Pablo Dapena Gonzalez
So many of triathlon's most iconic moments have been duels - and Pablo Dapena Gonzalez was involved in one for the ages against Lionel Sanders at Challenge Daytona in 2019.
The Spaniard, who comes from the same town as Javier Gomez and also trains with him, burst onto the scene in 2018 when he won the ITU Long Distance World Championship and a stack of prestigious middle-distance events.
Those victories included Challenge Gran Canaria, Challenge Lisboa and Challenge Mallorca - which helped him tie for first in the Challenge Family World Bonus Pool.
It was clear he was one of the most exciting up-and-coming talents around when Gran Canaria saw him see off then reigning IRONMAN World Championship winner Patrick Lange.
A super-smooth runner, Dapena Gonzalez actually started as a swimmer before transitioning to triathlon in 2010.
Asked how the move came about, he admits: "It was a bit boring spending all day training in the pool!"
Making his mark
Like many longer distance triathletes, he began at ITU shorter distances and won several national titles en route to moving onto the world stage at half distance.
Going into Challenge Gran Canaria in April 2018, it's fair to say Pablo - or Pablito as he's also known - wasn't on the list of main favourites.
He had finished second (to Adam Bowden) at Challenge Roma the week before and was the reigning Spanish Long Distance Champion.
But he was up against a stacked field, not just two-time Kona champion Lange, who was making his seasonal debut. Also there was the reigning Challenge Roth hero Bart Aernouts plus Pieter Heemeryck, Patrik Nilsson, Andi Böcherer and Sven Riederer.
It was Böcherer who opened up a two-minute advantage by the start of the half-marathon, but both Lange and Dapena Gonzalez soon started to close on him.
And thanks to a 1:09:24 split it was Pablo who came out on top by 22 seconds to Böcherer, with Lange rounding out the podium.
He repeated the feat a month later at Challenge Lisboa, but the year was to get even better as he added a world title to the CV. That was at the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Fyn, Denmark.
It was tightly packed at the head of the race after the swim, with Pablo right in the mix.
And it couldn't have been much closer after the bike. Switzerland's Ruedi Wild held a 30 seconds advantage, but heading out of T2 there were just metres between the next five - Dapena Gonzalez, Marko Albert, Giulio Molinari, Kevin Maurel and Mathias Lyngsø Petersen, with the sextet surely having the medals between them.
And there was no doubt about the strongest on the 30km run as Dapena Gonzalez caught Wild within the first 5km, and then powered away thanks to a race-fastest split of 1:47:39.
"To take the win was unbelievable," he says. "I'd felt strong coming into the race, but I didn't expect to be a world champion!"
An already-memorable year was rounded off in style when he landed another middle-distance Challenge, this time in Mallorca. That also helped him to a share of the spoils at the top of the Challenge Family Bonus Rankings alongside Sebastian Kienle, each taking home $25,000.
"To be tied with someone of Sebi's calibre is a true honour," said a delighted Pablo.
The winning run continued in 2019 but that year was defined by two races in particular - the defence of his title at the ITU Long Distance World Championships in his home town of Pontevedra - and that epic duel after the sun set at Daytona.
It was always going to be a special race for Pablo in Pontevedra, trying to retain his crown in front of home crowds and with fellow local Gomez - a role model of his as well as training partner - also battling for the win.
So it was fitting that the two of them closed out the top two spots in emphatic style, though there was little between them early on. A shortened swim meant 15 men were within 90 seconds of each other, Gomez leading the way and Dapena Gonzalez just a handful of seconds behind at T1.
It was still close at T2, but as the gaps increased the Pontevedra pair had the top two spots locked down and while he couldn't quite defend his title, Pablo had plenty to smile about: "I stopped before the finish to walk and enjoy it - the crowd was incredible. I'll never forget this moment."
It all meant he was in prime form going into Daytona, having added a victory at Challenge Cape Town to his palmarès - and this time there was virtually nothing to split the pair at the pointy end of the race.
Sanders was the man he'd replaced as ITU Long Distance World Champion the previous year, and they served up a race to remember on the famed racetrack.
With the swim and bike done, they settled down for the 13km run and surged into the lead after 5km.
It was shoulder to shoulder from then on to the finish as they pushed each other to the limit, Sanders finally asserting in the closing stages.
"I had a fantastic battle and it's a shame I had to settle for second in the final metres, but I am proud of my performance," reflected Pablo afterwards. "It's not every day you can say you held the same bike pace as (Andrew) Starykowicz for a lap or you can fight for the victory with Lionel Sanders. It is a race I will never forget."
It all bodes well for a bright future, and hopefully many more thrilling battles to come.