‘A quintessential Alaskan sport’: Nation’s top winter triathletes compete at Kincaid

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 10:58 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The winter triathlon was made for Alaska and Alaskans — fat bikes essentially originated from the 49th state, and it produces a number of world-class skiers and the athletes can run on nearly any terrain (looking at you, Mount Marathon).

With this combination, the results of the 2023 Tri-Flake USA Triathlon Winter National Championships should not have come as a surprise.

For the seventh year, and third straight at Kincaid Park in Alaska, the top winter triathletes in the country gathered Saturday to compete in a 6-kilometer run, 8-mile fat bike ride and 6K ski race with tickets to the World Championships on the line.

While it is the national championships for the sport of winter triathlon, the field is open to those competing in their first winter triathlon, to those that have seen a thing or two in the sport, like 74-year-old John Pierce of Kansas City, Missouri.

“I am the oldest guy here, I have done these since 1984,” Pierce said, who jokingly said he has competed in 300 winter triathlons. ”I love coming to Anchorage ... It is so beautiful. I’ve done these in Montana, Minnesota, California and Utah, but coming up here is special.”

The event also features the top winter triathletes in the nation and that was on full display at the race on Saturday.

Anchorage’s Eric Flanders, a competitive cyclist, used his blazing bike time to defend his 2022 title and repeat as the men’s USA Triathlon National Champion with a total time of 1 hour, 18 minutes, 55 seconds.

”You never know who’s here, I specifically didn’t look at the start list this year, I just didn’t want to know. I didn’t wear my watch this year either, I just wanted to go out and go hard,” Flanders said. “... I knew if I could be within a couple of minutes on the run of the fastest guy, I knew I could probably put a couple of minutes into him on the first lap on the bike and just go from there.”

While Flanders finished nearly two minutes ahead of second-place finisher Cody Priest, it was a photo finish in the women’s race between two Anchorage competitors.

Jordan Pruszenski, a former Service High skier who now lives in Fairbanks, edged Jessica Vetsch by 0.19 seconds as Pruszenski clocked in at 1:34:12 to claim the women’s national championship.

”We kind of passed back and forth a couple of times, and then coming into this — down Rollercoaster — I just edged her out and managed to just stay ahead of here. It just really came down to that last hill and just squeaking by her, it was such a great race, she is so fast,” Pruszenski said, who won the 2018 Winter Triathlon National Championship before taking a break until this year.

”It’s fun, I grew up on these trails so it is fun to come back and just race against all of these great ladies and just being out there and hearing everyone say, ‘Good job! good job!’ on the way, it is just so fun.”

With Kincaid hosting this event for a third consecutive year, it is likely the venue will see this race again in the future.

”Anchorage in general is just a great winter activity town. Kincaid Park is one of the best venues I have ever seen for something like this, we have facilities for multi-use trails to use for the run and bike courses, we’ve got world class ski trails for the ski course — it is so hard to beat what we have out here,” race director Jason Lamoreaux said. “... I think this is just a quintessential Alaskan sport, I mean, snow biking pretty much originated up here ... nordic skiing is obviously a big Alaskan sport, we have had so many World Cup and Olympic skiers come out of here ... so just mixing these sports into one event is definitely a perfect Alaskan event.’

Full results from the Tri-Flake Winter Triathlon can be found on the event website. Those who qualified will be competing at the 2023 World Triathlon Winter Championships in Skeikampen, Norway March 23-26.