OTTAWA—Alexis Lepage and Joanna Brown led the country’s top triathletes in the qualification round of the two-day CAMTRI Sprint Triathlon Premium American Cup, which is also serving as the Canadian Championships in Ottawa this weekend.
The two local favourites rose to the occasion in a stellar field for Saturday’s super-sprint distance qualifying heats, which consists of a 300-metre swim, eight-kilometre bike, capped off with a lightening-quick 1.5-kilometre run course that winds alongside the Rideau Canal.
The 22-year-old Lepage, who grew up in nearby Gatineau, Que., led the top-30 men vying for a National Crown in Sunday’s championship final. Lepage clocked the fastest time of the day at 19:39.3 after crossing the line first in the second of four men’s heats.
“I felt pretty comfortable today and didn’t push that much,” said Lepage, who added the top-seven finishers in each heat along with the next two fastest times overall advance to Sunday’s main event. “We worked hard on the bike and had about a 10 second gap heading onto the run. I continued to run hard to take the win. This distance is similar to what’s going to be in the (mixed relay) at the next Olympic Games so you have to go fast because I want to be in Tokyo. Today I showed I can be fast.”
Olympian Tyler Mislawchuk finished four seconds behind Lepage in the fastest men’s heat of the day, clocking a time of 19:43.6.
Jeremy Briand, of Sainte-Julie, Que., posted the third-fastest time of the day at 19:48.8 to win the men’s third heat, while Michael Lori, of Tecumseh, Ont., set the tone for the Canucks in the opening group of men to dive into Dows Lake before charging down the streets past many of Ottawa’s famed historic sites.
“It was great. It was a really hard swim. The young guys were pushing it and making it really difficult. We worked really well together on the bike. There was about seven of us, and we got caught by another three halfway through so it made for a good run race. We had to push it the whole way,” said Lori. “It wasn’t super easy, but we still had to save some energy for the final. It was a good all-around day, and I love the course. I need to recover as quick as I can after today.”
Calgary’s Stefan Daniel turned some heads in the final heat. The 2016 Paralympic silver medallist hung on during the 300-metre swim before bridging onto the lead bike pack. Daniel, who is no stranger to able-bodied racing having won the National Junior Championships two years ago, ran at the back of the lead pack until the final 100 metres where he surged into the lead to cross the finish line first.
Meanwhile, two-time World Cup medallist, Joanna Brown, took advantage of home turf to put down the top time of the day at 21:24.1 to lead the top-30 women’s qualifiers into Sunday. The 24-year-old Carp, Ont. resident came off the bike with a six-pack of women before surging out of second transition, and away from the field, to win the opening heat.
“It was hard. I don’t think I’m ever ready for how much a super-sprint is going to hurt. It is a different kind of intensity that we train sometimes for, but to put it all together into one race is really hard,” said Brown. “The strategy is to go as hard as you can for as long as you can. There is no real pacing. You just have to push and go as hard as you can, and you know your fitness will carry you through because you are only racing for 20 minutes at a time.”
Edmonton’s Paula Findlay also made a statement on Saturday. The five-time World Triathlon Series winner scrapped her way to the front of the third women’s heat. Racing in second spot until the final turn down the finishing stretch, the 28-year-old Olympian sprinted to the second-fastest time of the day at 21:30.3.
Amelie Kretz, who represented Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, easily won the fourth and final women’s heat while posting the seventh-fastest time of the day at 21:45.6.
Modeled after the highly successful race format used at the famed Tiszaujvaros World Cup in Hungary, the Ottawa International Triathlon is the first time the unique two-day format is being used in North America.
The top-30 men and top-30 women will each hit the start line once again on Sunday for the sprint distance finals that will feature a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike, and 5-kilometre run to determine the King and Queen of Canadian Triathlon in 2017.
It is the first time ever that all of Canada’s top-ranked athletes are competing at the National Championships with nearly 200 elite, under-23 and junior-age athletes from coast-to-coast-to-coast racing.
The Ottawa International Triathlon is an International Triathlon Union sanctioned event and is being held in partnership with the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Riverkeeper, Triathlon Canada and Triathlon Ontario.