Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle held off the strongest men’s field in recent history today to take his first World Triathlon Series win in his long career. While proving a difficult day for local heroes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, the Leeds course delivered up further podium places for the USA’s Matthew McElroy with silver and multiple world champ Javier Gomez with bronze.
While the Yorkshire weather was on the chilly side for the fourth round of the World Triathlon Series, the men’s Leeds’ event was always set to be a scorcher. For the first time since the Edmonton Worlds in 2014, the super seven – Alistair Brownlee, Jonny Brownlee, Vincent Luis, Henri Schoeman, Richard Murray, Javier Gomez and Mario Mola – were on the same start line. Gomez and Alistair, while having met on the 70.3 circuit in recent years, hadn’t raced an ITU event together since Leeds 2016.
Commonwealth champ Schoeman made light work of the 1.5km swim to hit T1 first. But he was far from alone, with series leader Luis, both Brownlees and Gomez in his wake within a huge group of 20-plus athletes.
GB’s Alex Yee, who has a second and fifth so far in 2019, was over 1min down out of the swim, leaving him trailing in the chase pack, alongside Murray and a sub-par reigning champ Mola. Tom Bishop, meanwhile, the fourth GB member, had had a solid swim to make the lead pack.
On lap two, Jonny and 2019 Bermuda WTS winner David Coninx made a break, which lasted for about a lap before they were swallowed back into the lead group. The chase group, while large, was doing a great job of maintaining a 1min gap to the leaders.
With two laps to go, it was Alistair Brownlee’s turn to go off the front, taking Ireland’s Russell White with him to pull out a 10 sec gap with two laps to go, but again they were swallowed up before the end of the 40km bike.
And so it came down to a 10km run. Germany’s Jonas Schomberg sprinted clear to create a gap to the large chase group led by Henri Schoeman. But Alistair, who had raced just one week ago to win the European Champs, could be seen struggling to hold on, slowly dropping down the pack.
With three laps to go, a group of 15, which held Schoeman, Jonny, Bishop, Luis and Gomez, were still playing catch up to Schomberg who was 10secs down the road. But metre by metre, the experience of the chase group came to the fore, as Gomez stepped up to the front and swallowed up the German.
Halfway through the four-lap 10k, and it was Schoeman who led the group through transition for the start of lap three. The commonwealth champ, who finished second in Yokohama in May, proceeded to pull out a 3sec gap over Aussie Jacob Birtwhistle and Gomez.
But he soon too had to relinquish the lead, as Birtwhistle, who while on many a relay-winning team had never won a WTS race in his long career, shot to the front to take the Leeds win in 1:45:45 ahead of the USA’s Matthew McElroy in second, Gomez in third and Schoeman in fourth. Luis took sixth, Bishop 13thand Yee in 15th.
Jonny eventually crossed the line in 35th, complaining of stomach pains, while brother Alistair finished in 44th, stumped by his lack of form.
“When you say you can learn something from bad results it’s just an excuse for bad results!” said Alistair at the line. “But I’ve been feeling really confident about everything these last two weeks but I don’t feel very confident about anything right now.”
Alistair’s next outing will be in Cork at the full Ironman in two weeks’ time.