Vincent Luis defended his triathlon world title with a commanding performance in Hamburg.
The 31-year-old topped the podium ahead of runner-up Vasco Vilaca of Portugal and fellow Frenchman Leo Bergere after winning the sprint distance contest.
“I think we were all just happy to race,” Luis said, who broke clear of his rivals over the last 300m to take the tape. “My last race was in October and I didn’t really know where my form was, but it wasn’t too bad.
“I spent six weeks in Font-Romeu at altitude and was doing a lot of sessions with the best guys in the world with Joel Filliol’s group – you don’t need to race when you have the fastest guys in the world in your group.”
There was to be no British success despite both Brownlees, Alistair and Jonny, and Alex Yee on the start-line, but the Yorkshire brothers did play a major role in shaping the destiny of the race.
Alistair has raced sparingly on the World Triathlon Series in recent years, but even at his peak he rarely led out of the water.
Yet the double-Olympic champion was first to emerge from the 750m lake swim with Jonny in close attendance in fourth and their intent was laid bare as they set about bossing the cycle leg.
“When you have the two Brownlee brothers with you in the group you have a chance to get away with a bit of a lead,” Luis added – and so it proved.
An eight-man break soon developed including three Frenchmen, Vilaca and the recent Super League Arena Games winner Justus Nieschlag.
The flat, six-lapped course was only 18.9km and completed in under 25mins, but the leaders held firm from the likes of Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, South Africa’s Richard Murray and three-time world champion Mario Mola of Spain, to take a 22sec lead into T2.
From there though the GB challenge fell away. Although Alistair ran a solid 14:59 to finish ninth, but Jonny had started looking out of sorts towards the closing stages of the bike leg and slipped back to 31st.
It was up to Yee, with a race-best 14:24, to battle his way back for fifth spot, just 6sec shy of the podium. Britain’s other competitors, Barclay Izzard, in his first WTS race, was also a credible 19th, with Grant Sheldon a disappointing 58th.
The day though belonged to Luis. Although fortunate to avoid a penalty as he knocked his bike out of its stand leaving T2, he again showed his penchant for one-off racing – having been victorious in the ITU Grand Finals of 2017 and 2018.
“I had to run fast,” he added. “I had the two young guys with me, but I know that my sprint finish is good. I really wanted to push the pace with 1km to go and I managed to drop them. It was a great race for France.”
It was only 20-year-old Vilaca’s second WTS race, but it proved a breakthrough performance. “It’s just a dream to be here,” he said. “I’ve looked up to all these guys growing up and to be able to be in the front takes a little while to sink in.
“I was very well prepared but didn’t believe I could fight with the top three, it’s above my expectations. I was afraid I wasn’t going to keep up on the run, but the excitement of having Vincent and Bergere with me gave me the energy.
With Covid wiping out the remainder of the WTS calendar, the race faced criticism in some quarters for being labelled as a ‘world championship’ with several prominent nations being unable to travel.
It was a point not lost on Bergere in his post-race comments. “We don’t forget our best rivals from Australia and New Zealand, and we know we will have some work to do to defeat them next year,” he added.