It was a bittersweet season finale for Alistair Brownlee, who tried his utmost to drag brother Jonny to the world title, but eventually had to settle for the consolation of winning the World Series Grand Final himself.
The vagaries of the eight-race series meant the Olympic, Commonwealth and European champion, plagued by injury at the start of the year, had not raced sufficiently to have a shot of claiming top honours in the season-ending spectacle in Edmonton.
Yet as long as series leader and reigning champion Javier Gomez finished outside the top four, there was a chance that Jonny could regain the title for the Yorkshire family.
In the event it was not to be. An off-colour Jonny, who admitted to suffering from a stomach bug since racing in Stockholm last weekend, could not follow any of his brother’s attempted breaks on the bike and Gomez was able to track the 24-year-old through the entire 1.5km swim, 43.2km bike and 10km run, before out-kicking him to the tape.
By then Alistair was already taking advantage of the shade offered by the winners’ enclosure, the gap he achieved with a powerhouse display in the latter part of the bike with Norway’s barrel-chested Kristian Blummenfelt and Brazil’s Reinaldo Colucci had given him an unassailable 88-second lead coming into the second transition.
With Blummenfelt and Colucci predictably run down, Mola, Gomez and Jonny lay chase, the fallout of which compounded the agony for Brownlee Junior as Mola’s sprint for second, ahead of his countryman, rewarded the Spanish with a one-two in the Series. Jonny would have to settle for fourth in Canada and third in the standings.
“It was really tough,” he admitted. “We went for the win in the series, and that involved trying to attack Javier as many times as I could with Alistair’s help. I’ve been pretty sick since Stockholm – I think the water was dodgy there – haven’t really recovered and haven’t been able to eat properly all week.
“Today was the first time I’ve woken up and actually felt alright, but in the race I just felt weak and I knew at 7.5km on the run I was in a bit of trouble, I fell apart and it came to survival then.”
Gomez’s fourth world title, following up his success in 2008, 2010 and 2013, brings him level with Britain’s Simon Lessing for Olympic-distance ITU crowns and few would begrudge the most consistent performer from the series after he won the first four races of 2014 in Auckland, Cape Town, Yokohama, and Chicago.
Gomez collected $96,000 for his endeavours, including $80,000 from the bonus pool as the world champion, with Alistair pocketing $30,000 for the race win and an additional $25,000 for finishing fourth.
It was certainly a pay day Alistair would have settled for after slipping horribly off the starting pontoon, losing both his goggles and swim cap in the water, before recovering to find the feet of the leaders. By the time Slovakia’s Richard Varga typically emerged first in 17:06mins, the Yorkshireman was just four seconds back in third.
A six-man breakaway headed out, but notably Jonny Brownlee wasn’t in attendance, an uncharacteristic swim left him in 11th, just 3secs in front of Gomez, which was as far as the two could be separated all afternoon.
The pattern was set, and while the pack swelled to 21 and concertinaed thanks to the promptings of Dutch newcomer Blummenfelt and Alistair, it wasn’t long before the bulk of the field came back together.
With 10km to go a break finally stuck, and the front three opened up a 59-second lead in the space of one short 5.33km lap. It proved decisive and Alistair had afforded himself the luxury of running a 30:57 10km split with time to grab the White Rose and Union flags and lap up the applause from the packed Edmonton grandstands.
“The plan was to try and distance Jonny from Javier if possible,” explained Alistair. “That didn’t work out on the first couple of laps so I just had a really good go at it myself. I got the little breakaway and got very lucky.
“Since the Europeans in June, I’ve been first or second in every race. It would have been great to have been in the running for the World Series but I wasn’t and I made the most of it otherwise.”
Elite men’s results:
1. Alistair Brownlee, GBR, 1:48:44
2. Mario Mola, ESP, 1:49:04
3. Javier Gomez, ESP, 1:49:07
4. Jonathan Brownlee, GBR, 1:49:22
12. Adam Bowden, GBR, 1:50:32
14. David McNamee, GBR, 1:50:35
31. Aaron Harris, GBR, 1:51:34
50. Matt Sharp, GBR, 1:54:37
ITU World Triathlon Series Rankings:
1. Javier Gomez, ESP, 4860 – 2014 World Champion
2. Mario Mola, ESP, 4601
3. Jonathan Brownlee, GBR, 4501
4. Alistair Brownlee, GBR, 4006
15. Adam Bowden, GBR, 1825
17. Aaron Harris, GBR, 1700
Image: Delly Carr/triathlon.org