutrition on Charles-Barclay meant she started to crack in the heat. As Gentle caught the Brit for second, the leader Knibb began to falter as well.
The American began to walk. Knibb ran again, but she never matched the same pace that Gentle was closing with. With just over 2 kilometers remaining Gentle passed Knibb and surged into the lead.
As she crossed the line in first, Gentle broke down in sobs. Due to be married in a few weeks, it was likely Gentle’s last major race in 2022.
“I had to dig to the depths of my soul for that one,” Gentle said. “It is very hot.”
Women's Top 10 Results
1. Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) 3:37:18
2. Taylor Knibb (USA) 3:38:33
3. Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) 3:40:32
4. Holly Lawrence (GBR) 3:43:38
5. Lisa Norden (SWE) 3:44:50
6. Flora Duffy (BMU) 3:45:18
7. Jocelyn McCauley 3:45:35
8. Rebecca Clarke (AUS) 3:47:01
9. Katrina Matthews (GBR) 3:48:34
10. Paula Findlay (CAN) 3:49:09
Photo Credit: Professional Triathletes Organisation