Challenge Miami preview: The 2021 Triathlon season opens on a NASCAR track

The best triathletes in the world will face the ultimate test of their offseason prep

There’s no easing into the 2021 triathlon season.

Friday’s season opener, Challenge Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway, will feature some of the biggest names in the sport on a flat, fast-paced course that finishes on a NASCAR track. Trek will have five athletes — Tim O’Donnell, Skye Moench, Ben Kanute, Rudy von Berg and Bart Aernouts — at the event, all hoping to find good early-season form after a lot of downtime in 2020.

The women’s race will start at 1 p.m. ET on Friday, followed by the men’s start at 3:15 p.m. ET. You can watch live for $2.99 through the Challenge Miami Facebook page. After the race, NBCSN will broadcast a highlights show on March 18 at 2 p.m. ET, March 21 at noon and March 22 at 2:30 p.m.

Tim O'Donnell will be in Miami to begin what will hopefully be a full calendar of competitions.

Moench and Aernouts agreed that Challenge Miami is one of the most anticipated openers of their careers, coming off a season when many of triathlon’s biggest races, including the live version of the Ironman World Championship, were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Challenge Miami is shaping up to be the biggest season opener I’ve been a part of!” Moench said. “I think as athletes we are realizing we have to take any opportunity that comes if we want to race in these unpredictable times.”

I think as athletes we are realizing we have to take any opportunity that comes if we want to race in these unpredictable times.

The middle-distance course will consist of a one-mile swim, 39-mile bike and 10.5-mile run. The bike portion features almost no climbing across 17 laps of a 2.2-mile road course, testing riders to push out consistently high power.

“With the different format and the multiple laps around the Homestead Speedway, I’m expecting a very fast race and aggressive race style from most athletes,” Aernouts said. “Personally I’m not really sure about my race fitness but I learned in the past that this is not always a bad thing.”

Ben Kanute last raced at Challenge Daytona in December, along with Skye Moench, Tim O'Donnell and Rudy von Berg.

Moench last raced at the PTO 2020 Championship at Challenge Daytona in December, where she took sixth place among the women. Among the men, Von Berg took fifth, O’Donnell took 16th and Kanute took 20th. Aernouts had to pull out of the race before the start, but he had an excellent showing early in the year, winning Ironman 70.3 Dubai, another flat course.

Past results may not mean much in Miami, however. Competitors there will be anxious to see how well they managed their longer-than-usual downtime, and the results are unpredictable. 

“I’m expecting the race to be very fast from the start, and it’s not going to let up,” Moench said. “The race being on the Miami Speedway, there’s no other option but to go fast and go hard.”