The first men’s WTCS action of 2022 came down to two friends and two Olympic medallists, Alex Yee (GBR) and Hayden Wilde (NZL), on Saturday afternoon in Yokohama, back in the country they had their coming-of-age moments last year, both looking back to their very best form. The two ran away from the field and were shoulder-to-shoulder for the second half of a draining 10km run, but it was Yee how found an extra gear down the long blue carpet to the tape to land his second Series win, France’s Leo Bergere crossing in third to become the Series leader after three races.
The morning started raining in Yokohama, but by the time the athletes were lining up, at 13h, the temperatures both of water and air were high enough for the race to be a non-wetsuit one. The high temperatures had an impact on the race then since the first minutes, with Frenchman Vincent Luis showing another dominant swim in the calmed waters of the Yokohama bay, leading a long line of athletes out of the water to the pontoon for the second dive in, and stretching the field so much that only his fellow countryman Dorian Coninx was able to follow him.
They both were the first ones mounting on their bikes, with some of the favourites for the victory in Yokohama, like Alex Yee or Hayden Wilde, almost 40 seconds behind. But neither Luis nor Coninx were able to break away, and a massive group joined them in the first km of the bike course, with Yee and Wilde desperately trying to catch up.
Both of them did, in only two laps, to then join the long train of athletes -39 on lap three and onwards- that used the best of their biking skills to avoid crashes and navigate the u-turns lap after lap. It was not an easy task, with such a massive group, but it made things a bit easer for the chasers, led by Jacob Birtwhistle and Matthew McElroy, who managed to keep the breakaway always under a minute of difference.
Meanwhile, the massive group took turns to push on front, with Wilde and Pierre Le Corre trying to stay upfront and out of trouble as much as possible, but when it all came to the last of the nine laps, both of them dropped to the end of the group to avoid the messy transition that was coming up.
And it was messy indeed, with over 35 athletes hitting the carpet at the same time, and it was Germany’s Jonas Schomburg the one who got on his running shoes first, with Bergere, Le Corre and Takumi Hojo (JPN) closely behind. And ti was clear at that moment that Luis was having physical problems. The double World Champion was almost last of the group to start the run, but he didn’t have his usual kick and was not able to catch up with the lead group. Meanwhile, Yee and Wilde came from behind and moved 30 places up to quickly chase Schomburg and decided to go for it with still 9km to go.
The strategy paid off for both of them, and with no one able to follow, they went full gas on one of the quickest 5km ever seen in Yokohama, a pace that was clearly impossible for everyone else. With Wilde commanding and Yee in control right on his heels, they both tested continuously each other, trying to decide when it will be the right time for the last push. It took them almost 9 km to decide it, with both of them running shoulder to shoulder up to the blue carpet.
It was when both had the finish tape on sight when Yee showed that he is a hard one to beat on the run, and out-sprinted the Kiwi to claim his second victory on the World Triathlon Championship Series circuit, Wilde bowing to the hundreds of spectators just before crossing the finish line in second place, his first ever podium at the WTCS level.
The third place was for Bergere, who seems to be a lucky spot for him, having finished in that same third place in Edmonton 2021, Montreal 2021, Hamburg 2020 and Hamburg 2019. His regularity has put him on top of the Maurice Lacroix World Triathlon Championship Series rankings.
The fourth place was for a pumped Matthew Hauser (AUS), who had a magnificent run split of 29.33. Another Frenchman, Dorian Coninx, closing the podium with his 5th place.
“I am really pleased with the result. Some things to work on but that’s always positive to take away from the first race of the year. The win is amazing. Kudos to Hayden (Wilde), he was lightning on the run. I had to summon every ounce of my being to get around at the end,” explained the Brit after his victory. “The first 5km (of the run) Hyden (Wilde) really took it out and I was a little down on transition so had to work quite hard to get back on. At that point, Hayden was really moving at 2km and it was just us two and we started to run shoulder to shoulder. It’s nice to share the moments as we’ve grown up in the circuit together, to toe the line against each other. He beat me last weekend (Arena Games Triathlon Singapore). I beat him here, it’s going to be an exciting year,” he said.
“I thought it was going to be easier, but it was actually harder. I forgot how hard racing was. I am enjoying being back, any racing we can get, I will take. After two years nearly of not much being available, it’s great to have the circuit back again.”“It kind of felt like the Olympics again without big Kristian (Blummenfelt). Alex (Yee) and I just battled together. I knew I had to have a really good transition to get out on the run quick and hit that first 5km hard to put a bit of sting in Alex’ legs. I may have burnt a few too many matches for myself at the end, just didn’t quite have that kick. But I am really happy with the second place,” said the Kiwi. “I was actually just behind Alex coming into transition after the swim and I was a bit disorientated, didn’t even know where my bike was even though there was only a few in there. Just worked really hard for two laps, somehow bridged the gap, just had to stay in contention and let the legs group and it paid off. Happy days.”
“My tactic was taking a little more risk than usual to have no regrets, so I am really pleased with this third place”, said Bergere. “I tried to catch Hayden and Alex, but the guys in front were just too fast for me. I had a hard and lonely run, but I had a lot of fun, ” he explained.
“It’s great to have the crowds back especially here in Japan, they love spots and triathlon, it’s good to have them back on the side of the course here.”