Despite having won three World Triathlon Championship Series races this season, a ‘slip-up’ in Bermuda has taken Alex Yee’s chances of becoming Britain’s first male world champion in a decade out of his own hands.
The Olympic silver and gold medallist’s fifth place on the North Atlantic island last weekend means New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde heads into the Championship Finals in Abu Dhabi on 26 November knowing a top-two finish guarantees him the world title.
Yee has to finish at least two places above his rival to claw back the Kiwi’s 118 point lead and become the first male GB triathlete since Jonny Brownlee in 2012 to win the series.
But with four regular events counting plus an upweighted score from the final round in Abu Dhabi, the Kiwi’s two runners-up spots in Japan and Canada have helped edge him into prime position – Yee’s performance in Bermuda meaning that even a win in the Middle East might not be enough.
While unlikely, Leo Bergere (3,493pts) is best placed to overhaul both and claim a shock success. For that scenario to happen, the Frenchman would have to win his first WTCS race and see Yee finish fourth or lower, and Wilde sixth or lower.
More probable is that Bergere defends his overall podium position that he currently holds over Belgium’s Jelle Geens (3,314pts). Geens’ will be optimistic about his chances in Abu Dhabi though, having already won here in the series over the sprint distance last November.
After a below par 18 months due to injury, Vincent Luis’ win in Bermuda pushed him into the top five in the standings. Although the 2019 and 2020 world champion will be hard pressed to move further up the leaderboard, the return to form showed what a dangerous competitor he can still be.
If he takes the tape in Abu Dhabi it will also be the fourth time he has won the season-ending event – matching the record of Alistair Brownlee.
Reigning world champion Kristian Blummenfelt will also be in Abu Dhabi, but is unable to defend his crown having spent the past year concentrating on long-course racing.
Blummenfelt will be a threat for the race victory though, underlined by an impressive sixth-place finish on his return to WTCS racing in Bermuda just a week after winning the Ironman 70.3 world title in Utah.
The Norwegian’s training partner and newly-crowned Ironman world champion Gustav Iden will also fancy his chances of strong performance after placing ninth in Bermuda.
Jonny Brownlee will also expect to figure prominently in Abu Dhabi. Having crashed out in Leeds and being forced to withdraw from the Commonwealths in July, the triple Olympic medallist focused on Super League racing in the autumn.
His only WTCS result of the season is from Cagliari last month where he was only bettered by Yee.
Other Brits on the original start-list include Samuel Dickinson, Grant Sheldon and Jack Willis, who will be making his WTCS debut.
How might it play out in Abu Dhabi?
Yee and Wilde both have the motivation to become world champions for the first time – and will both feel they also have the footspeed over 10km.
While they might have ground to make up after the swim, the flat course should lessen the chance of any breakaways staying away – particularly given the return of the Norwegians gives them some strong cycling allies to bridge back up.
Even if Yee wins, Wilde – who skipped Bermuda to prepare for this race – has the cushion of being able to still finish second to lift the title. While that won’t be easy it’s enough of a reason for him to start as favourite.
Who will win the 2022 men’s paratriathlon world titles?
World champions will also be crowned in the men’s paratriathlon where there are some increasingly familiar world stars to look out for.
It will be a seismic shock if anyone other than five-time world champion Jetze Plat wins the wheelchair class. The Dutch Paralympic champion hasn’t been beaten since September 2015 when he had a mechanical in Chicago and still finished third (he still won the title).
In the PTS2 division – the most impaired of the ambulant classes – France’s Jules Ribstein has been beaten just once this year. That loss to Netherlands’ Maurits Morsink in Poland was avenged in Swansea. Morsink is also on the start-list here.
Spain’s Daniel Molina is two years shy of his 50th birthday but is rarely off the top of the podium in the PTS3 division, where national champion Colin Wallace lines up for GB.
PTS4 is the domain of France’s Alexis Hanquinquant, another Paralympic champion who is almost as dominant as Plat – his last defeat coming in 2019. British national champion Finley Jakes will be hoping to make a push for the podium.
The hotly-contested PTS5 class will see eight of the leading nine from Tokyo line-up, with the only absentee being George Peasgood, who will be in everyone’s thoughts after being involved in a bike crash last month.
Germany’s double-Paralympic champion Martin Schulz heads a field that also includes Canada’s Stefan Daniel who was second in Rio in 2016, and third behind Peasgood in Tokyo. Michael Salisbury, another national champion from July, will represent GB.
Finally, the visually impaired men’s class will see Commonwealth champion Dave Ellis and guide Luke Pollard defend the world title they won in Abu Dhabi last year, two months after seeing their hopes dashed in the Tokyo Paralympics due to a broken bike chain.
Also competing in the men’s PTVI class will be Oscar Kelly and his guide Charlie Harding, who won their first World Triathlon Para Series medal in Montreal earlier this year.
Top image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images