Triathlon Magazine Canada
Canada’s Top-10 Triathlon Towns
With COVID planted firmly in our collective rear-view mirror, Canadian triathletes are now looking through the windshield and at an exciting horizon that features travelling, training and racing. And, although places like Kona, Mallorca and Phuket are world-famous and wonderful places to tri, we have to live and do a lot of our triathlon training and racing in Canada. Being the world’s second-largest country means we have hundreds, if not thousands, of worldclass places to swim, bike and run, but which places are the best? With the help of provincial triathlon directors and athletes, we’ve whittled the many down to the few and present this list of the top-10 triathlon towns in the country.
At the top of the list, a great triathlon town must have a wide variety of accessible and inspirational training venues. Sure, some towns can boast a good swimming pool, some trails and a couple of roads, but to top this list a place will need to have lots of them and some good swimming lakes as well.
Going hand in hand with a variety of great training venues is safety— we are talking specifically about safe roads. Are local roads safe to ride, or does the combination of hostile motorists and lack of wide shoulders make riding simply an exercise in self-preservation?
Also, near the top of the list has to be the presence of an endurance sports and triathlon community and, hopefully, even some local legends. We know almost all towns in the country have a curling club, but how many have a triathlon club? And even though social media and training platforms like Zwift can keep you connected to your kindred spirits from across the country, there’s nothing like celebrating a successful suffer-fest with friends at a local coffee shop.
If you are like 90 per cent of triathletes, you can probably change a tire on the side of the road. If you are like 95 per cent of triathletes you can’t change a bottom bracket whether it is on the side of the road, in your garage or on Mars. That’s why an ideal triathlon town has at least a couple of bike shops to fix the inevitable things that can happen to your bike. As far as triathlon gear and incidentals go, any resourceful triathlete knows you can make do with Vaseline instead of chamois butter and WD-40 can work as a “temporary” solution to chain lube, but most triathletes ain’t MacGyver, and if that Zipp 808 flats, the only realistic solution is a tube with an 80-mm extender—Shopper’s Drug Mart doesn’t stock those.
In addition to having a good amount of local training venues, a great triathlon town needs a vibrant racing scene. Travelling for hours to do a 5 km, let alone a triathlon, is not only time-consuming and expensive, but it also deprives athletes of developing rivalries. There’s nothing like racing the same person three or more times a year to keep your training motivation high. Local community support is also critical. This goes beyond motorists and right into city hall. Do the folks with magical financial and permitting powers, stonewall, or facilitate races in your community?
In a province that reveres home-grown sporting heroes such as Blue Bomber Andrew Harris and curler Kerry Burtnyk, another Manitoban, Tyler Mislawchuk, is putting the province on the international triathlon map. You might not know it, but Winnipeg is an excellent triathlon town. Although the words “Portage” and “Main” don’t conjure up the same sentiments as “Vancouver” and “Island,” Birds Hill Provincial Park is a triathlete’s dream come true, weather withstanding. With a swimmable lake, an abundance of running trails, and an 11-km biking loop, it is a convenient and safe training venue. In addition to the park, Manitoba’s capital also has almost a dozen clubs to help athletes make connections and share stories.
9 St. John’s, N.L.
To be a triathlete in Vancouver or Toronto is likely easier than being one in St. John’s, but that’s not to say Canada’s easternmost capital doesn’t have a vibrant triathlon scene. The St. John’s Triathlon, held in Healey’s Pond, has a history that dates back to the Puntous twins era. Within an hour’s drive, there are two other triathlons and plenty of lakes for swimming and for participating in Newfoundland’s open water swim series. Newfoundland Triathlon Director, Stephen Delaney, says triathletes can join up with one of the city’s two clubs and hammer the local roads and trails.
8 Prince Albert/Waskasiu, Sask.
Canada’s breadbasket should be known for more than just curling and the Roughriders. The go-to location for the sunny months of summer is this resort town located in Prince Albert National Park. Featuring crystal clear waters and ample cycling and running opportunities, Waskasiu has been home to one of the longest-running events in the country, the Frank Dunn classic.
