Round 8 of the World Triathlon Series (WTS) headed to Stockholm. This was the penultimate race before the grand final in Rotterdam next month. With five rounds of the series plus the final counting towards the end of year ranking and the resulting pay cheque, many athletes saw this as an opportunity to replace a poor result from earlier in the year, or just get in the required amount of races for a decent overall ranking. In the case of Jonny Brownlee, he desperately needed a good result to boost his chances of finishing on the podium come September! Heading into Stockholm, the two WTS leaders were Spain’s Mario Mola and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. These two have looked supreme all year and it even though it is mathematically possible for them to loose the series, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to bet against them!
The women kicked things off and… as usual, the favourite for the race was Flora Duffy. Out of all the races on the circuit, Stockholm is possibly the one more disposed to a Duffy victory. The swim is seen as one of the most difficult, with the water known for sometimes being cold and very choppy, making sighting an issue. This tends to attract athletes looking for a hard swim and bike, typically in the form of a breakaway and in recent years generally featuring a Duffy, or a Brownlee in the mens race.
As expected Jessica Learmonth (GBR) lead the way in the swim, followed shortly by Lucy Hall (GBR), Katie Zaferes (USA) and Duffy. The quartet had a small gap to the next swimmers and it seemed these four would get away. However when Duffy put the power down it was only the American Zaferes and Learmonth that could go with her. Lucy Hall, having just come down from an altitude camp in the Italian alps didn’t seem to have the legs on the day. As soon as the trio made it onto the town centre circuit it seemed inevitable that the gap would only grow, with the gap having extended out to nearly a minute by the 5k mark! Unfortunately halfway through the bike Zaferes hit the deck on a technical section and was dropped to the chase pack. She would later succumb to her injuries and pull out of the race all together. It was left to Duffy and Learmonth to finish the job off, and they entered T2 with over a two minute advantage on the chase packs. Although it looked like Duffy could cruise to victory, she still posted the days third quickest run, and again looked unbeatable. Learmonth earned her first WTS podium and at times matched Flora’s run pace. It was Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) who ran through the field posting yet again the days quickest run that claimed the final spot on the podium. Her nickname, the gazelle was well and truly deserved!
The men headed onto the pontoon outside the city hall an hour after the women had crossed the finish line. A strong field assembled, with only a handful of names missing. With HUUB’s Richard Varga (SVK), Henri Schoemen (RSA), Jonny Brownlee (GBR) and Tom Bishop (GBR) all lining up it was inevitable that the swim was going to be fast, and as expected Varga lead out a stung out field with Brownlee close on his fins. Unfortunately Schoeman would have to serve a 15 second penalty for a false start meaning he would miss the days break. After initial selections were made a group of six athletes eventually formed on the bike, the gap to the chase pack remained around fifty seconds as both packs matched each other over the 40k. Heading onto the run Jonny Brownlee looking in command and if his running lived up to his swim and bike performance, then it looked like a Brownlee would yet again triumph at Stockholm. As the chase pack left T2 all eyes were on Mola, being the fastest runner throughout 2017. After 5k the gap to Brownlee has barely changed and Mola had a handful of other athletes around him, including Bishop. It looked like Mola had burnt up all his matches chasing on the bike. Brownlee had time to celebrate along the blue carpet, it was evident this victory meant a lot to him. Eventually Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) ran through with the Mola pack to 2nd place with Pierre Le Corre (FRA) in third. Bishop ended the day in 6th place after a tough last kilometre in the fight for a podium spot. A tired Mola ended up back in 7th, yet still remains favourite to clinch the title in September.