WTS Edmonton: 5 things we learnt
The penultimate race in the World Triathlon Series took place in the familiar surrounds of Hawrelak Park in Edmonton and has helped clarify the overall picture as we head towards the Grand Final next month.
1. 5, 4, 3, 2 and No 1 is the countdown for Katie: USA’s top triathlete Katie Zafares missed Edmonton knowing only victory could have improved her best five-race total ahead of the Grand Final. Such has been her form and results in 2019, she really only needs to stay uninjured and upright on the bike in Lausanne for the race to be little more than a coronation. The reality is that she will go there to try and win a fifth victory of a dominating WTS season and in doing so will show satisfying linear year-on-year progression since 2015 of finishing fifth, fourth, third, second and top of the world.
2. Lausanne is Luis’ to lose: Although it’s been the most unpredictable men’s WTS season to date, the consistency of France’s Vincent Luis means he will travel to Switzerland knowing that fifth place will be good enough to guarantee the world title. The big two to miss out in Edmonton were Javier Gomez and Jake Birtwhistle, who could have gained enough points to be within striking distance in Lausanne, but failed to finish. That’s not to begrudge Luis his rightful place as world No 1. He has won the past two Grand Finals and contested every WTS race this season, winning in Yokohama and finishing no lower than sixth place elsewhere.
3. What’s in a name? If you’re an Australian called Emma there’s a fair dinkum chance you’re decent at triathlon. Think Carney, Snowsill, Moffatt… in 2011 in Hamburg, there was even three Australian Emmas on the podium together. One of those was a teenage Emma Jackson, who looked destined for a glittering career. It hasn’t quite worked out as planned and the win in Edmonton marked her first WTS podium for over five years. The victory was also another success for the Joel Filliol squad of triathletes that includes Zafares and Luis, a further reminder that it’s presently head and shoulders the most successful coaching set-up in the sport.
4. Brownlee back on it: From July 2010 to May 2014 – almost four years – Jonny Brownlee only missed the podium once – and that was a DNF when Non Stanford crashed in a mixed relay. The years since the infamous Cozumel combustion of 2016 have been more of a struggle though, as the Yorkshireman has battled both injuries and a greater depth of competition. In Edmonton he was back with the type of race and performance made to suit his strengths: an assured swim in the top five, a small front pack prepared to work hard to stay away, and a confident front-running last 5km to finish it off. Brownlee is too far back to challenge for WTS honours this season, but watch out for him to lay down a marker at the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo next month.
5. Crashes are part of racing. The ITU came under-fire from Brett Sutton, the coach of London Olympic champion Nicola Spirig, for the nature of the course in Hamburg in the previous WTS event. Spirig was making her return to WTS competition and was one of many athletes that took a tumble on the greasy city centre roads after the heavens opened. Sutton’s gripe was that there were too many athletes on a course that was too narrow and had too many other hazards, such as the slippery paint of the road markings. Australian Aaron Royle jumped to the defence of the governing body by pointing out that Hamburg has been a race venue, largely without issue, for years. In Edmonton, there was another almighty spill in the men’s race just metres from T2 as triathletes tried to unclip. But what actually happened is difficult to gauge because the cameras either didn’t catch much footage or the director chose to pan away. Having been stung by criticism in Hamburg, I hope the ITU are not going to sanitise the race footage for fear of more backlash. Otherwise, while we can debate how fair the courses are for athletes, it’s patently unfair on the watching fans.