Amid the uncertainty that the world faces in the light of Covid-19, business was sort of as usual on Saturday at the ITU Mooloolaba World Cup. Across the world, we were hearing of events being postponed and cancelled, but fortunately for those athletes on the Sunshine Coast, the green light was given for the first World Cup of the year.
Unfortunately, HUUB’s Jessica Learmonth was a last-minute withdrawal from the race due to illness so it was left to Australian athlete Emma Jeffcoat to lead the way out of the water. The swim course was moved to the southern end of the beach the day before the event, due to the swell and chop.
The less challenging swim meant that the majority of the field came out in close proximity. HUUB athletes Sian Rainsley (GBR) and Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) both exited the water in the top 8 along with fellow Brits, setting up an exciting lap one of the bike.
After the 2km connection and the first lap of the bike, it looked like two distinct groups had formed with Taylor-Brown, Vicky Holland (GBR), Jeffcoat and Kirsten Kasper (USA) driving the front group. Twenty seconds back, the chase pack was led by Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) and Andrea Hewitt (NZL). As the bike leg progressed, it was clear the second pack would catch and coming into T2, there was a significant main pack, meaning the race would be decided on two feet.
First to hit the front was Jeffcoat who soon established a 20m lead, however within 2k the Australian was caught, perhaps her surge coming out of T2 was an attempt to demonstrate her relay capabilities for the Tokyo Olympics. By halfway, Taylor-Brown and Holland took control and moved ahead of the rest of the field. It wasn’t until the final lap that Holland made her move down the final hill to take the win.
Back in the chase pack, Gentle was best of the rest and ran her way on the final step of the podium ahead of a dramatic sprint finish between Hewitt and Ecuadorian athlete Elizabeth Bravo in which the Kiwi athlete prevailed. HUUB’s Sian Rainsley finished in 18th place, a great start to the season for the U23 athlete.
As you would expect, Richard Varga (SVK) led out of the water, however Hungarian athlete Mark Devay and a strong host of British athletes closely followed him. The GBR pack included HUUB’s Tom Bishop, Alex Yee, Sam Dickinson and Ben Dijkstra, also in that main group coming out of the water was pre-race favourite Hayden Wilde (NZL) and Commonwealth medallist Matthew Hauser (AUS).
Onto the bike and at first, there were glimmers of a potential breakaway, but by the end of lap one, a huge train containing the majority of field piled through T2. The British athletes certainly took charge with Dickinson, Bishop and Dijkstra swapping turns for nearly the entire 20km. This move put pressure on those behind, stringing out the field around the technical sections, but entering T2 the group remained largely intact.
Unfortunately for Yee and a few others, the technical and tight entry to transition caused a few incidents and Yee found himself having to run with his bike the last 600m to transition. The carnage of T2 left some athletes with a fair bit of time to make up on the 5km run, including Bishop and home favourite Ryan Bailie (AUS). Over 5km at this level, 10 seconds can cost you five places, and unfortunately for Bishop, the group contending for the podium was 15 seconds up the road before he even got going. Dijkstra, on the other hand, raced out of transition with the leaders and soon found himself with Wilde, Luke Willian (AUS), Ryan Sissons (NZL), Sam Ward (NZL), and Kevin McDowell (USA). The six athletes took it in turns to put the pressure on, but it was only until the final 500m where kiwi athletes Wilde and Sissons created a sizeable gap. Eventually, Sissons got the better of Wilde with Willian rounding out the podium. Dijkstra who had done a fair bit of work on the bike held for 4th place, a career-best for the HUUB athlete. Bishop made his way to 14th. Yee recorded the fastest run of the day, but due to the incident going into T2 finished 37th. Dickson finished in 38th after it was clear he was on domestique duties for his fellow Brits.
As it stands ITU has put a halt on the season with all races, and qualification put on hold until at least the end of April, but in the current climate, we can only speculate as to when races will resume.