Alex Yee was back on the top of the World Triathlon Championship Series podium after a thrilling victory over New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde in Montreal.
It marked a turnaround in fortunes from Leeds WTCS a fortnight ago, where Yee was brought down in a bike crash that Wilde – who went on to win the race – later took responsibility for.
It was also a repeat of May’s WTCS race in Yokohama, where the two rivals were locked stride-for-stride over the closing kilometre. France’s Leo Bergere finished third, narrowly ahead of Belgium’s Jelle Geens and retained his position at the top of the WTCS rankings.
Having qualified comfortably the day before, Yee didn’t have it all his own way in the three-stage eliminator and he was left playing catch-up in both of the first two stages before making it through on the run.
“That one meant a lot,” he said. “After the crash you can lose a bit of belief, and the last two weeks have been tough to get back on the bike. But I came into this race more fired up than I ever have. That probably played against me in the first races, and then for the last race I stripped it back and said I’m going to have fun and do my best.
“I just found my flow at the end. On the last run I was in the race the whole time and in the last 100m the crowd willed me on, and I just felt amazing.”
Wilde dropped his chain at the end of the first bike lap on the final stage. It looked as if it could have ended his chances, but the Kiwi managed to chase back up.
“I was super gutted. Coming into the third round I felt extremely good,” he said. “I had to bridge the gap again. I thought shall I get off the bike or give it a whirl. I nearly caught my finger in the wheel, but got it back on and had to go for it.
“I was about 12sec back but kudos to the boys, they didn’t up the pace. They were still pushing hard but they weren’t attacking to get away from me. I knew I didn’t have a kick, so went to the front to absolutely hook it and I’m happy with second.”
The three-stage super sprint elimination format was retained from last year in Montreal over a 300m swim, 7.2km bike, and 2km run with the field being reduced to 20 triathletes for stage two and just 10 for stage three.
Friday’s qualifying heats were also adapted to a 1km run, 7.2km bike, 2km run duathlon after stormy weather in Montreal led to the water being deemed unsafe to swim.
The first 10 from each of two heats automatically made it through with two repechages adding another 10 triathletes to three-stage final.
There were few surprises, with Yee safely through in heat one, and Wilde and 2020 world champion Vincent Luis following in the next.
Luis was part of an all-French podium last year along with defending Montreal champ Dorian Coninx and Bergere and all three made it through. Sam Dickinson failed to qualify though. Having finished 24th in Yee’s heat, the Leeds-based athlete didn’t start in the repechage.
The only big name who struggled was Belgium’s Olympic fourth-placed finisher Marten van Riel. But he successfully negotiated the repechage having finished 21st in the heat. He would eventually finish 10th overall.
Unlike the women’s race, there were plenty of big name casualties in the first stage of the final. Spain’s Antonio Serrat Seoane, ranked No 2 heading into the event, came down heading into the second cycle lap and his bike was too damaged to continue.
Last year’s victor Coninx pulled up on the run. Australia’s Jake Birtwhistle missed out by one place after having to serve a penalty, and home hope Tyler Mislawchuk missed out in 25th. Yee also had a scare after a sloppy transition and it took until the second lap of the run to fight his way back into a qualification spot.
Yee again struggled on the second stage, having to battle back to close the gap on the bike to the front pack before looking more comfortable on the run. He joined three French athletes and two Belgians in the final 10, alongside Wilde.
Richard Murray, who has switched allegiance from South Africa to Netherlands, and finished seventh in Leeds a fortnight earlier failed to make the cut.
On the final stage, Luis, Bergere and Pierre Le Corre made it a French one-two-three out of the water. Yee had a better swim, and in the long run to transition Wilde and Geens were able to make up ground that led to a group of nine on the bike, with only Portugal’s Joao Silva cut adrift.
Coming into the end of the first lap, Wilde’s mechanical issue meant he lost the pack and spent most of the leg chasing to get back to the group. From there he stormed into the lead on the run, but Yee kept him within range and as they approached the finish straight, the Londoner struck for home.