The nearby city of Prince Albert is a year-round hotbed of multisport action, spearheaded by the Prince Albert Triathlon Club. They have a busy schedule including a winter triathlon, a spring duathlon and a couple of warm-up races in preparation for the Frank Dunn race. The club has about 40 members and they are actively involved in training for events from sprints up to the full distance, which is no problem for their training as the city has two 25-metre pools. Not bad for a city of 40,000. And those long runs can be done safely on the 22-km paved Rotary Trail. And, while cyclists in most mega-cities lament congestion and having to resort to gravel, or have to drive out of the city for good riding, folks in this Saskatchewan city can just put their leg over their top tube and head off in any direction that they want that can guarantee a tailwind on the way back into town.
7 Canmore, Alta.
Either the dark horse or the bright star on this list, Canmore is an up-and-coming triathlon town. Of course, with its terrain, it’s a mountain biking hot spot. Those who prefer asphalt to gravel can either ride or run on the Legacy Trail that connects Canmore with Banff. And, even if you are not from Canmore, the 90-minute drive from Calgary to nearby Highway 1a (the Bow Valley Parkway) in the Johnston Canyon area is car-free for much of the summer and provides safe roads and stunning views. Although those mountain lakes are slow to warm up, they have one that is usable, depending on the thickness of your Yamomoto, from about June to September. And, speaking of September, the inaugural Canmore Crux, which is a three-day triathlon stage race is set to go this fall.
Although this Quebec town is not the original Ironman town in Canada, since 2012 athletes from all over Canada and the world have been coming here to race and train. Mont-Tremblant is home to an Ironman, a 70.3, an Xterra and everything you need to train for them. Located about 100 km from Montreal, the Mont-Tremblant area is well worth the drive. It has three swimable lakes, plenty of quiet roads with great pavement for cycling, along with numerous running routes, including a section of the 230-km long P’tit Train du Nord. In the wintertime, you can come here for a ski vacation, but also keep up your triathlon training with a swim in the Aquatic complex. Although Mont-Tremblant does not have any triathlon clubs, it is a popular destination for triathlon training camps and, whether you are here as part of a group or you are solo, should you need bike repairs or parts you can hit up either Bicycles Quilicot or Cybercycle.
Not only are there four provincial capitals represented in this list of Canada’s top triathlon towns, but also our nation’s capital. In a city known more for hot air than hot weather, it is the people that make Ottawa list worthy. According to Ontario’s provincial development coach, Greg Kealey, “the Ottawa triathlon community has coaches, organizers and athletes who continually push Canadian triathlon to new heights embracing the sport as it advances and grows.”
The proof of that is that Ottawa boasts the highest number of triathletes per capita in the country. Many local triathletes call either Zone 3, led by local tri-legend, Rick Hellard, or Bytown Storm, their club of choice. The Storm is one of the few clubs in the country running a U23 draft-legal development program, of which Olympian Joanna Brown is a product. Beyond the human factor, climate and geography combine to make Ottawa a four-season multisport spot. Unlike those cities on the West Coast, Ottawa does have a true Canadian winter, but shortly after the ice thaws on the Rideau, triathletes don their wetsuits and take to one of the nearby lakes. The Friday swims at Meech Lake are a local favourite.
4 Guelph, Ont.
When it comes to having local triathlon heroes and a wide variety of training locations, this Ontario city is tops. It used to be that Canada’s top triathletes would migrate westward for at least part of the year, but champions like Cody Beals, Jackson Laundry, Taylor Reid and Loren Nelson are happy to call the Guelph area home year-round. With plenty of trails and quiet roads, athletes can get their training in without having to get in a car and drive out of town. There are plenty of clubs such as Discomfort Zone, Royal City Development Squad and Telos Athletics. In addition to having local pools, Guelph Lake is an excellent place for athletes to hone their open-water skills. It is also a great place to race. The annual Guelph Lake triathlon events offer an abundance of multisport options. You can choose from the very-popular try-a-tri, sprint or standard distance triathlons. If you favour two events instead of three, they also offer duathlon and swim-bike races. Being located in southern Ontario also means you are an easy day’s drive from doing an Ironman race in either Lake Placid or Mont-Tremblant.
