Photo: @polizzi._ /Laguna Phuket Triathlon

By Kent Gray/
Kiwi Amelia Watkinson has been handed one of just four wildcards into the Professional Triathletes Organisation’s (PTO) season-opening event in Spain – with another going to freshly minted Ironman New Zealand champion Els Visser.

It means Sunshine Coast-based Watkinson will join countrywoman Rebecca Clarke on the start line for the inaugural PTO European Open, to be raced over the athlete-owned brand’s unique 100km distance (2km swim, 80km bike, 18km run) in Ibiza on May 6.

Triathlon’s G.O.A.T, German Jan Frodeno, double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee (GBR), World Tour cyclist-turned triathlete Cam Wurf and Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote winner Justus Nieschlag (GER) have been handed the four men’s wildcards.

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With reigning Tokyo Olympic champion Kristian Blummenfelt already confirmed, it means the men’s race in Ibiza will feature all three Olympic champions since 2008. Even more mouth-watering is the fact it will be the first time the trio have competed in the same race.

Watkinson is 71st in the latest PTO rankings but has shown with 10 successive podiums over the past two years to be one of the sport’s most consistent performers – despite the setback of a serious bike crash while training the past European summer.

The broken elbow Watkinson suffered, and the results since including 2nd to Clarke at the Tauranga Half in January, makes her a perfect candidate for the wildcards the PTO holds over for athletes working back from injury or unforeseen absence.

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Indeed, dating back to August 2019, Watkinson has rattled off six victories in 16 starts with her only non-podium a not-to-be-sneezed-at 5th at Challenge Daytona on December 6, 2020.

Watkinson finished second at January’s Tauranga Half. Photo: Hamish Collie.

It has seen Watkinson signed to the Bahrain Victorious 13 roster alongside Kiwi short course No.1 Hayden Wilde and will mark her as one of the athletes to beat when she warms up for Ibiza at Challenge Taiwan on April 22.

The three other female PTO European wildcards have gone to Visser, 21-year-old Clash Miami winner Sif Madsen (DEN) and German PTO world No.39 Anne Reischmann.

After an impressive Kiwi summer campaign, Visser looks to have the form to push the superstar Ibiza line up including PTO women’s No.1 Ashleigh Gentle, Lucy Charles-Barclay, Paula Findlay, Daniela Ryf, Anne Haug and reigning Ironman world champion Chelsea Sodaro. 

Visser claims victory at Ironman NZ. Photo: Graeme Murray.

Before winning Ironman NZ with an empty-the-tank performance that required immediate medical attention after the tape, Visser was 2nd at Challenge Wanaka in a ‘what might have been’ performance.

Visser estimates she lost as much as five minutes playing follow the bike course leader – Clarke as it turned out – on a frustrating detour; she eventually crossed the line in Glendhu Bay 2mins 31sec behind Aussie winner Grace Thek.

Wurf, meanwhile, will take the most unique build-up into Ibiza. After riding cycling’s fabled Paris-Roubaix on April 9 – all 256.6km of it including 54.5km on bone-rattling cobbles – the Ineos Grenadiers rider tagged a fast-paced half marathon onto the 120th edition of the iconic monument.

Known as the “Hell of the North”, Wurf finished 120th at Paris-Roubaix and then ran the half in a swift 86 minutes. Not bad for a 39-year-old with all those bumpy miles in his legs already.

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