An emotional Emma Lombardi (FRA) won the women’s U23 World Championships in just under two hours in Edmonton on Saturday morning after a superb run saw her pull clear of the challengers at the 5km mark and go on to take the tape in her first Olympic-distance World Triathlon race, heralding the arrival of another bright new talent from France.
Behind her, Alberte Kjaer Pedersen (DEN) and Annika Koch (GER) had powered their way into medal contention, closing down a 90-second deficit off the bike to pass Kira Hedgeland (AUS) and Olivia Mathias (GBR) late on and take silver and bronze respectively.
“That was my first Olympic distance race, so I’m super happy,” said a delighted Lombardi. “The first two laps of the run I was finding the rhythm with the other girls and at the beginning of the third lap I felt good so I tried to raise it a bit and it worked.”
It was a chilly early start for the U23 women as they got ready to kick off a big day of World Championship racing, New Zealand’s top-ranked Ainsley Thorpe wearing the number one.
It was a short beach start on the edge of Hawrelak Lake, Olivia Mathias setting up on the near side of the pontoon with Sophie Alden and the British duo looked to put the pace on and try to open up an early advantage over the likes of run specialist Lisa Tertsch (GER). Erin McConell (IRL) was also moving well at the halfway point of the first lap, Thorpe just a couple of seconds back with Hedgeland and Tertsch likewise having a strong first lap just 11 seconds off the front.
Alden continued to carve through the clear, calm waters out front across the second lap, Mathias sitting right on her feet, Barbara De Koning (NED) looking to get into a position from which to hang onto the front pack as they exited the water and came into transition.
Thorpe had dropped 20 seconds back of the six-strong lead bunch that had formed with Emma Lombardi and Hedgeland both straight on the power over the opening kilometres.
The New Zealander was in a chase group with World Triathlon Cup Huatulco winner Alberte Kjaer Pedersen, their sights soon set on McConell who couldn’t keep the rapid tempo ahead and dropped off the lead five.
The chase packs soon merged and at the end of the first of the six laps there was 35 seconds to Alden and co, who were a full 18 seconds faster over the next lap to show just how well they had organised themselves as they continued to pull away from the 16 chasers.
That pattern continued, so that by the bell it was a significant 80-second advantage for the leaders and as Mathias and Lombardi showed the way out of the second transition, it was 90 seconds to Kjaer and Lea Coninx (FRA) who had taken up the task of trying to close the gap.
De Koning dropped back leaving the trio of Hedgeland, Alden and Lombardi just off Mathias’ shoulder 2.5km into the run, the quartet pulling back together over the second lap. Annika Koch, Coninx, Kjaer and Tertsch were closing in on Koning and had also taken 15 seconds off the leaders.
The gap was down to 45 seconds with 5km to go, Tertsch dropping back but Kjaer, Koch and Coninx passing Koning and getting into striking position.
It was Lombardi who then rolled the dice, aware of what was happening behind her and wanting to take no risk of getting caught. Very quickly she had significant daylight behind her, Hedgeland and Mathias trying to keep in touch 13 seconds back at the bell as Alden dropped out of contention.
Hedgeland then moved into second all on her own but Kjaer and Koch were soon past Mathias and then had taken the Australian too, running side-by-side in a battle for silver. It was the Dane who was able to dig in for one final effort, a brilliant finish to continue her strong season, Koch taking bronze.
Hedgeland hung in for fourth ahead of Coninx, Mathias, Alden, Tertsch, Maria Tomé (POR) and Kate Waugh (GBR) rounding out the top ten.
Full results are available here.