It was the race he had been building towards all year, and the satisfaction of delivering a 13-second win margin against one of the toughest fields of the season was written across Alex Yee’s face at the finish as he took gold at the Olympic Games Test Event Paris.
The wheels of victory were in motion from the start thanks to a brilliant 1.5km swim, but the front bike pack couldn’t stay away and a huge group formed for the second half of the 40km bike, snaking through the streets wheel to wheel.
Out of T2 in 16th place, Yee was quickly to the front of the run and pushing a pace that those around couldn’t match, first finding precious daylight and then extending his advantage until the chasers were out of sight thanks to a stunning 29-minute 10km display. Behind, it was Vasco Vilaca wedged in a three-way French battle for a precious podium to help their Paris 2024 selection causes, the Portuguese star eventually edging a dramatic sprint finish over Dorian Coninx.
“I just loved it,” said Yee. “I pushed that middle 3km, that was where I think I really put an effort in but by the end I was having to do a bit of management, because I was starting to die a little bit. It was relentless from the start. I was all into trying to help everyone stay away (on the bike) but it didn’t seem like everyone was too motivated to stay away. I was just buzzing to have a good swim. I have been feeling absolutely horrible in the pool so I am glad I was able to put something representative together from the hard work I have been putting in. Pontevedra should be a good shoot out with a few of us in the mix, excited to have that to look forward to!”
Wilde’s preparations hit by injury
Heading into the race as number one, New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde spent the build-up receiving treatment on his hip after coming off his bike earlier in the morning, but he wasn’t going to miss a crack at the Paris course and lined up on the far right of the pontoon. Vilaca and Leo Bergere went to the middle, all the top-ranked athletes avoiding the left side after the women there struggled the day before.
As the athletes took the first turn, Mark Devay (HUN) was soon in the clear water, Vincent Luis on his feet with Jonas Schomburg and Tayler Reid, and by the end of the shorter lap two it was Luis emerging ahead and taking the steps up towards T1.
Chasers quick to catch
While Yee had a strong swim to come out just 20 seconds off the leader, Vilaca, 48th at the turn was up to 34th but still found himself 40 seconds back onto the bike, Wilde and Jelle Geens 53 seconds back, Kristian Blummenfelt driving a group a minute off the pace.
The New Zealander was soon into the rhythm and showing no signs of injury, the chase groups merging 35 seconds back as Leo Bergere took to the front of the bike and by the halfway point they too had merged, suddenly Blummenfelt found himself out front, with Yee on his wheel, Shachar Sagiv (ISR) also taking pulls out front and keeping the pace on.
Wilde looked to push things on and shake things up, a mechanical for Brandon Copeland ending his race and forcing riders to swerve to avoid him, but it soon became one huge bike pack together scything round the course.
Wilde’s race ends, Pearson steps up
Coninx moved his way into the front of the swarm as transition came into view, Wilde, Geens and Schomburg likewise, but it was Morgan Pearson – a late addition to the start list - setting the early pace as he moved to the front knowing that a top 8 would seal his Olympic place.
The unfortunate Wilde quickly pulled up as his hip injury made running impossible, the recovering Luis also an early withdrawal as the prospect of a cobbled 10km clearly became a bad idea for their seasons.
Out of T2 Schomburg, Geens and Vilaca were away first but Morgan Pearson (USA) soon took to the front, the unfortunate Wilde pulling up with the injury.
Blummenfelt was also flying at this point, but once Yee started to pick through the field the pace was running too hot for the Norwegian, Miguel Hidalgo (BRA), Vilaca and Bergere moving into position along with Pierre Le Corre and Tim Hellwig (GER).
Yee takes control
A swim behaviour penalty for Geens and Max Studer saw the end of their challenges for medals, but it was Yee taking control and soon out of sight of the chasers, striding clear and running the remaining three laps solo to the gold.
Behind, the three French athletes were battling for the podium that would help ease their qualification causes, Vilaca alongside as Hellwig and Pearson were finally dropped off, but it was Hidalgo who rolled the dice first, only to be reeled back with 500m to go.
From there it was a breathless dash to join Yee, and Portugal’s Vilaça emptied the tank down the blue carpet and produced a brilliant sprint to outdo Coninx to the silver, Le Corre fourth from Bergere, sixth earning Pearson his Olympic berth, seventh likewise for Tim Hellwig. Hidalgo, Blummenfelt and Roberto Sanchez Mantecon rounded out the top 10.
“The Test Event is exactly that, the test for next year,” said Vilaca. “You want to get as much as you can right here so that you don’t have to move too many details for next year. I am super happy, there is nothing better than coming off a race with good memories. When you come back, you have a good feeling, that is going to help you get a good result next year. That was so intense, I am still a bit dizzy. I just want to sit down after this… that sprint in the end, I tried to position myself well, go to the front but just before the last corner they sandwiched me in and I lost a couple of metres but it really was just believing until the very last minute coming straight through the middle, like the cheese in a French sandwich.”
“It was a super tough race, there were 5 or 6 of us at the end for the finish,” said Coninx. “I knew I had my chance but it’s always a bit tricky and Vasco is super strong but third is good, my first podium of the year so I am very glad… I managed to be the first of the French so I am really happy about that. It felt amazing to run in France today. I was not hearing anything, I wasn’t even hearing my breath. This is the racing that I prefer, thank you Paris!”
For the full results, click here.