Challenge Miami was the thrilling triathlon season opener everyone hoped for

Ben Kanute, Rudy von Berg and Skye Moench made the podium in a high-drama season opener

The triathlon season opened at Challenge Miami 2021 last Friday with no shortage of drama and emotion coming off a lost year.

A who’s who of competitors showed up, anxious to see how well they had trained in the extended offseason. Jan Frodeno won the men’s race in dominant fashion, adding to a storied career. Jodie Stimpson won the women’s race five years to the day after her last victory. Behind them, Trek athletes put in impressive performances that could fuel even better results later in the year.

Ben Kanute crossing the line to take the bronze medal by 11 seconds.

Ben Kanute took a podium step, finishing third in the men’s race just 11 seconds ahead of fourth place Chris Leiferman and 35 seconds ahead of Trek teammate Rudy von Berg. Kanute passed Von Berg and several others on the run to win a medal. He also had to hold off a hard-charging Leiferman, who was 20 seconds faster in the final leg. Kanute was nearly two minutes faster than Leiferman on the swim, but Leiferman made up time on the bike and run to nearly pip his compatriot.

Kanute was thrilled with the all-around performance.

“It was great to feel solid during the race for me, and it was great to run my way onto the podium,” Kanute said after the race. “I still feel like I have ways to improve, but having a podium finish behind a couple of the best guys in the sport is a good place to be early in the season.”

Rudy von Berg was in third place coming out of the water and held on for a podium spot.

Kanute spent much of the race near his teammates, Von Berg and Tim O’Donnell. All three exited the swim within roughly 30 seconds of each other, and spent a few laps together on the bike. Kanute was fifth off the bike, behind Von Berg.

O’Donnell might have also vied for a strong placing if not for a critical error. He miscounted and entered his second transition one lap too early — after the 16th of 17 trips around the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval — forcing him to scramble back onto his bike and complete the course. He finished 11th among the men. 

Behind him, Bart Aernouts finished 15th overall, posting a solid bike and run to come back from a lackluster swim — his time was second slowest among top 20 finishers.

The final men's podium.

Skye Moench took fifth in the women’s race. Like Kanute, she had to hold off a late charger: Alissa Doehla took sixth place by 22 seconds after posting a run time that was 17 seconds faster than Moench’s. The two dueled throughout the race, with Moench eking out three seconds on the swim and 23 seconds on the bike. The small margins made all the difference.

Before the race, Moench and Aernouts both described Challenge Miami as one of the most highly anticipated opening races of their careers. The Covid-19 pandemic all but eliminated racing in 2020, giving the first race of 2021 a must-see atmosphere. The results delivered on the hype.

“Challenge Miami ended up being the premiere season opener,” Kanute said.