This storied south Okanagan city is once again home to the most famous and legendary triathlon in the country, Ironman Canada. Names like Thomas Hellriegel, Erin Baker, Peter Ried, Lori Bowden and Paula Newby-Fraser adorn the Ironman Winner’s Circle in Rotary Park. But perhaps it’s not the big names as much as it is the volunteers that make Penticton such a strong triathlon town. Almost without fail the 2,500-strong “Iron Army” comes out in force to help athletes march to the finish line. Clearly though, there’s more just the Ironman in Penticton. It is the site of not one, but two ultra-distance races. Penticton has been the site of the ITU long-distance world championships, and Super-League also had a race there. Unfortunately, forest fire smoke prevented the pro-division race from being held. Athletes have a choice from a variety of races within an hour of the city in nearby Osoyoos, Oliver, Summerland and Kelowna. Penticton is also a spring and summer training hot spot, with hundreds of km of flat and hilly terrain for both running and cycling. Although the city has only one pool, Penticton sports two excellent swimming lakes, Skaha and Okanagan, with many others within a short drive.
Back in the 1980s, this Alberta city was known as the “City of Champions,” as a reference to the numerous Stanley Cups and Grey Cups their teams won. Nowadays, a better name may be “City of Championships.” Edmonton has hosted the ITU world championships, and this year is home to the Professional Triathletes Organisation Canadian Open. Nearby Stoney Plain is the site of one of Canada’s longest-running half-distance races, The Great White North. Unlike the city at the top of our list, Edmonton does have four seasons and the triathletes from there, including Ironman Olympians Paul Tichelaar and Paula Findlay, have made the most of it. 1997 Ironman World Champion, Heather Fuhr, says some of the best running in the world can be found along the trails of the North Saskatchewan River that winds its way through town. For triathletes that like a mix of flats, hills and wind, the roads west of Stoney Plain, near Keephills, will supply all you need and when your bike needs supplies, replenishment can be found at Element Multisport.
When all the criteria are weighed, Victoria rises to the top as Canada’s top triathlon town. One could argue it is also one of the best on the planet. With the Commonwealth Games swimming pool, the national training centre, plus community venues, you can swim in a pool, but many of the local triathletes would rather be in one of the four lakes within a short drive of the city centre. And then there’s the ocean. Of course, there’s much more than water that makes Victoria the tri-mecca it is, which has drawn the likes of Simon Whitfield, Peter Reid and Lori Bowden westward. Having one of the mildest climates in the country, cycling in December and January is a real thing and not some freakish novelty. Furthermore, with almost 20 triathlon clubs in the area, finding likeminded people to train with and keep you motivated is no problem. With plenty of well-stocked bike stores, getting a tube or a tune is equally as easy and, according to Pinnacle Coaching’s Paul Regensburg, the go-to place for many triathletes is the Victoria Trek Store.
The Challenge Championship
Since Challenge North America rebranded to Clash last year, Challenge Family doesn’t have any presence in North America these days, but the series remains very popular in Europe and other parts of the world. Age-groupers and pros alike can qualify at Challenge and Clash races for The Championship, which takes place every year at the unique X-Bionic Sphere in Samorin, Slovakia. This year’s race saw 1,130 athletes from 42 countries compete in the half-distance race that features a swim in the Danube River, a flat, fast bike through the Slovakian countryside, and a challenging run that through the grounds of the X-Bionic Sphere.
Highlighting the men’s field was two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Gustav Iden, who was forced to pull out of the Ironman World Championship in St. George due to sickness.
After a disappointing swim that saw him hit the shore of the Danube well behind (almost 2:30) swim leader Richard Varga of Slovakia, who finished the swim 20 seconds ahead of Australian Josh Amberger, Iden ran to T2 only to find that he had a flat tire. Yelling to a volunteer that he needed a pump, Iden quickly put some air in the tire and set off in chase of the men ahead of him.
While he wasn’t able to bridge up to the lead group of three that included Varga, Belgian Pieter Heemeryck and Miki Taagholt of Denmark, the two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion was able to get up to the chase group that included Thor Bendix Madsen of Denmark, Thomas Steger of Austria and Kyle Smith of New Zealand.
The three breakaway athletes hit T2 with a 90-second lead, but once they were out on the run it quickly became clear that this was going to be Iden’s day—he was in front by the second half of the second of three laps on the run course. Iden never looked back as he cruised to the win in 3:43:44. Varga managed to hang on for the runner-up spot, despite having to serve a 30 second penalty for stepping on the dismount line at the end of the bike, while Steger (3:46:33) managed to take the duel with Taagholt to round out the podium.
