By Kent Gray/
When the finale of a series proudly trumpeted as the #Futureoftriathlon meets a futuristic city in build, the outcome is, well, anyone’s guess.

Welcome, then, to the 2022 Super League Triathlon (SLT) grand finale in Neom, a sci-fi city slowly emerging from the sand dunes of north-western Saudi Arabia.

Before we get to the innovative triathlon bit (stick with us here), know that Neom is the centrepiece project of Saudi’s ‘Vision 2030’ socio-economic blueprint and that the showpiece of Neom is a structure to be known as ‘The Line’. It’s a car, road and emission-free city, 200 metres wide by 170km long (and no, that’s not a misprint) set to be encased in glass. It’s amazing what US$500 billion gets you these days; flying taxis, robotic avatars and holograms anyone?

All that moolah has helped transform Saudi into a new triathlon hotspot which draws us back to the 21st century and Sunday’s (NZT) racing. From a Kiwi perspective at least, SLT Neom is all about whether Hayden Wilde can cap his season-long SLT dominance to seal a potential NZ$323,000 payday.

Tayler Reid, currently third in the standings, is part of a fascinating subplot in the men’s race alongside Aussie Matt Hauser and Japan’s Kenji Nener (among others) while Nicole van der Kaay will be out to keep series co-leaders Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) and Taylor Spivey (USA) honest in their winner takes all women’s race to the tape.

Nicole van der Kaay (pictured centre) gets some prep of the PR kind in ahead of SLT Neom.

Add in the lucrative teams title decider between the Sharks (Wilde, Reid and van der Kaay included) and Scorpions (Taylor-Brown and Nener) and it’s a mouth-watering prospect in a desert environment where dry throats are a given.

That’s all part of the gig as reaffirmed in their Neom race preview. A key remit of the series is to ensure every venue offers a “unique” challenge for the athletes.

If the initial Instagram posts from the Kiwi trio alone are any indication, it’s mission accomplished in Saudi. It’s fair to say the Tabuk Province site is a work in progress with the athletes looking to be housed in port-a-cabin style accommodation.

Furthermore, the bike course for the Enduro format (3 x swim, bike, runs without breaks) will be held on heavily compacted gravel. Quite aside from the surface, the 4km route is nothing like the tight and twisty street circuits that have predominated SLT in 2022 so is sure to change the dynamic. Whispers out of Neom suggest Wilde, who is in a race-within-the-race battle for the $15,000 bike discipline title with Israeli Shachar Sagiv (Cheetahs) and Portugal’s Vasco Vilaca (Rhinos), is considering racing on off-road tyres.

The cycle curve ball alone makes SLT Neom a must-watched.

With Reid also still an outside shot of winning the swim discipline – the Gisborne 26-year-old will likely need to win the swim points and hope current Blue jersey leader Jamie Riddle finishes outside the top three swim times – the action will be sizzling from the get-go for Kiwi followers.

SLT Neom is LIVE on Sky Sport 2 (Channel 052) from 12.01am Sunday NZ with the women’s race taking the gun at 00.20am and the men’s decider set to go at 1.40am. In this new age, humbly counsels Kiwi tri fans to check the TV listings because it seems anything is possible nowadays.

The finale is part of the first Neom Beach Games which will also feature kite surfing, 3×3 basketball, beach soccer and mountain biking. But Sunday’s coverage is entirely tri-focused – with a Neom-sized asterisk.

Welcome to the future where tri meets Sci-Fi. It’s triathlon folks, just not as we’ve known it.

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