Party time? Why all triathlon roads lead to Ibiza in May…

Chief Correspondent

If you’ve been following recent news from the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO), then you’ll likely be aware of some notable changes to the professional non-drafting landscape that have been made ahead of the 2023 season.

A complete overhaul of the PTO’s World Ranking System (WRS) was followed by news of changes to the athlete numbers who could start those PTO Tour events, and the prize money allocations for both event and end-of-season bonus payments.

But, what will the impacts of that be in racing terms? Ibiza is widely known as the Party Capital of the World – and for the first half of 2023 at least, it seems that the weekend of 6th/7th May will be one not to miss for professional triathletes.

Shines bright like a Diamond

As Bruce Forsyth used to say, “points mean prizes“, and from 2023, how you can go about collecting those WRS points and climbing the PTO Rankings has changed. The Tier system approach means that if you want the opportunity to maximise points, then the optimal opportunity to do that is racing in a ‘Diamond’ Tier race. Given that the only chance to do that is via a PTO Tour race (European Open, US Open or Asian Open), the Collins Cup or the IRONMAN World Championship, those are few and far between.

Getting those big points is even more crucial now, as only the end of season top-50 ranked athletes will get to share the annual bonus pool. Do these Tiers matter? Well, Alistair Brownlee ended 2022 ranked #8, but is now at #36 under the new system! Performances matter, but performing in big races matters even more.

Alistair Brownlee Kalmar 2022 win photo credit Getty Images for IRONMAN
Alistair Brownlee was dominant in Kalmar – but such performances gain lower points under the new PTO World Ranking System [Photo credit: Getty Images for IRONMAN]

In terms of the first half of 2023, the only Diamond option available is the European Open, which will be held alongside the World Triathlon Multisport Championships in Ibiza, over the now familiar PTO 100k format (2km swim / 80km bike / 18km run).

The race also has a $600k prize purse, Team Europe have dominated both editions of the Collins Cup, and at the time of writing, the PTO Rankings are dominated by European athletes. Seven of the top-10 men are European, with six of the top-10 women also filling more than half of those top positions.

Jan “I’ll need a wild card” Frodeno has already announced he’ll be there, and with Kristian Blummenfelt playing along with the PTO’s marketing on that front, it seems highly likely that Team Norway will be there too. Given that the event also falls (at least) four weeks before major mid-season full-distance events like IRONMAN Hamburg, Challenge Roth and IRONMAN Frankfurt, few people are likely to be ruled out in terms of scheduling either.

Expect that start list to be stacked – and challenging for the strongest race of the entire year.

Two chances…

All of the above, I grant you, is hardly the work of Nostradamus. However, there is further reason to expect that a very significant proportion of the world’s best long-course triathletes will also be present. By linking with the Ibiza event, Saturday’s PTO European Open will be followed on Sunday by the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships. Unlike the situation at 2022’s Collins Cup, that event will be over longer distances than the PTO event, namely 3km / 116km / 30km.

What’s particularly interesting is the status (in Rankings terms, the Tier) of the event. Specifically, that the World Triathlon LD Championships gets ‘Platinum’ status. That’s the second highest available, and notably, is on the same level as the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. That’s… interesting!

While overshadowed by Saturday’s $600k purse for the European Open, the World Triathlon event still offers a far from insignificant total of $120k, paid 15-deep and with a top prize of $15k for the Elite winners. That could well be the highest prize purse yet for this World Championship, and is certainly a significant jump from the $90k raced for last year in Slovakia.

Lucy Charles Barclay photo credit World Triathlon
Lucy Charles-Barclay won the World Triathlon LD Champs in Samorin [Photo credit: World Triathlon]

It’s still notably short of the $350k that IRONMAN will be awarding at the 70.3 World Champs in Finland, and on any historic basis, the World Triathlon event has not matched the prestige of the M-Dot offering.

Still, that Platinum status has been awarded – ‘based on commitment to raising the profile of athletes and the sport as a whole’ – can surely only add to attracting even more top tier athletes to Ibiza? There’s likely to be a particular interest to those that are typically focussed on the long(er) end of the distance spectrum and/or, are not ranked high enough to make the 30 starters in PTO’s first Tour race of the season. If your A-race is Challenge Roth for example, 3k/116k/30k seven weeks prior is pretty attractive from a scheduling perspective.


Teamwork makes the dream points work?

If I was to try and read between the lines, this is perhaps the result of a negotiated win-win for both sides.

For the PTO, being able to align with an existing event and infrastructure, in a year when they are also starting from scratch in Singapore and, if rumours prove correct, Marrakech, must be attractive. Recently awarded National Federation of the Year status (again), the PTO should be in good hands with the experienced Spanish Federation.

Alexandra Tondeur, Sarah Lewis, Alice Hector - Ibiza ETU Middle Distance Triathlon European Championships
Major events are nothing new for Ibiza

For World Triathlon, the risk is that their ‘World Championship’ gets massively overshadowed by Saturday’s big money event. However, that Platinum status could, actually lead to it being far more than an after the Lord Mayor’s show scenario. If you are a long-course athlete, especially based in Europe, and want to play the PTO points game – and really, you should – then if you aren’t going to make the cut for Saturday’s PTO European Tour race, then the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships has perhaps never looked more attractive.

Zooming out, perhaps the bigger picture for the sport is the continuation of these relationships that we have seen between PTO and World Triathlon in this instance, World Triathlon and Super League for Arena Games, PTO and Challenge for the Collins Cup etc.

Ibiza then looks set to be the biggest weekend for long-distance triathlon during the first half of 2023. The after-party should be pretty epic too….

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