The coastal city of New Plymouth welcomed a field of 67 elite men onto the start line at Ngamotu Beach. The field was stacked with Olympians, Commonwealth Games representatives, sprint specialists and triathlon royalty, Javier Gomez from Spain. The five-time world champion made his comeback to the ITU circuit, with the race here in New Plymouth today.
The water was whipped with a slight chop for the 750m ocean swim which was followed by a 20km technical bike course and 5km run, taking in the scenic roads of Taranaki. The non-wetsuit rule favoured the swimmers and it was no surprise to see Slovakia’s Richard Varga establish an early lead in the choppy conditions. New Zealand’s Sam Ward set his race up with a fantastic swim, to follow Varga into the first transition of the day. Russell White from Ireland and New Zealand’s Tayler Reid were quick into transition with the front group, to make their way onto the bike course.
The famous Spaniard, Gomez, came out of the swim just off the back of the leaders and exited transition with the chase group with some work to do.
The lead group of four men, including Varga, Ward, Italy’s Gianluca Pozzatti and Reid, established themselves early out on the bike course with a gap of 7-seconds on the chase group.
The chase group, including Gomez and New Zealand’s Ryan Sissons, were extremely motivated to close the gap on the leaders. A group of 20 athletes were riding a further 10-seconds down behind.
As the athletes rode their way across the course, the two lead groups formed into one to settle in across the technical and hilly bike sections. Gomez safely made his way across to the main group with his bike strength, proving his experience in the field. As he established himself in the group, the Spaniard attempted to break away from the field and charged up the steep hill. This move put notice on the field, the battle was on and the pace increased hard off the hill.
The event hub welcomed a freight train of chaos as the elite men entered their second transition before making their way out onto the 5km run. Australia’s Luke Willian pushed the pace early on the run with New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde and Germany’s Valentin Wernz trying to hold on to the renowned Australian’s stride.
Wernz, bronze medallist in the 2019 Mooloolaba ITU Triathlon World Cup, didn’t quite have the leg power and came unstuck from the front runners. Germany’s Justus Nieschlag and Ward moved through into the leading charge. With Gomez hot on their heels in fifth spot on course, the men were running scared.
On the final lap of the run the Australian was out on his own and as he hit the blue carpet he began to celebrate the success of victory. Willian executed the perfect race and was awarded with the gold medal in a classy field of men.
“Had a good swim today, we rode really well and made sure I was at the front into transition. We know it’s a technical course so it was really important to get out in front. I started out in front and kept going and didn’t look back. I saw on the first lap that I had a bit of a gap and it kept getting bit bigger every time I checked so there was a lot of confidence there. I saw at the top of the hill that I had it and could really enjoy it and soak it up,” said Willian.
Germany’s Nieschlag crossed the finish line to earn the silver medal.
“It was amazing. After fifth place in Cape Town, I am really happy. It was a good fight. Running with Javier (Gomez), always a pleasure,” said Nieschlag
New Zealand’s Ward, raced proudly with a home crowd advantage, produced a strong race result to earn the bronze medal and was welcomed onto the podium for the second consecutive year.
“It’s amazing. Two years in a row, I was really going for that top step today. I am really happy to be on the podium today. The swim was so choppy, positioning was so important. The bike was a really honest bike course, it showed the pace was on. I knew (Javier) Gomez was close. I was prepared to go with him as long as I could and I managed to do that. The home town support was absolutely amazing, probably the best I have had,” Ward said.
The Spanish Olympian, Javier Gomez, showcased a strong result across the sprint distant format in New Plymouth and is motivated for the season ahead. There is no doubt that his sights are fixed on earning a spot on the Spanish triathlon team to represent at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“It was fun, it was a really good course, especially on the bike. I really enjoyed it. I made a few mistakes. I went too far in T2 and had to turn around and had to put my bike in and lose a few seconds, which made me start a little too hard on the run. I just didn’t have much left on the last lap. It’s ok, it’s quite early for me in the season. It was a good racing experience again and hopefully I get better for the next ones. I love this race, the crowd is always spectacular. This course is even better than the old one,” said Gomez.