Alistair Brownlee still looking for winning formula in longer-distance triathlon
Alistair Brownlee admits he is still searching for the right middle-distance formula after making a gruelling return to racing in Ibiza this weekend.
The two-time Olympic champion from Leeds, 35, finished sixth in the inaugural Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) European Open on Saturday.
The innovative 100km format was the first time London and Rio gold medallist Brownlee, Tokyo king Kristian Blummenfelt and German veteran Jan Frodeno, who grabbed glory in Beijing 15 years ago, had ever locked horns with each other in a competitive race.
Norwegian ace Blummenfelt, 29, finished second in the Balearic battle while Frodeno, 41, came home fourth after leapfrogging Brownlee - who led for large parts of the contest and went into the final transition with the lead - during the scenic 18km running route around Ibiza Town.
But on the day of King Charles III’s coronation back in the UK, all three of the modern-day triathlon kings were upstaged by a stunning performance from largely unknown Australian Max Neumann.
The 27-year-old delivered a red-hot late surge to leave Brownlee in the rear-view mirror before holding on to beat Blummenfelt and dangerous Dane Magnus Ditlev, who bagged a brave bronze medal.
Brownlee says he came into the race with conservative expectations and was always aware it would take a perfect performance to topple some of his younger opponents.
“Normally I’d have done long tempos to nail in what the right pace feels like, running consistently over a long period of time,” he said. “I haven’t really done any of that – I’d have loved to have won but I would have needed a good day to do that, so credit to Max.
“I’m just happy to have raced – I knew the run was going to be a bit of a struggle. I knew if I did a good ride with good legs I could have pulled off a solid run, but halfway in I was in trouble and it was just a case of getting to the finish from there.
“We’re trying to do everything at 60 per cent just to get on startlines, and then hopefully push up further. I’m doing about 50 or 60km per week – it’s a mixture and mostly low-intensity, with a bit of quicker stuff.”
The PTO is an innovative recent start-up bidding to enhance the profile of triathlon through implementing a more consistent calendar across the world each year.
The Ibiza showpiece was the first of four scheduled races throughout 2023 and pitted all three Olympic champions across the last four Games against each other in the idyllic island setting.
Brownlee and Frodeno, who is widely regarded as the greatest athlete to ever grace the sport, came storming out of the blocks on the swim as Blummenfelt lagged behind in what is his weakest discipline of the three.
But it was Aaron Royle - Neumann’s Australian compatriot - who set the early aquatic pace as he opened up a healthy advantage heading into the 80km cycle.
He was soon leapfrogged by four-time ITU world champion Brownlee, however, who hauled himself to the front of the field alongside New Zealand star Kyle Smith.
Blummenfelt remained around a minute off the lead while fellow Scandinavian Ditlev, 25, embarked on a race-changing surge up the field.
Brownlee entered the final transition in the lead with a slender advantage over Smith, with Blummenfelt and Frodeno leaving themselves with considerable work to do over the final six-lap run around the island’s capital city.
But it was current world No 7 Neumann, who finished fourth in the Ironman World Championships in Kona last year, who had the most left in the tank as he caught the leaders at around the halfway mark.
Brownlee’s hopes evaporated as his fitness started to fade while Blummenfelt, the current world No 1 ramping up preparations for the Paris Olympic Games next summer, embarked on a thrilling late pursuit of Neumann.
But it was the Australian star who held on to outshine the big names in Ibiza as he led home Blummenfelt, Ditlev, Frodeno, Jason West and Brownlee to claim an impressive PTO title in the Spanish sun.
Brownlee added: “I love racing and I think the 100km distance is good – you see actual racing. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s a great venue and I’m looking forwad to some more of them later in the year.
“It’s great – it’s putting long-distance triathlon on international broadcast to show the sport to more people, and that can only be a good thing.”
And sheepish Neumann admits he ‘feels bad’ for crashing Brownlee, Blummenfelt and Frodeno’s hotly-anticipated Ibiza party.
He said: “We owe these guys a lot and I almost feel bad for winning. I grew up watching these guys – they’ve made triathlon the sport it is today.”
The PTO European Open races took place on Saturday 6 May, with the men starting at 0815 CET and the women at 0945 CET. Both were broadcast live on Eurosport 2