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Leo Bergere pips Alex Yee to win shock world title

Leo Bergere pips Alex Yee to win shock world title

The French star took the tape in Abu Dhabi as pre-race favourites Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde finish fourth and sixth to miss out on the overall World Triathlon Championship Series crown by the narrowest of margins

Leo Bergere wins his first WTCS race in Abu Dhabi, and also wins the 2022 world title
Leo Bergere wins his first WTCS race in Abu Dhabi, and also wins the 2022 world title. (Credit: Wagner Araujo (@wags.photo))

France’s Leo Bergere pulled off a seismic shock to win the World Series grand finale in Abu Dhabi and pip Britain’s Alex Yee to the world title.

With Bergere taking the tape and series leader Hayden Wilde finishing sixth, Yee needed to place third to take top spot – but was outsprinted for the final podium place by Belgium’s Jelle Geens.

The race had been billed as a straight shootout between Yee and Wilde, but when Bergere took off solo after a nine-man breakaway on the bike, it became a question of whether Yee or Wilde could claw back enough places over the 10km run.

For most of the four laps it looked like either one or the other might manage it, but with USA’s Morgan Pearson charging through with the fastest run of the day to pick up the runners-up spot, both were found wanting by just a single place.

Amid the confusion, European champion Bergere, whose win was his first ever WTCS victory, wasn’t even sure if he’d landed the world title.

“Is it right? That’s insane,” the 26-year-old Frenchman said. “I don’t know what to say. I didn’t want to do the maths before the race, I just wanted to race all out and try for the breakaway with Vince [Luis] and Pierre [Le Corre]. We went for it as a team and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was focused on what I was doing because I didn’t want to think about anything else other than my effort. I told myself I will think about the overall ranking after the race. I was chasing this win for a long time and knew I was capable of doing it. I just needed all the stars to align.”

Yee had lined up in Abu Dhabi ranked second behind Wilde after wins in Yokohama, Montreal and Cagliari, but a fifth-place in Bermuda at the start of the month ultimately left him needing more than he was capable of on the day in Abu Dhabi.

“I’m glad we could put on an entertaining show and I gave everything out there,” he said. “I was suffering badly with cramp on the second lap on the run and I didn’t quite have it at the end. But it’s been an amazing year and I’m proud of what I achieved – and second in the world isn’t bad.”

Yee’s fourth-placed finish meant he ended the World Series as runner-up behind Bergere, with Wilde in third place, Geens in fourth and Vincent Luis in fifth.

What happened in the swim?

It was almost 29 degrees in the water as Mark Devay forged his way into an early lead over the two-lap 1,500m swim in Yas Marina bay.

The Hungarian was followed by the returning Henri Schoeman and Bermuda WTCS winner Luis as they completed the Australian exit after 750m.

Devay held the lead until T1 with Japan’s Takumi Hojo also among the fastest swimmers.

Jonny Brownlee was handily placed in 14th, but Yee was back in 40th and 41sec adrift with a lot of bodies between him and the leaders. Olympic champion Kristian Blummenfelt was also stung with a 15sec penalty for a swim infringement.

What happened on the bike?

Spain’s David Castro Fajardo stormed through transition to be first to mount his bike as a frantic start to the 40km cycle leg ensued with triathletes desperate to make the front pack for the first of the nine laps.

In the kerfuffle, Pierre Le Corre picked up a 15sec penalty for a mount line infringement as the 2018 European champion from Glasgow was one of a trio of French triathletes who made the break.

The chance to play a key supporting role for Bergere gave plenty of incentive for Luis and Le Corre to drive the pace at the front, as the lead group was whittled down to nine, including Brownlee, and US youngsters Seth Rider and Chase McQueen.

Behind them, Yee had managed to latch on to a large chase pack that included Wilde, Blummenfelt, Ironman world champion Gustav Iden and Britain’s Sam Dickinson, but they couldn’t stop the gap growing to 50sec to the leaders.

The situation for the chasers wasn’t helped when two at the front, including Britain’s Jack Willis, went down on a tight corner that had also seen several spills in the women’s race.

But while the gap went out to over 1min at its peak, the final two laps on the bike saw a concerted effort from the chasers to bring it down to 36sec coming into T2 with everything to play for.

What happened on the run?

Brownlee was first to lead out on the four-lap run, tracked by Bergere and New Zealand’s Under-23 world champion from 2018 Tayler Reid, but Bergere soon forced his way to the front.

After the end of the first 2.5km, Yee had pushed up to 10th place but needed to make more inroads. Wilde was in a similar position a few seconds further back.

Pearson – who has spent much of the year out with injury – was running faster than anyone on the course and Yee was still cutting the gap to the front, slicing a few more seconds and climbing four more places as he passed through halfway.

As it entered the last lap, Bergere was still out in front, but with Yee and Wilde moving through the field, the title was still on a knife edge between the trio.

Wilde was first to fade, as Australia’s Matt Hauser came past him and the Kiwi dropped to sixth. Bergere had enough of a buffer over Pearson to claim the win, but then it was Yee’s turn to suffer as Geens turned on the boosters over the final yards to pull away – meaning the Brit also missed out on the title by an agonising margin.

Both Yee and Wilde had won three World Series races during the extended series that went back 14 months to Hamburg in the summer of 2021, but it was Bergere who struck when it mattered and his win here, combined with three podiums – including a runners-up spot in Leeds in June – proved the consistency needed to win a s surprise world crown.

Top 10 men’s results at WTCF Abu Dhabi 2022

  1. Léo Bergere, FRA, 1:44:14
  2. Morgan Pearson, USA, 1:44:25
  3. Jelle Geens, BEL, 1:44:34
  4. Alex Yee, GBR, 1:44:37
  5. Matthew Hauser, AUS, 1:44:51
  6. Hayden Wilde, NZL, 1:45:13
  7. Vincent Luis, FRA, 1:45:19
  8. Kristian Blummenfelt, NOR, 1:45:19
  9. Joao Silva, POR, 1:45:23
  10. Matthew Mcelroy, USA, 1:45:26

GB men’s results at WTCF Abu Dhabi 2022

26. Jonny Brownlee

29. Sam Dickinson

32. Jack Willis

2022 World Triathlon Championship Series final men’s standings

  1. Léo Bergere 4,742
  2. Alex Yee 4,721
  3. Hayden Wilde 4,696
  4. Jelle Geens 4, 385
  5. Vincent Luis 3,881

Top image credit: Wagner Araujo (@wags.photo)

Profile image of Tim Heming Tim Heming Freelance triathlon journalist

About

Experienced sportswriter and journalist, Tim is a specialist in endurance sport and has been filing features for 220 for a decade. Since 2014 he has also written a monthly column tackling the divisive issues in swim, bike and run from doping to governance, Olympic selection to pro prize money and more. Over this time he has interviewed hundreds of paratriathletes and triathletes from those starting out in the sport with inspiring tales to share to multiple Olympic gold medal winners explaining how they achieved their success. As well as contributing to 220, Tim has written on triathlon for publications throughout the world, including The Times, The Telegraph and the tabloid press in the UK.