A British one-two-three thrilled the home crowds at London’s West India Quay as Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Vicky Holland monopolised the podium on Super League Triathlon’s return.
Sophie Coldwell also finished fifth, just behind USA’s Katie Zaferes to register four Brits in the top five and made sure the Union flag was flying high on the first of four weekends of racing in September. Fellow Brit Beth Potter placed seventh.
Super League’s return was predictably frenetic from the outset over a tight 300m swim, 4km bike and 1.6km run course, where as well as the individual racing, a team competition was introduced for the first time.
Triathletes were drafted into five squads, the Cheetahs, Eagles, Rhinos, Scorpion and Sharks, captained by the likes of Ironman champions Tim Don and Chris McCormack, to add a new dynamic to the already fierce racing.
“I was trying to think back to the Arena Games leading in to visualise what it might be like,” Learmonth said, having also won her only other Super League appearance in the indoor version of the contest in Rotterdam last year.
“I warmed to it and the last stage was more fun that the first two. I feel quite lucky, but there are three more races to go, and I’m not going to be cocky about it.”
The Triple Mix was the designated format for Super League’s first outdoor event of 2021, before the series heads to Munich, Jersey and finally Malibu at the end of the month.
It consists of an initial swim, bike, run followed by a run, bike, swim before culminating in a bike, swim, run. Short breaks between each stage barely give the athletes time to reset before they are off again, and any triathlete that falls 90sec behind is mercilessly eliminated.
There is plenty to play for. Finishing ahead of rivals not only earns athletes points for their teams, but valuable seconds to take into the final winner-takes-all stage where they are set off in time-trial format.
The opening stage also awards ‘short chutes’ to the first racers to emerge from T1 and T2 – short-cuts they can then take on the final stage of the day.
On a narrow course with multiple transitions and a mixture of technical turns and road surfaces, including cobbles, to negotiate, there was plenty for the triathletes to race for – and think about.
The British women were prominent from the start with Taylor-Brown taking the first stage and Learmonth the second. Although Vittoria Lopes won both short chutes, the Brazilian then fell back in the second stage and found herself eliminated.
Taylor-Brown looked the most in control of all until drama struck approaching the dismount line on the penultimate stage. The Olympic gold and silver medallist faltered slipping her feet from her bike shoes and ended up coming off her bike, costing valuable seconds heading into the third stage that would ultimately prove decisive.
On to that final stage and Learmonth and Holland were first on to the bike with Taylor-Brown set off 4secs later, and it quickly became a contest between the three.
Learmonth managed to gain on Holland during the swim and the gap was big enough to hold on for the win, with Taylor-Brown overtaking Holland for second place.
“I was taking my foot out of my bike shoes to dismount about 100m before the line and my hand caught my tyre,” Taylor-Brown explains. “I just weaved all over the road, tried to save it and the next thing my bike was on top of me. When you’re racing you don’t feel it, but I’m sure it’ll burn in the shower later.
“There were a lot of mistakes made on my part, it’s a bit embarrassing to be honest. But I guess it adds a little bit of drama to Super League so that’s what it’s all about.”
Holland, part of Don’s Eagles team that won overall was surprised and delighted with her performance. “I’m shocked. Genuinely, I am,” she said. “I’ve had a weird 4-5 weeks since the Olympics with a lot of travel and quarantine, and a lack of training, I’ve had a heavy head cold and even this week I wasn’t sure I was going to trace.
“From a team element I loved it. We finished on top, so I’m delighted with that. As for me to get a podium, it doesn’t happen that often any more and I’m delighted with that too.”
Pictures: Super League Triathlon