An impressive run under the pouring rain gave Sophie Coldwell (GBR) her maiden World Triathlon Championship Series title in Yokohama on Saturday. The Brit put up a solid performance combining a great swim, a powerful bike and left the second transition in the lead to never look back, running solo for 10km to claim the first WTCS victory of her career, one that also puts her on top of the World Triathlon Championship Series Rankings. Second at the line in Yokohama was another newcomer, Mexico’s Rosa Maria Tapia Vidal, who claimed the first podium in the Series for her country since 2015, while USA’s Taylor Knibb signed her come back to the circuit with a bronze medal.
The Yokohama Women’s race saw a full field stacked with talent, all 60 women lining up for the second of eight stops on this year’s tour (including the Paris Test Event), that will ultimately decide our 2023 World Champions in Pontevedra at the end of September. And even before the horn sounded, it was clear that the day would be a challenging one, with threatening clouds anticipating was it was to come.
By the time the 60 women lined up on the pontoon, first drops were starting to fall in Yokohama, but it didn’t seem to bother the likes of Maya Kingma (NED), Summer Rappaport (USA) or Sophie Coldwell (GBR), all showing their strength on the swim from the first strokes. But they had an unexpected companion, young Chinese athlete Yifan Yang, who surprised the field to lead out of the water in the first lap of the swim and maintained the advantage for the final 750m.
Yang led a small group of eight athletes - Kingma, Coldwell, Rappaport, Taylor Spivey, Kate Waugh (GBR), Tapia Vidal, Kirsten Kasper and Knibb - to the first transition, and they quickly mounted their bikes, knowing that Georgia Taylor-Brown had a surprisingly average swim and entered transition almost 30 seconds behind them. As the athletes were getting ready for the nine laps on the bike, rain started to fall harder and things got complicated for all athletes.
In just one lap, the leaders dropped Fang and the remaining seven started pushing quickly, opening a gap that after just one lap was almost 40 seconds, Taylor-Brown, Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS), Emma Lombardi (FRA) and Sophie Linn (AUS) trying desperately to get the big chase group to work together and chase the leaders.
But things are always easier for smaller groups, especially when the roads are soaking wet and there’s plenty of white paint everywhere, and the leading margin grew lap after lap. Taylor-Brown tried a few times to get the group organised but with not much luck, and by the time they hit the second transition they were almost 1’40’’ behind the leading seven.
Ahead of them, Knibb tried to charge a few times and open a small break, but was quickly swallowed again by Kingma and Spivey, and kept doing the yo-yo staying at the back of the group to try to save some legs for the run. Cause the leading seven knew from half way through the bike that today will be a running race, and it was a matter of staying safe under the pouring rain and give it all in the last 10km.
And so they did. First two out of T2 were Spivey and Coldwell, shoulder to shoulder, followed by Knibb, Kingma and Rappaport, Vidal and Kasper further behind but before the first 500m, Coldwell had charged, gave a quick glimpse behind, checked that no one was following her and went for the win, not looking back again even once.
While she ran solo for 10km under the rain, behind her the battle was unfolding for the rest of the spots on the podium. Knibb seem to be the only one able to follow the pace of Coldwell for the first half of the run, while Spivey and Kate Waugh were running together on what looked like it was going to be the battle for bronze. But a lot can happen over 10km, and while Taylor-Brown and Lombardi were trying to make up some time and their way into the top ten, Tapia Vidal starting pushing to first catch Kingma, Waugh, Spivey and with less than 2kms to go, she went on to try to pass Knibb.
Coldwell kept the pace to cross the line in first place, almost crying with joy with an impressive 33:53 running split, enough to give her the first WTCS win of her career and a victory that also puts her in the first place of the World Triathlon Championship Series Rankings. “I’ll try not to cry, it’s like a dream. I can’t really believe it. We had a really good block of training in Australia before Abu Dhabi and raced Abu Dhabi off the back of that. Now I just came here and tried to put the same processes in place. I am literally lost for words and this doesn’t happen very much”, said a speechless Coldwell after crossing the finish line. “This year for us is all about Olympic selection and it’s tough being from GB, we have such a strong roster of girls. Hopefully this is another step forward to try and make that team,” she explained.
Behind her, Tapia Vidal looked as if she just couldn’t believe what she had just done finishing in second place, a first time top 10 for her country since Claudia Rivas finished in the 9th place in WTS Edmonton 2015. “I am really really happy for my result. This is my first medal in a World Cup or a World Series. I am still in shock. I will make mention of all the effort from my coach and all the people supporting me. It worked for me today. It’s been a long time since Mexico was on the podium in a World Series, I am really happy and grateful with my country. I will see you back home soon,” she said.
Knibb managed to stay ahead of Spivey and claimed a third place on her come back to WTCS racing after an injury that has kept her away for months. “I think everything was a bit of a shock to the system. Everyone was jostling for positions. If you told me a few months ago that I would be here at this race, let along on the podium, this is a really big surprise. I am just really grateful to be here. My surgeon told me it’s good to have a goal to get me through recovery and the fact that I am here, I’ll take that. I am really grateful to my team for getting me back. I was on crutches a few weeks ago so thank you to everyone”, she admitted.
Spivey could only finish in 4th place, while Kate Waugh - the U23 World Champion in 2022 - crossed the finish line in 5th place, the best finish of her career so far. Maya Kingma ended in the 6th place, followed by Georgia Taylor-Brown, who had the best running split of the day, enough to get her ahead of Kirsten Kasper in 8th, Lombardi in 9th and Summer Rappaport rounding up the top 10.