A lot has changed in the past 18 months. The ITU has become World Triathlon, the World Triathlon Series is now the World Triathlon Championship Series, and there has barely been any elite racing because of a global pandemic. You were probably aware of the last bit.
Some things remain the same, though. As with 2020, we look optimistically ahead to an Olympic summer – hopefully one that really will take place this time – and triathlon is still swim, bike, run, although there are a few format shake-ups to watch out for.
The big show is clearly the Olympics, and while the overriding focus of the world’s best triathletes is on Tokyo at the end of July, the WTCS wraps neatly around it to provide subplots and crown world beaters of its own.
What’s the WTCS?
Firstly, a brief explainer for anyone new to elite triathlon racing. It isn’t always straightforward and even if you’ve watched it for years, you could be forgiven for not knowing 100% how it’ll play out.
The WTCS (formerly known as WTS) is the top level of competition in the sport from which the eventual world champions will be crowned. The number of WTCS races tends to vary each year, but typically there are six to eight events across the globe including one in England. Since 2009, London then Leeds has played host.
Triathletes accrue points through the season culminating with the Grand Final – in Edmonton for 2021 – where bonus points are on offer and the individual champions are named. Since 2009, when the world series was inaugurated, Britain has won seven titles, the Brownlee brothers sharing three between them, and Helen Jenkins, Non Stanford, Vicky Holland and Georgia Taylor-Brown topping the podium for the women.
Last year, the series idea effectively went out of the window due to the pandemic and a Covid-secure event in Hamburg over the sprint distance hastily became a de facto world championship. It was a one-off shootout which saw France’s Vincent Luis defend his title and triumph for Tokyo-bound Brit Taylor-Brown.
The 2021 WTCS season
This year, after regular curtain raiser Abu Dhabi was cancelled in March, the programme looks a little different from normal. In fact, it’s had quite an overhaul.
It begins with two standard distance (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run) events in Yokohama and Leeds. Both races come within the extended Olympic qualifying period, meaning they’re critical for triathletes to earn points to achieve one of the few remaining spots for their nations. Britain, for example, currently has only qualified two spots for the men’s team and are reliant on strong performances from Alex Yee and Tom Bishop to guarantee a third.
We first head to Yokohama [this coming weekend] where – unless Japan goes into lockdown in the next week – we’ll be back on the pontoon with the heartbeat countdown setting pulses racing once again. The Japanese city is just 20 miles from Tokyo and a staple event in elite short-course racing, but with so much on the line, Saturday’s pro races promise to be by far the most intriguing of the series’ 11 visits.
After that, it’s over to Yorkshire on 6 June and from there, with Olympic teams all but picked and final preparations for Tokyo underway, we make the trip to Hamburg for a sprint-distance contest and a mixed team relay the following day.
It’s then all eyes on Tokyo for the Olympics where following the individual events, 10 nations of two women and two men will face off over a super-sprint distance format as the relay makes its Games bow.
What’s the new format for WTCS Montreal?
WTCS racing resumes in August in Montreal with a new format, a two-day contest over a 300m swim, 6km bike, 1.5km run course, that has more than a whiff of Super League Triathlon about it.
On day one, triathletes will need to finish in the top 10 of one of two heats to progress, with those failing having a second chance through a repechage. The following day will see qualified triathletes compete in a triple super-sprint race.
Although World Triathlon are no longer calling it an eliminator, that’s essentially what it is. A field of 30 will be whittled down by 10 each time, until the final 10 compete over the third mini tri in a winner takes all showdown.
Where’s the Grand Final taking place?
Staying in Canada, the series moves to Edmonton the following week for the Grand Final over standard distance where the 2021 WTCS season individual champions will then be crowned. There are 25% more points on the line in Edmonton as athletes’ best five results from a possible six races (unusually, the Tokyo Olympics are included) are tallied for the final standings. But the racing doesn’t end here.
Two more events are scheduled. First in Bermuda in mid-October where the mixed team relay world championships will be held, plus the individual event using the same format as Montreal. Then it’s on to Abu Dhabi on the first weekend of November, where they’ll be a sprint and another relay. Points collected at both Bermuda and Abu Dhabi will count towards the 2022 WTCS.
We’ve had a slow start to 2021 but when racing finally gets underway, we can expect a feast of competition because the schedule World Triathlon has put together for the WTCS is a good one.
We visit many of the faithful stomping grounds such as Yokohama, Leeds, Hamburg, Edmonton and more recently Bermuda and, unlike other years where the Grand Final can be a comedown after the Olympics, this shouldn’t be the case.
Triathletes have been so starved of racing that many will be going to Tokyo with very little competition under their tri belts. That doesn’t just mean triathlon at the Games is one of the most unpredictable ever, but also that the athletes should be motivated to keep racing through the summer.
The new format should be a success. The don’t-call-it-an-eliminator concept is clearly ripped straight from Super League, but only because it works, so it should be a great addition to the series. With the actual Super League announcing a four-week calendar that runs from September 5-25, the scheduling dovetails beautifully, and there will be plenty for the elites to get stuck into and, as importantly, engage the fans.
WTCS 2021 schedule
- 15 May: World Triathlon Championship Series Yokohama
- 5-6 June: AJ Bell World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds
- 10-11 July: World Triathlon Championship Series Hamburg
- 14-15 August: Groupe Copley World Triathlon Championship Series Montreal
- 21-22 August: World Triathlon Championship Finals Edmonton
- 16-17 Oct: World Triathlon Sprint & Relay Championships Bermuda
- 5-6 Nov: World Triathlon Championship Series Abu Dhabi
You can follow all the action on www.TriathlonLive.tv