Sometimes a rough start doesn’t mean that things can not turn out brightly at the end. You can ask Great Britain’s Alex Yee about this. The current Olympic’s silver medallists fell to his knees right at the start of the World Triathlon Championship Series Cagliari race but managed to overcome the disappointment and claim an epic victory with the fastest 10k run on the recent WTCS history. The silver medal was for New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde, who stayed shoulder to shoulder with Yee until the last 400 meters of the run, while Frenchman Leo Bergere claimed the bronze on a hot and windy day in Cagliari.
The men’s race had a full start list with lots of talent, from the current rising stars of the sport to some old glories of triathlon like Mario Mola (ESP), Jonathan Brownlee (GBR), Henri Schoeman (RSA) or Richard Murray (NED), and the full Tokyo 2020 Olympics podium -Kristian Blummenfelt, Yee and Wilde-. And as all the afternoons in Cagliari, the wind was stronger and while the athletes were warming up under the Sardinia’s sun they knew that the race will be a hard one, especially on the swim.
The 55 men lined up on the beach facing the challenging waves, and as the horn was blown, Alex Yee tromped and fell to his knees before even reaching the water. He did manage to get back on his feet quite quickly, though, and was able to navigate the waves and stay close to the middle pack during the first lap of the swim. Ahead of his drama, Jamie Riddle (RSA), Dorian Coninx (FRA) and Mark Devay (HUN) were trying to stretcht the field as much as possible, knowing that if they could break away, the bike will be much more manageable.
At the end of the second lap of the swim, the leaders had 34 seconds to Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), one minute to Murray and almost two minutes to Mario Mola, who pulled out when he reached T1. Alex Yee, on the other hand, had managed to stay close to Hayden Wilde, Leo Bergere and Marten Van Real (BEL), the four of them getting out of the water just behind Jonny Brownlee 14 seconds behind the leaders.
The differences were not enough for the leaders to break away, and a big group of 24 athletes left T1 together, to proceed to a 40km bike course in ten laps that ended up with the same group reaching T2 also together. Meanwhile, Blummenfelt and Jelle Geens (BEL) were leading the chase group, that saw their gap increase from a bit over 40 seconds to almost 1min 20 seconds, even though the efforts paid off in the last two laps of the bike.
When the 40 km were over, it was a massive group tackling the second transition with no major issues, even though Yee and Hayden didn’t have the smoothest transition, and started the run on the back of the big group. Leading the run from the first strokes was Jonas Schomburg (GER), who went full gas from the beginning only to be chased 1 km later by Yee and Wilde, who by then had left the rest of the field behind and were getting ready for another epic running battle amongst the two of them.
As the kilometers went by, they both looked confident and trying to save a bit of energy for what it looked like if could end up on a sprint finish, but keeping a pace that was simply too hard for anyone else to follow. Schomburg faded away half way through the 10km run, while the French trio of Leo Bergere, Dorian Coninx and Pierre Le Corre moved up front, ready to battle for the last spot on the podium. In the last lap, the heat started taking a toll on the field, with the likes of Jonny Brownlee or Blummenfelt struggling and loosing some positions.
Up on front, Hayden and Yee tried a couple of times each to add an extra gear but with no luck until the last effort by Yee, entering the blue carpet for the last 200m, when he found some extra legs and left the Kiwi some meters behind to cross the finish line in first place, repeating his victory in Cagliari last year and claiming five out of five victories on the Wilde-Yee head to head over Standard distance races. It was also a special one, with the fastest run split in years on a WTCS race: 28:30, almost one minute faster than his time last year (29:18).
Wilde behind him took silver. “I am stocked. I spent the winter in new Zealand so I didn’t know how I would perform on the heat but it is lovely to be out here, to recover well after Yokohama. But this is just the type of races that I love and I just love to be on the front pack on the swim. It’s two times on a row now, so I can tick that box. And then this run… I just loved it. There were a couple of times in which he tried to attack and I managed to stay with him but next time I’ll try to win that battle for sure”, he said. “For the entertainment and triathlon is good to have guys at the front running together, not guys going solo, so I really like this, I just hope Vincent (Luis) will recover and be with us and the other French guys on the front”, he explained.
The other epic battle of the day was amongst the French trio -Bergere, Le Corre and Coninx-, which ended up with Bergere back on a Series podium for the first time after his World title in Abu Dhabi, granting him his presence on the Paris Test Event this summer. “It is really good to be back. I didnt have a good day, i was feeling quite tired after Yokohama so I had to be smart on the run because the two guys up front were flying so I was a bit more conservative. This year I want to try new strategies and check where I am, so I’m glad with my performance today”, he said.
His teammates Le Corre and Coninx -the new Series leader- closed the top five on the day, while Schomburg managed to cross the finish line in 6th place, a career best for him, followed by Csongor Lehman (HUN), Vasco Vilaca (POR), Kenji Nener (JPN) and Lahsse Luhrs (GER) closing the top 10.