By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - A new "T100" race series for longer distance triathlon was launched on Tuesday, with eight star-studded 100km races featuring a prize pot that looks certain to tempt the best of both Ironman-distance and Olympic distance athletes.
Jointly launched by the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) and governing body World Triathlon, the T100 will feature races comprising a 2km swim, 80km bike and 18km run that will last around a TV-friendly three hours.
Initially an eight-race programme, it will kick off in Miami in March, before moving to Singapore, California, London, Ibiza, Las Vegas and Dubai, before culminating in a November Grand Final in a Middle East venue to be decided.
Each race will have a $250,000 prize fund, including $25,000 for the winner. The overall men's and women's winners will collect $210,000 from an additional total prize pool of $2 million. With athlete contracts and T100 Triathlon World Tour pool added into the mix, the series will offer more than $7 million in compensation - huge money for the sport.
The new event marks a notable collaboration between the two organisations as World Triathlon previously had little involvement with long distance racing, which is dominated by the Ironman brand.
Crucially, the series will have a consistent field, with 40 of the world's leading long-distance athletes signed up and committed to compete in a minimum of five races and the Grand Final.
Britain's Lucy Charles-Barclay said she will not be defending her Ironman world championship title to commit totally to the new event - where the races are much shorter than Ironman's 3.5km swim, 180km bike and 42 km run, but much longer than the Olympic distance of 1500m, 40km, and 10km.
Tokyo Olympic champion Flora Duffy is another big name who will line up alongside the current top 15 women.
"I have tried the Olympic distance and loved the fast pace excitement of flat out racing, and on the other side of the spectrum I have raced and performed really well at the Ironman distance which is all about pacing and endurance," Charles-Barclay said. "But actually putting something in the middle and bringing in athletes from the long course and from the Olympic distance, it’s just a melting pot of talent and the level of racing is higher than we’ve ever seen in the sport."
Britain's double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee and his long-time Spanish rival Javier Gomez are among the eye-catching names on the men's side, with Brownlee saying he was excited about the event partly because of the unknown factor as athletes have not yet learned how to nail the pacing.
"I want to see more people watching top level long distance triathlon, being inspired by seeing the top athletes racing," he said.
With the Olympic triathlon events in Paris taking place a few days after the London leg of the T100, Brownlee said there was room for both.
"It’s tough to create something new but ultimately it will benefit every triathlete, so having the PTO work closely with World Triathlon to put on these great races in great locations and broadcasting it around the world in the right manner – has got to be the way to go to bring in new fans and people who want to engage in the sport in a new way."
Speaking at the London launch, PTO Executive Chairman Chris Kermode said: "We’ve been clear that we wanted to create a tour that represents the pinnacle of the sport and have talked about the importance of a season-long schedule of high quality racing that sees the world’s best endurance athletes going head-to-head on a consistent basis in different, iconic locations.
“This is a significant step forward for the sport."
In keeping with triathlon tradition, the events will also feature large scale amateur "age group" races.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)