Jonathan Brownlee requires smart tactics and a large helping of luck if he is to wrestle the world triathlon title back from reigning champion Javier Gomez in Canada on Sunday.
The Leeds triathlete and Commonwealth silver medal winner is currently ranked second in the world, but the points discrepancy in the eight-race series means Gomez only needs to finish fourth to retain his crown. Before last weekend, anything other than a fourth world title for Gomez seemed highly unlikely, yet with Brownlee, 24, winning the sprint-distance event in Stockholm and the Spaniard dropping out through sickness on the run, the landscape has shifted, albeit only slightly.
Triathlon can be unpredictable, though, and after completing a final hard track session on Wednesday, Brownlee, running into his best form of the season, feels little pressure ahead of the 12pm showdown (7pm BST).
“I think it was a very fast north American track – I’ve always said the tracks are fast over here – but I am a lot fitter than I was at the Commonwealths,” he said. “I’ve recovered okay from Stockholm, but while that race gave me a bit of hope, it’s still completely in Gomez’s hands.”
Such is his bond with older brother Alistair, 26, that when Jonathan discusses the challenge ahead, he automatically talks of them as a collective.
“We’re used to starting as favourites, but this time we haven’t got anything to lose. I’ll go for the win, won’t look behind and see what happens.
“Racing has been good in [the World Series race in] Hamburg, the Commonwealths, a French Grand Prix and then Stockholm, so hopefully this will be a good end to the year. Alistair will want me to win if possible and if it goes perfectly and we get a group of five or six of us away without Javier then I’m sure he will pull more than his fair share of turns at the front. If we can’t do anything, he’ll want to win and it will be his own mini world championships.”
The Edmonton course could lend itself to a breakaway, not just on the six-lap bike section which features a stiff climb, but also during the two-lap swim, where each 750m loop follows the circumference of a small island on the Hawrelak Park lake.
“Normally, we swim out for 300m and then turn back, making it really hard to drop people,” Jonathan continues. “But on this course the weaker swimmers should be a way behind and with Richard Varga here we will be trying to push it.
“Hopefully they’ll be a break out of the swim, the first bit of a bike will have a massive tailwind to make it hard for others to catch up and then we’ll hit the hill hard. If a break is going to go, it’s going to be in the first two or three laps.”
Question marks over Gomez’s health and fitness arose after he dropped out of the Stockholm contest on the run. However, with four wins and a fourth place from Hamburg already secured, he could only improve his overall tally by a handful of points once the Brownlees had broken clear. Any lingering fatigue from the illness remains to be seen, but the 2008, 2010 and 2013 champion is confident he’s back to full form.
“I’m feeling much better,” he said. “I got sick the day before the race from something I ate and the day after the race I was still a bit sick.”
Gomez busy schedule means he also heads east to Mont-Tremblant in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec for the Ironman 70.3 world championships on September 7, but insists his focus is fully on Sunday’s race.
“That [Ironman 70.3 World Championships] is just a bonus for me,” he said. “This is the big race, the most important one. I train a lot more for Olympic-distance racing.”
Gomez currently sits on 3,833 points, 282 clear of Jonathan Brownlee with Spain’s Mario Mola a further 60 points adrift. With 1,200 points available for the win, Portugal’s Joao Periera and South Africa’s Richard Murray could both technically win the world title too, but it would require the main contenders all dropping out. Gomez is not looking too closely at the various permutations.
“If I come fourth, no matter what the others do, I will be the world champion,” he said. “But I don’t race to finish fourth, I always want to be aggressive and have the mentality to win. If you go out there to finish fourth, you’ll probably end up sixth or seventh.
“I had a good training session yesterday and was feeling fast again on the run, so hopefully I will be fit for the weekend.”
Aaron Harris, Adam Bowden, Matt Sharp and David McNamee make up the British contingent on the men’s side, with Harris (13th) and Bowden (18th) both within sight of a top-10 series finish with solid results.
Catch all the action from the men’s Grand Final race this Sunday, live on the BBC Red Button from 7pm (UK time).