France's Dorian Coninx proved a surprise winner of the second round of the World Triathlon Series in Bermuda ahead of returning Spaniard Javier Gomez, who laid down an ominous marker for his Olympic rivals.
Coninx, a former junior and under-23 world champion, produced a gutsy performance to claw his way back in the second half of the run before pulling away from veteran Gomez and Norwegian Gustav Iden to take the tape in 1:50:36.
It was a race full of surprises, with Britain’s Jonny Brownlee short of his best form on the run to finish 11th and world champion Mario Mola cut adrift during the swim to tail in 26th.
“It’s just crazy,” Coninx said. “The run was really hard, but I think I paced it well. I’ve never had the perfect race before this one, but I guess the planets aligned today.”
While Coninx was recording his first World Series victory, 35-year-old Gomez secured a remarkable 38th podium in 57 starts. The five-time ITU world champion, who last raced in the World Series in the Grand Final in Rotterdam in 2017, has returned to short course racing eyeing a fourth attempt at Olympic glory next year.
“It was very tough race and none of us had much left at the end,” Gomez said. “I closed my eyes and went as hard as I could. I was pretty happy with my race. I knew I was fit but after being out for a year, but you don’t know how much the others have moved on.
“My goal is to qualify for Tokyo. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and want to give it a shot and see how it goes.”
Coninx’s compatriot Vincent Luis finished fourth having produced his most impressive World Series swim to date to lead out of the water in 17:54, 10 seconds clear of Brownlee with renowned Slovakian swimmer Richard Varga and Gomez even further back.
Luis, who has won the past two World Series Grand Finals and the inaugural Super League title in February, led a group of 19 on to the bike, and with Brownlee driving them up the first of 10 climbs of the testing Corkscrew Hill they quickly opened a 45sec lead over the chasers.
By halfway the lead pack had been whittled down to 16, but with Brownlee bereft of allies to push the pace, the advantage over the second group was also halved. Norwegian trio Kristian Blummenfelt, Casper Stornes and Iden - looking to provide another spectacle after sweeping the podium 2018 – were all prominent among the chase group.
None of this was helping three-time and reigning world champion Mola, who was languishing almost 2mins down. The Spaniard finished fourth in Bermuda in 2018, the only time all season he failed to make the top two, and it would be another unsatisfactory day for the favourite as the gap extended to almost 3mins by the time he completed the ride.
At the sharp end, the race came back together, before a three-man break in the final 10km of the bike involving Jorik van Egdom, Coninx and German Jonas Schomburg, led to the latter breaking away and reaching T2 with a 35sec lead.
The 25-year-old had finished 18th in Abu Dhabi in the opening race and 10th in the European Championship in Glasgow last year, but had never threatened a World Series podium before and the lead lasted barely one lap of the four-lap 10km course before a six-man pack of Blummenfelt, Gomez, Iden, Luis, Portugal’s Joao Periera and Commonwealth champion Henri Schoeman gained the ascendancy.
With Periera and Schoeman unable to stick the pace, Coninx then fought his way back to the front group in an increasingly unpredictable contest. Gomez seized the initiative with 3km remaining and Blummenfelt was next to drop off, followed by Luis, as the lead changed hands several times approaching the final throes.
Coninx's kick up the last climb proved decisive and he held the gap to claim the $18,000 first prize, with Gomez pipping Iden in a sprint on the blue carpet for second, meaning the Norwegian repeated his third-place finish of last year.
Luis moved to the top of the overall standings ahead of Spain’s Fernando Alarza and France’s Leo Bergere, but with six races remaining there is all to play for as they head to Yokohama in Japan in three weeks.