Will Sunday be the day we get a proper head-to-head between Norwegian stars Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden at the PTO Canadian Open?
It’s the reigning Olympic, World Triathlon and IRONMAN World Champion versus the current (and two-time) 70.3 World Champion.
They’re #1 and #3 in the latest rankings and exactly what the first-ever PTO Tour is all about – the best racing the best.
But for a number of reasons – including mechanicals on the bike, illness and injuries – they’ve rarely looked each other in the eye at the business end of a race, especially at this sort of distance.
An ‘epic weekend’ ahead
But it’s clear both of them relish the prospect in Edmonton.
Just 11 months ago Blummenfelt was being crowned WTCS champion at the Grand Final in the city and speaking to a busy Bob Babbitt on his ‘Breakfast with Bob’ series, he said: “It’s bringing back a lot of good memories.
“And it’s going to be an epic weekend ahead. You know, it’s $100K on the line for the winner. I missed the race in Daytona two years ago [won by none other than Iden] when it had a sort of similar concept, the same type of prize money.”
Asked who he sees as his biggest rival, there was no hesitation: “Yeah, that’s the guy living in the same corridor as me up in 11th floor, Gustav.
“He won that $100K race two years ago and also the last 70.3 World Championships. So for sure he is the man to beat over half distance.
“And also, I think Lionel [Sanders] is getting better and better for each month. So he is also going to be a very strong guy to race against.”
‘An honest battle’
And there was a mutual respect from Iden who can’t wait for the gloves to be off, but ideally wants to avoid a sprint finish!
He told Babbitt: “Hopefully I will have a gap on him because the finishing mile is really hard and so challenging mentally.
“But I’m looking forward to the battle for sure, it’s going to be exciting to race him for real.
“Here hopefully there will be no mechanicals, everyone will be healthy, fit to race and it’s a real, honest battle.”
Iden especially is a big fan of both the course and distance they’ll face on Sunday too.
He said: “It’s a really good one for me. It’s kind of more tactical than a full-distance IRONMAN where you just have to pace yourself.
“Here you can kind of play around with other athletes a bit more and use, like, a strong cyclist to your advantage.”
Of the bike course he added: “It’s quite technical, it’s hard to find a rhythm – and the distance of 80k is pretty cool. I think it suits me quite well.”
But much of that was echoed by Blummenfelt who explained: “I especially like the punchy hills. It’s like maybe a minute and a half up the hills so you can really go above your standardised racing power. It’s maybe easier for the non-traditional cyclists, I would say.
“I’ve raced here a few times before and [the bike course] is kind of putting all the races I’ve done earlier into one.”
What’s next for star duo?
It’s the Collins Cup after Sunday’s showdown for the Norwegian pair, followed by an inaugural home sprint race in Bergen and then all roads lead to Kona.
But after that Blummenfelt confirmed he won’t be racing at the full distance again until after the Paris Olympics in 2024.
And Iden too clarified his plans for the rest of this year, with a busy end to the campaign seeing him defend his 70.3 Worlds crown not long after Kona, before he moves back to the WTCS for Bermuda and then the Grand Final in Abu Dhabi.
And the French capital is very much a long-term goal for him too: “I have some unfinished business to do on the Olympic scene,” said the man who was eighth behind Blummenfelt in Tokyo.