“I was struggling so much in the swim,” said Iden. “It was a substandard swim for me and then I had a low-pressure tire, but luckily I quickly got a pump from the volunteers. I struggled to keep up the power at the start of the bike. But I slowly I got into it and, at the end
I got there—to take the win here is amazing. It’s really tough to run on the grass here, but I think I was suffering less than others, it’s so demanding, but I think I managed OK.”
Sala and Buckingham pull clear
Defending women’s champion Lucy Buckingham (née Hall) led the way out of the water, but was just three seconds ahead of Spain’s Sara Perez Sala. The two then hammered through the bike, alternating the lead at times seemingly to ensure that they’d enjoy as big a gap as possible to the speedy runners chasing behind.
The mission was accomplished—while Fenella Langridge of the U.K. and Sarissa de Vries of the Netherlands were over 1:30 down, Emma Pallant-Browne of the U.K. and Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, two of the sport’s best runners, were seven minutes behind as they hit T2.
Perez Sala was able to pull clear and hold on for the biggest win of her career in 4:08:19. Pallant-Browne managed to run her way to the runner-up spot (4:10:12), thanks to a 1:17:19 run split, passing Buckingham (4:11:05) in the final lap.
Is there anything Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt can’t do? Last summer there was an Olympic gold medal. Then, in the fall, came a 7:21 Ironman win in Cozumel. Last month he took the Ironman World Championship St. George, then he blasted by the seven-hour barrier for a full-distance race to top the Sub7 Project.
The times from the Sub7/Sub8 Project can’t be ratified as records as the athletes were paced during all three portions of the event, but the goal of the event throughout was to simply see if the athletes could break the magical barriers. As predicted, the biggest gains came on the bike, with the athletes flying through the bike behind a huge train of cyclists ahead.
Blummenfelt was a bit slower in the water than he had hoped, apparently slowed by a headwind and current, but still finished the swim in 48:21. He then followed his pace team to a 3:24:22 bike split (52.8 km/h), then followed that up with a 2:30:50 marathon— an impressive 3:34/km average. That gave him an overall time of 6:44:25.
After replacing Alistair Brownlee at the last minute, Great Britain’s
Joe Skipper put together an impressive performance. He started the day with a 53:24 swim, then blasted by Blummenfelt on the bike thanks to a 3:16:42 bike split (55 km/h), well ahead of the seemingly outrageous goal time Skipper had of 3:20. A 2:36:43 marathon meant that Skipper was also well under the seven-hour barrier with his 6:47:36 time.
Matthews charges ahead
She might have come to the Sub7/Sub8 project as an alternate when Lucy Charles-Barclay was forced to pull out, but in the end Great Britain’s Kat Matthews turned out to be the fastest on the day, smashing the eight-hour barrier at Germany’s Dekra Lausitzring with a 7:31:54.
Matthews started the day with a 54:43 swim, coming out of the water seven seconds up on Nicola Spirig. The swim times were a bit slower than the athletes had anticipated for the point-to-point swim, likely due to a bit of a head wind that created a bit of current against them.
Matthews then rode behind her pace team to a 3:50:06 bike split, averaging 46.9 km/hour. Spirig rode 3:53:16 (46.3 km/h average), coming off the bike a bit over three minutes behind the British star.
Out on the run Spirig started averaging a pace about 10 seconds per kilometre faster than Matthews, and took the lead for a short time with about 12 km of running to go, but shortly after the pass the Swiss Olympic gold and silver medalist started to fade, and Matthews surged back to the front of the race. She never looked back as she powered through the last 10 km of the run, finishing the marathon in 2:46:09, becoming the third-fastest ever over the distance with her 7:31:54.
Spirig suffered through the last part of the marathon, with her team hunting to find some Coca-Cola to get her through, but still finished in an impressive 7:34:19.
Technology leads the way
Blummenfelt and his entire pace team rode a new prototype bike from Cadex for the event. The bike was developed with the Sub7 goal in mind, but Blummenfelt used it to take the Ironman World Championship in St. George last month, too. During the race we also learned that Skipper’s team was using a new rear water bottle set up that was literally built through 3D printing this week after testing on the track. Blummenfelt and Spirig were swimming in a new wetsuit from deboer. The company developed the latest version of the Floh 2.0 to help its athletes in St.George, and launched a new suit that features “x-skin” for the Sub7/Sub8 Project. Blummenfelt was also running in the new Asics Metaspeed shoes (we’re guessing, based on his running style, the Sky+). Matthews was also in Metaspeed shoes.—KM