While most of the triathlon world had its eye on events in Hawaii, a British contingent delivered incredible results in Sardinia.
Both Alex Yee and Georgia Taylor-Brown showed their pedigree by taking the win at WTCS Cagliari, while Jonny Brownlee showed he’s still one of the best around over the Olympic distance with a second-place finish.
The action unfolded in hot conditions, with several key names missing. Hayden Wilde (NZL) may be leading the championship series, but he chose not to race here, and will instead rely on other results this season as we head toward the finals.
Frenchman Leo Bergere, who currently sits second in the series, was racing though, as was Brownlee and Australia’s Matt Hauser, who’s recently delivered a series of notable performances in Super League Triathlon.
Flora Duffy (BER) was absent in the women’s race, instead focusing on the build up to the 70.3 Worlds and the WTCS set to take place in her home country.
Otherwise, there was a strong field which included the likes of Taylor Spivey (USA), Cassandre Beaugrand (FRA), Sophie Coldwell (GBR), Beth Potter (GBR) and Taylor Knibb (USA), who’d taken silver at the PTO US Open just a few weeks earlier.
What happened in the men’s race?
On his return to the scene of his horrific bike accident five years ago, Yee put in a fantastic performance to take the tape at WTCS Cagliari.
However, it didn’t get off to the best start, with wind and a current making for challenging swim conditions.
Hauser, Dorian Coninx (FRA) and Mark Devay (HUN) dealt with conditions the best, emerging from the water some 32secs ahead of Alex Yee. Three-time world champion Mario Mola (ESP), making only his second series start in two years, also found the swim tough, reaching dry land roughly a minute after the leaders.
Out of T1 Hauser and Devay attempted to break away, but behind them was a large pack containing Brownlee, Coninx, Bergere and others. Further back, Yee was riding with Bence Bicsak (HUN) and Antonio Serrat (ESP), taking it in turns at the front to bridge the gap back to the main chase pack. Within six laps they’d done exactly that.
Soon enough the group has enveloped Hauser and Devay, but with three laps of the 10 to go Japan’s Jumpei Furuya attempted to make a break for it. Brownlee went with him and by the time they came into T2 they had 30secs on the best of the rest.
Yee quickly gave chase and reeled in his countryman halfway through the 10km run. A bout of leg cramp added a bit of jeopardy in the late stages, but Yee managed to grit it out, crossing the finish line (1:40:19) in tears to be greeted by an emotional family.
Brownlee took silver just seven seconds later, while Brazil’s Manoel Messias won the battle for bronze to take his country’s first-ever series medal. He was followed by Lasse Luhrs (GER) for fourth and Castro Fajardo (ESP) for fifth.
Speaking after the win, Yee said: “I had bad cramps, I was in so much pain. I just had to hang onto whatever I could. I was just thinking about this place and how much it means to me.
“We had to work so hard on the bike to get to the front, for me that was full gas and it’s really hot today. Maybe I need to go back and learn something today. I am over the moon and to do it here is just a fairytale, thanks to the people of Cagliari.”
Meanwhile, Brownlee said: “I think what I was most proud of today was that I committed to a race, got stuck in and dictated the race rather than just being a passenger.
“I can’t remember the last time I was on a WTCS podium, in Edmonton 2019. It’s nice to be back and nice to know I am not past it just yet.”
Wilde continues to lead the series, while Yee currently sits in fourth having raced only three events so far in the series (compared to Wilde’s four). Bergere and Belgium’s Jelle Geens sit in second and third. All eyes now turn to the final race before the Grand Final: Bermuda.
What happened in the women’s race?
The women’s race took place with slightly calmer conditions than the men’s, with limited wind and 22°C water, though the swim was still choppy.
Beaugrand attempted to break away from the start but the likes of Coldwell, Spivey and Taylor-Brown weren’t having any of it. By the end of the swim there was a large group emerging from the water at the same time, though one notable absentee was Knibb, who came into T1 roughly a minute behind.
Such is her skill on the bike, however, that that deficit quickly disappeared. As soon as Knibb caught the group she powered straight to the front and started to push the pace.
A bike crash for Claire Michel (BEL) saw that group break up with some athletes, including speedy runners Potter and Beaugrand, getting caught up. From then on, the gap between the 11 leaders and the chase pack continued to grow every lap.
Taylor-Brown, Emma Lombardi (FRA) and Knibb were first out of T2 and pushed hard from the off to build a gap to those behind.
After her efforts on the bike, Knibb was the first to drop off, as the American struggled to keep up with Taylor-Brown’s tempo as the trio approached the 8km mark. Lombardi was able to stay in touch for another kilometre, at which point Taylor-Brown upped the pace once more. The Brit soon took the tape in a time of 1:47:42.
She was followed by Lombardi for second and Knibb for third, and then a large chase pack. Spivey took fourth and Miriam Casillas (ESP) fifth.
Coldwell managed to pip Beaugrand to seventh, while fellow Brits Potter and Kate Waugh, who were both part of that large chase group, crossed the line in 10th and 12th, respectively.
Talking after the race Taylor-Brown, who’s podiumed in every race she’s started this year, said: “The swim was long, the bike was long, the run was very long. It was a bit of a shock to the system for most of us, to be honest. I just tried to run my own race in the end.”
Taylor-Brown continues to lead Duffy in the series, with all eyes now on the Grand Final in Abu Dhabi.
Top image credit: Ben Lumley/World Triathlon