Most Compelling IRONMAN Ever in Boulder, Here’s Why

By Bill Plock

IRONMAN Boulder 70.3 is usually a big deal. And it usually is one of the biggest races in all of IRONMAN. But the 2021 race might be the most compelling ever. Especially in the pro field. 47 men and 37 women will by vying for spots not only in the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships, but some will be battling to get a spot at the coveted PTO Collins Cup in Slovakia on August 28th with some major money and notoriety at stake. Boulder is the last qualifying race for the Collins Cup.

The field is stacked with some top pro‘s like Sam Long, Sam Appleton, Chris Leiferman, Tyler Butterfield (all live and train in Boulder) all ranked in the top 30 in the world. Sam Long is the number one ranked American (according to PTO rankings) while Sam Appleton is the third ranked International for the Collins Cup. Chris Leiferman is 5th for the Americans and 1 point out of being an automatic qualifier. If he has a good race he could jump ahead of Ben Kanute and automatically make the team. Tyler Butterfield is 5th for the Internationals.

For the women it’s equally compelling with Skye Moench the number one ranked American battling Britains Emma Pallant, the sixth ranked European and Jeanni Metzler the fourth ranked International. Jeanni is barely ahead of Australia’s Sarah Crowley in the Collins Cup ranking and will need to have a good race to keep her automatic spot. That should create some exciting dynamics where the race matters on many levels. Meredith Kessler and Lesley Smith, ranked 7th and 8th for the American team and Emma Pallant who is 6th for the European team have a lot to possibly gain by good showings in Boulder. And lastly, keep an eye out for Chelsea Sodaro, she is ranked 11th in the world but hasn’t raced this season due to maternity leave. But with the PTO’s policy on holding rank, with a good showing at Boulder, she could be heading to the Collins Cup as well. 

The PTO’s Collins Cup will take the top four athletes automatically and two more will be chosen by the captains of the US team, the European team and the International team.

Throw into all of that, you have Taylor Knibb fresh off her silver medal performance in Tokyo racing. She is not known as a 70.3 athlete, but with her speed, youth and fitness coming off the Olympics, she could really make things interesting.

But there are many pro’s in field who also live in Boulder and no doubt some fun rivalries and hometown pride will keep it close. If there were odds, Sam Long would probably be favored but don’t be surprised is someone else is on top of the podium with so many factors at play. 

Keep an eye out for Olympian Andy Potts who is participating in the upcoming Paralympics guiding for Kyle Coon and is at the top of his game. Boulders Justin Metzler, Joe Gambles, and Kennett Peterson might emerge near the lead as well, and keep an eye out for Speedo sensation, Boulder native Colin Laughery who always relishes a chance to race at home.

And for Sam Long, born in raised in Boulder, in his most recent video getting ready for this race he says, “I’m the hometown boy coming after this race.” This was Sam’s first pro race years ago and he says he hasn’t had his best race in Boulder yet. He would like to make this years race his best Boulder effort since his first one as an 18 year old in 2014. Fun video here with many of the pro’s and a brief discussion with race director Julie Coleman

The race can be watched on IRONMAN Live here starting tomorrow at 6:50am:

Or come to the Boulder Reservoir tomorrow and check it out. Food trucks and lots of energy will be waiting for you. More on spectator transportation here:

From Galveston To Cherry Creek, CO Triathletes with Some Big Smiles and Fast Finishes; Betsy Mercer Overcomes 2019 DNF for 4th

By Bill Plock

Colorado triathletes raced this weekend, in Texas and Colorado. In Galveston Texas, not only did the Colorado pros make a big impact, but one well known age grouper, Betsy Mercer raced in redemption of her 2019 attempt in Galveston where she was stopped 100 yards from the finish line because of weather. At Cherry Creek State Park, The Barking Dog Duathlon kicked off the multi-sport season with about 150 athletes racing.

Betsy finished fourth in her age group but cried at the finish line, not because she finished, but because her friend Michael Jones finished his first 70.3. Said Betsy, “I didn’t cry this time when I crossed the finish line, I cried when Michael did. That’s the beauty of triathlon, the community you’re a part of.” 

Jeanni and Justin Metzler, photo Kenny Withrow

Maybe similarly, Boulder Pro Jeanni Metzler who finished second to Skye Moench after a blistering, race best, 1:15 half marathon is with her husband, pro, Justin (finished 9th) at the podium spot. Skye said on her Instagram, “a big congrats to the ladies racing today, I was running for my life!” Skye was recently on the 303Endurance Podcast talking about this race and her comeback from a crash in 2019, listen here (303 Endurance Podcast with Skye Moench)

Boulder’s Sam Long shook off a disappointing swim to finish third behind Lionel Sanders and Ben Kanute with the fastest bike split of the day averaging nearly 28mph for 56 miles. Sam finished behind Ben by six seconds and just ahead of Castle Rock’s, Matt Hanson by ten seconds.

Skye Moench, photo Kenny Withrow

When asked if this race could’ve actually been the best situation possible to set Sam up for the rest of year he said, “That’s a great way of looking at! I discovered how much much I can push on the bike and run and that I can get myself back in the race. I’m pretty sure this was a one off swim and lit my fire for the next races!” 

Sam Long chasing them down, photo Kenny Withrow

Whether a pro, or age grouper, the joy of racing is clearly more appreciated than ever after a rough 2020 season. In Cherry Creek, the Barking Dog Duathlon kicked off the multisport season in Colorado. Dana Willett (good friend of Betsy’s btw), said this after the race, “Great weather and so much gratitude to be back out there! Every- Single-Racer, gave encouragement on the course. Our lungs were burning but we found the breath to say “good job!”, and “you got this!” I couldn’t slap the smile off my face.”

Betsy and Michael pre-race

A 1,000 miles south, Betsy said, “Galveston holds a special place in my heart because it was the very first triathlon I ever did, of any distance. That was back in 2009 (I believe). About 6 years ago the damage to my left leg became more significant after I developed osteonecrosis, which is a disease of the bone. I thought I’d never run again. Two years later, I did run again. 3.1 miles at Without Limits’ Summer Open. I cried at the finish line I was so happy. Slowly I began to think maybe I could do distance again. Two years ago I chose Galveston because it had been my first ever race. I just wanted that feeling of finishing one more IM event. I wanted to close that chapter of my life on a positive note. All was going fine in the race two years ago until a massive storm came in when I was halfway through the run. Hail, lightning, crazy winds. It was insane. Right before I crossed the finish line they called the race. I ran past the volunteer trying to pull us off the course and went across the finish mats, but they had turned them off minutes before. It was a DNF. I was devastated. I cried for hours.” 

When asked about her future Betsy said, “I don’t know if Galveston is forever in my past, it’s one of my favorite events. I have one more race to put in my rear view mirror. IMFLA in November, ten years after I did my first full there at age 35. Then I swear, I’m retiring.” We shall see 🙂

Well done Colorado….congrats to all who raced!