WTCS Leeds: What to look out for at this weekend’s race

We take a look at what you can expect from the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Leeds in 2021. With a packed starting list and lots at stake, it's going to be a fascinating race.

Jonny Brownlee racing at Leeds triathlon

Ah, Leeds. How we’ve missed you. One of the most crowd-pleasing triathlons is back in business after an enforced absence due to the pandemic. And it’s sure to be back with a bang, with a strong field and plenty to battle for in the second race of the 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS).

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Unlike previous years, every race at the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Leeds will start and finish in Roundhay Park, with only the Olympic-distance route taking athletes beyond the park’s boundaries for the cycle leg (see the full route here).

These changes, and the limited number of spectators, are all part of efforts to ensure the event is Covid-secure. And while that adds an interesting dynamic, all eyes are sure to be firmly focused on the action itself.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the race.

When is the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Leeds taking place?

The AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Leeds takes place from 5-6 June, with a range of elite and non-elite races being held throughout the weekend.

The paratriathlon race starts at 2pm on Saturday 5 June, the elite women’s event starts at 1:08pm on Sunday 6 June and the elite men’s race will take place at 3:54pm on the same day.

What’s at stake?

Alistair Brownlee racing at Leeds triathlon 2019
Credit: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Aside from pride and prize money, Olympic qualification is likely to be the goal for many.  It’s been anything but straightforward over the past year due to the lack of racing, which means that many nations are yet to fully finalise their teams, or even secure places, for Tokyo.

And this is entirely true for Great Britain. While a women’s line-up of Vicky Holland, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jess Learmonth has been confirmed, the men’s team currently only includes Jonny Brownlee, with one other space currently up for grabs.

Britain’s best hope of securing a third spot lies with Tom Bishop, who had promised to take on five races in five countries in five weeks in an effort to secure qualification points and get him into that all-important top 30. However, after finishing 22nd in Yokohama, 40th in Sardinia and failing to finish in Lisbon, that third slot is looking unlikely.

Of course, even if we do manage to secure three men’s spots for the Olympics, there’s the small question of who’ll be going. This sort of dilemma isn’t unique to Great Britain and there’ll be athletes fighting for places for both themselves and their countries in these final weeks (the qualification window closes on 14 June).

Who to watch in the men’s race

Scan down the start list and you’ll find heavy hitter after heavy hitter. There are a lot of big names in Leeds this year, and it’s going to make for an interesting race, particularly with the subplot around Olympic qualification.

With such a packed field and a disrupted 16 months of racing, calling who’ll be in the medals feels like a near impossible task. Alistair and Jonny Brownlee will understandably be fan-favourites, but will they make the podium? Or will we see a repeat of 2019, where the brothers finished in 44th and 35th, respectively?

Jonny’s win over a sprint distance in Sardinia at the weekend will give him encouragement, but he only placed 23rd in WTCS Yokohama earlier in May over an Olympic distance.

Alistair, meanwhile, didn’t make it to Yokohama and failed to finish in Sardinia, though reports suggest this wasn’t related to a specific injury concern. Will it be a happy return home for the double Olympic gold medallist? Or could Alex Yee, known for his strong running pace, spring a surprise after finishing just outside of the top three in Yokohama?

Aside from the Brits, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt comes into the race in fine form, having won the WTCS season opener in Yokohama and the World Triathlon Cup race in Lisbon just one week later.

You’d also be foolish to rule out five-time WTS champion and Olympic silver medallist Javier Gomez (ESP), who we spoke to last month about his plans to switch to long-distance racing, having recently placed first at Challenge Cancun. He’s hoping to secure the final men’s spot alongside his compatriots – three-time WTS champion Mario Mola (not on the start list in Leeds) and Fernando Alarza.

Very few would bet against two-time, and reigning, world champion (and Tokyo gold favourite) Vincent Luis (FRA) topping the podium, although a sixth place in Yokohama suggests he’s not quite up to race-winning speed yet.

Keep an eye out for the USA’s Morgan Pearson, who finished third in Yokohama and with it qualified for Tokyo. Remarkable stuff given he only started his triathlon career in 2018. And finally, Aussie Jacob Birtwhistle knows a thing or two about beating the Brownlee boys on home turf, having taken the Leeds crown (his first ever individual senior WTS win) in 2019.

Who to watch in the women’s race

Leeds triathlon transition area
Credit: George Wood/Getty Images

Great Britain has its strongest-ever women’s line-up as it inches ever closer to the sport’s sixth Olympic showdown. Learmonth will be the only official team member in action this weekend, with Holland pulling out just a couple of days before with a tweaked calf.

Sophie Coldwell and Non Stanford will also be on the starting line after their exploits in Yokohama, where they landed respective 6th and 7th place finishes. Rounding out the British contingent are Sian Rainsley, Olivia Mathias, Beth Potter and, interestingly, three-time Ironman World Championship (2017, 2018 and 2019) runner-up Lucy Charles-Barclay.

This will be the latter’s first foray into WTCS racing, having mainly stuck to long distance in recent years. Could it be a sign of things to come, perhaps with an eye on Paris 2024?

It could well be a US vs UK showdown at theUSA triathlon team is also fielding an incredibly strong line-up of championship and race winners – 2019 triathlon world champion Katie Zaferes, Kirsten Kasper and Taylor Spivey, who placed 4th in Yokohama.

And then there’s Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, who can never be underestimated in a race line-up. A multiple WTS race winner, reigning Commonwealth champion, Tokyo test event winner and two-time world champion (2016 and 2017); she would have taken a third title in 2018 had it not been for a foot injury, which continued to plague her throughout 2019.

She also finished runner-up behind Taylor-Brown in 2020’s one-off standalone championship race in Hamburg. In short, don’t lose sight of her for a second!

How to watch the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Leeds race in Leeds

You can watch the World Triathlon Para Series race live on the BBC Sport website from 3:30pm on Saturday 5 June.

 The elite women’s and men’s races will be shown live on BBC2 from 1pm on Sunday 6 June.

If you don’t live in the UK you can watch it live onTriathlonlive. You can subscribe for £7.99 a month

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Top image credit: George Wood/Getty Images