When Lucy Charles-Barclay announced her hip fracture and subsequent withdrawal from the Pho3nix Sub7 and Sub8 Project, Powered by Zwift, not a few people started wondering what would happen if another athlete pulls out, especially since her head-to-head competitor Nicola Spirig had been in a cycling accident and was healing from a broken collarbone and punctured lung.
Unfortunately we have come to that situation now: Alistair Brownlee is out of attempting Sub7.
Just as Lucy found an understudy in Kat Matthews, Alistair will be seconded by fellow Brit Joe Skipper. Given the short timetable for a turnaround, it speaks to Joe's caliber and confidence that he's so quickly stepped up to the plate. Luckily he's deep in a training block after skipping the Ironman World Championship in St. George due to coming down with COVID-19 the month prior.
Both Lucy and Alistair were knocked out by hip pathologies. Lucy's injury was a stress fracture and edema. The press release from Pho3nix calls Alistair's injury a "stress response in his hip"; a stress response is an early form of a bone stress injury and may lead to a stress fracture if no interventions are taken.
Training to race at the pointy end means that you are always dancing with the spectre of injury and illness. Despite the best coaching and experts available, each human body is a unique mystery: the workload one body can handle with aplomb, another may buckle and break under.
We wish Alistair a speedy recovery and rehab, and luck to Joe as he takes on Kristian Blummenfelt. History will be made regardless.
Full press release below:
Dual Olympic champion and Sub7 aspirant Alistair Brownlee has been ruled out of the Pho3nix Sub7Sub8 Project, powered by Zwift due to a stress response in his hip that requires immediate treatment. Brownlee will be replaced by fellow Brit and PTO world number six Joe Skipper who takes his shot at making history against reigning Olympic and World Champion Kristian Blummenfelt on Sunday at the DEKRA Lausitzring in Senftenberg, Germany.
It is a cruel blow for Brownlee, who along with MANA Group CEO and Pho3nix Foundation board member Chris McCormack was part of the initial team that developed the concept of delivering the first sub-7 hour full distance triathlon in late 2019.
"We are extremely disappointed with the announcement, but when you are pushing your body to the limit like Alistair has been, it’s a fine line," said McCormack. "Alistair is a true professional and will be there to support Joe, who has been preparing for Ironman Nice at the end of June, so in good shape to take on the challenge."
"It’s not going to get easier with Joe," said Blummenfelt. "He has a better full distance resume and a higher world ranking than Alistair. I’m looking forward to the challenge."
"Honestly, I’m devastated," said Brownlee. "I was frustrated to miss St. George, and now this. I’m gutted. I was so invested in the process and loved working with my team. This was the goal that stimulated me again in the sport, on par with the Olympics. I’ll do what I can to support Joe.”
Brownlee, who also missed the recent Ironman World Championships in Utah, will support Skipper by pacing him in the swim, and will also join the commentary team for the live broadcast on Sub7Sub8.com. Brownlee replaces Richard Varga on Skipper’s team, with Jonny Brownlee also dropping out to be replaced by German national marathon champion Frank Schauer. Skipper retains the support of the bike pacemaking team led by Alex Dowsett, who is fresh off riding in the Giro d’Italia.