Following the recent PTO World Rankings update, the PTO Tour European Open currently features (though see Kat Matthews update below) all of the top ten ranked female athletes in the world in Ibiza, begging the question, is this the best women’s field ever assembled over the distance?
The winners of the last seven IRONMAN World Championships are racing – current champ Chelsea Sodaro, five-time winner Daniela Ryf and Anne Haug.
Elsewhere, PTO World Ranked #1 Ashleigh Gentle will toe the start line, though it has now emerged that #8 ranked Kat Matthews will now race the World Long Distance Championships the day after instead.
The most notable absentee comes in the form of defending IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion Taylor Knibb, as the American has been sidelined by an injury.
With a strength of field rating of 92.23, there is a very strong possibility that this might just be the deepest women’s field middle-distance triathlon racing has ever seen.
Gentle leads the charge
Heading to Ibiza, top-ranked Gentle, having won the previous two iterations of the PTO Tour in Edmonton and Dallas, is perhaps the favourite on paper.
However, after a disappointing showing in a hit-out last week at the Peniscola Infinitri, where Gentle finished back in third, question marks are now being raised over whether or not the Australian is in the form required to defend her 100% PTO record.
During her two victories in Edmonton and Dallas last year, the strength of field (SOF) ratings were noticeably lower than Ibiza, at 86.33 and 82.8 respectively. After winning by over a minute in both those events, Gentle should at the very least be pushed all the way to the line in Ibiza.
Before racing in Peniscola last weekend, Gentle hadn’t lost a race since IRONMAN 70.3 Elsinore in June 2022. At the European 70.3 Championships almost a year ago, it was Emma Pallant-Browne who bettered Gentle. The South African-based Brit is another lining up at the European Open, following her victory at the World Duathlon Championships, also in Ibiza.
Ready to go one better
Behind Gentle, Paula Findlay and Sodaro were the two athletes on the podium at the 2022 PTO Canadian Open, while Knibb and Lucy Charles-Barclay took the minor placings behind Gentle at the 2022 PTO US Open. Findlay of course won the PTO 2020 Championship at Challenge Daytona 2020.
All of those apart from Knibb will race the European Open, with Findlay, Sodaro and Lucy Charles-Barclay all looking to make it up to the top step of the podium after coming so close in 2022.
Alongside this trio of previous medallists on the Tour, Ryf, Haug, Pallant-Browne, Laura Philipp and Holly Lawrence make up the rest of the PTO World Top 10. Each and every one of those women have strong claims for a PTO Tour podium.
And there’s the added bonus of a potential dark horse for the podium from further down the rankings ensuring that this will certainly go down as one of the most stacked and competitive middle distance fields of all time. Given her performance in Oceanside, Tamara Jewett would certainly fit that profile.
With the winners of the last seven IRONMAN World titles racing, plus the current undisputed PTO queen, there is a lot more than just bragging rights up for grabs in Ibiza. Sponsorship potential, endorsements and reputation garnered by the winner will likely to last for a considerable period of time.
The most notable absence from the start line in Ibiza is reigning IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion Knibb, who whilst recovering from an injury is also building up to the Paris Olympics next season and might not be so heavily involved in middle distance racing this year as she was last season.
The young American, who would undoubtedly be a contender if she had made the start line, is arguably the only person you could see being able to top this field.
Olympic champion Flora Duffy is presents perhaps the only other potential contender from the short-course ranks, but is also dealing with her own injury troubles.
The Bermudian, who dabbled in middle distance racing last year, finished fifth at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships and sixth at the PTO US Open, but was far from the winner in both those events, signalling she might not have been right at the front of the field in Ibiza. We’ve no doubt that she has all the ability to be a race-winning contender over the middle-distances – but to date at least, that potential is yet to be realised in this format.
And it would have been a huge ask to expect Kat Matthews, who has explained on her Instagram page why she’s elected to race 24 hours later, to take the victory here, just two weeks on from her IRONMAN Texas heroics.
Unlike the men’s side of the sport, where short course athletes like Oceanside 70.3 winner Leo Bergere, Bahrain 70.3 hero Vincent Luis, Dubai 70.3 champion Marten Van Riel or Collins Cup wildcard Hayden Wilde can mix it up with the best over the 100km distance, the women’s side doesn’t have too many proven contenders currently beyond Duffy and Knibb.
As a result, it could be said that outside of Knibb and potentially Duffy, there really is nobody missing from the women’s field in Ibiza.
The previous seven IRONMAN World Champions, seven of the last eight IRONMAN 70.3 World Champions and all of the previous PTO Tour champions make this a battle for the ages.