Two men stand at the top of the Maurice Lacroix World Triathlon Rankings heading in to Saturday’s 2022 Championship Finals Abu Dhabi, separated by the finest of margins in both points and title potential.
From WTCS Yokohama to Montreal to July’s Commonwealth Games, in terms of straight head-to-heads this campaign, when both have been able to finish, Yee has always come out on top. But points are precious however they land, and Wilde came through for excellent golds in Leeds and Hamburg, results that, coupled with his silvers in those famous Japan and Canada races, mean the Kiwi has given himself potentially crucial daylight over his main rival as the two Olympic medallists chase their first world titles.
It being a new-look Abu Dhabi course, neither will know the real-race intricacies of the nine-lap, 40km bike that follows a hot 1.5km swim. Off the bikes and out of T2, there will be four laps on foot and the mouthwatering prospect of 30 minutes of sheer tension, as a 10km grind in the heat ultimately decides who will become our 2022 World Champion.
As ever, you can watch it all play out live and on demand over at TriathlonLive.tv, starting at 3pm local time on Saturday.
The final countdown
With those points in the bag, Hayden Wilde has been notable by his absence from the Series since that WTCS Hamburg gold back in early July, electing to miss both Cagliari and Bermuda and head to the desert early.
As well as becoming more acclimatised to the surroundings, he’ll have also been growing ever more eager for race day and, with temperatures likely to be up into the 90s, he must resist the temptation to go too hard too soon despite the knowledge that gold or silver and he becomes World Champion.
It was right here in the Abu Dhabi heat that Alex Yee scored his first Series podium, a now-trademark run to silver behind the mighty Mario Mola. That was back in March of 2019, heralding the arrival of another exciting young athlete into the fray just as Vincent Luis was starting to exert a stranglehold over the men’s racing.
Yee then had to be patient in his progress, but in the run up to a delayed Tokyo 2020 he began to shine, and since that double-medal Olympic dominance he has looked every bit the champion-in-waiting. A minor hiccup by his high standards saw him finish fifth in Bermuda meaning he now needs the safety net of at least one athlete between himself and Wilde if he is to take the title.
The chase for third - or more?
For Leo Bergere and Jelle Geens, their outside chances of what at first may seem an unlikely world title turnaround could be aided by a number of external forces. Vincent Luis was back to his very best in Bermuda and, with his own title aspirations beyond the realms of probability if not possibility, he may look to work with his compatriot to break away just as they did in Leeds only with Dorian Coninx and Pierre le Corre in addition this time.
That possibility may be dictated by what is happening further behind them in the water if Wilde and Yee emerge further back than they would like but with the likelihood of major bike powerhouses Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden coming out close by.
Collectively likely to do everything they can to bridge up, that effort becomes a tougher proposition if swim specialists like Matthew Hauser and Jonathan Brownlee are also flying on their forks up front early on in the bike or even a returning Henri Schoeman.
Add in the run power of Brazil’s Manoel Messias, Antonio Serrat Seoane (ESP) and Jawad Abdelmoula (MAR), the pressure pot of the big occasion and the mid-afternoon mercury rising, and it all adds up to an explosive 2022 world title decider.