Leeds WTCS produced some fireworks to welcome the ITU circuit back to the North of England with HUUB’s Alex Yee (GBR) cruising to victory around Roundhay Park, to the long-awaited applause of spectators. A new look course provided the same thrills that we expect to see in Leeds as athletes took on the Olympic distance event. Jess Learmonth also made a bold step back onto the podium as the breakaway proved to be a winning formula yet again.
HUUB’s Richard Varga (SVK) lead the way in Waterloo Lake at Roundhay Park, however, after the first lap, the entire field looked closely packed as they emerged from the water. Varga relinquished the lead on the second lap but kept pace with the leaders as small gaps started to appear further down the field. Also, up at the front of the race were Alistair Brownlee (GBR) and Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) alongside previous training partner Aaron Royle (AUS). Eventually, Royle lead the race into T2 and 13 seconds behind was HUUB’s Tom Bishop (GBR) who had some of the race favourites on his heels, including Yee, Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), Javier Gomez (ESP) and Fernando Alarza (ESP).
After a frantic chase up the hill coming out of transition and a ferocious first lap, three distinct groups formed, with 20 seconds separating each group. It was clear from the look of those leading what their intent was. One of those, Alistair Brownlee looked to be relishing racing on home soil and on a course that suited his aggressive and open style of racing. Further back Yee and Blummenfelt were fixated on closing the gap to the front of the race and within a few laps, they were within touching distance. At one point Bishop was distanced with the ferocity of the initial laps, but with the help of Sam Dickinson (GBR), he made his way back up to the front of the race as both packs merged.
Unfortunately, ITU veteran Gomez crashed out early, potentially ending his chances at Tokyo selection whilst the rest of the field fell further back lap after lap. Towards the end of the bike section, Dickinson made a break and led into T2 with a small margin, an outstanding effort from one of the next generations of British athletes. Blummenfelt and Jonas Schomburg (GER) were first to pass Dickinson in trademark fashion with Yee and Hayden Wilde (NZL) just meters back, however, it didn’t take long for ‘the boy’ and ‘the kiwi falcon’ to take the lead. For a moment they were pulled back by Matthew Pearson (USA), Martin Van Riel (BEL) and Jonny Brownlee, however almost before the group settled, Yee took off, and from that point on, the race was won. He produced a 29.46 10km on a brutal course to secure his first WTCS victory and potentially a ticket to Tokyo.
Pearson put in another outstanding performance on the run to finish in 2nd with Van Riel delivering yet again at Leeds to round out the podium. Jonathan Brownlee faded slightly in 9th perhaps labouring from his efforts the week before in Sardinia. Bishop finished in 16th. Alistair Brownlee - having learned halfway round the run that he’d been disqualified for an infringement on the swim, in what looked to be a farewell to the ITU circuit and perhaps in homage to the Leeds course and its fans - finished the race to a standing ovation.
Unlike the men’s race the swim quickly split the field as HUUB’s Jessica Learmonth (GBR) and Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) fought for the lead, only a hand full of athletes managed to stay within touching distance whilst the rest of the field were some 30 seconds behind. Through the transition and on the first climb out of T1, Learmonth, Sophie Coldwell (GBR) and Maya Kingma (NED) broke clear of Charles-Barclay, Taylor Spivey (USA) and Vittoria Lopes (BRA) and lap after lap put time onto both chase packs. The exception was Flora Duffy (BER) who made her way through the field as the race went on and the course took its toll on all the athletes.
Duffy made her way up to the three chasers but there was nothing she could do to bring back a determined front trio. Further back the rest of the field grouped together with some getting detached and eventually lapped out as the 9 laps were completed. Going into T2 Learmonth, Coldwell and Kingma had just under 2 minutes to the small chase pack with over 3 minutes to the large pack. The podium would be made up of these three. Coldwell was first to crack although stayed around 15 seconds back for the remainder of the race and it was only with 600m to go, downhill, that Kingma made the move on Learmonth to secure her first WTCS win and move into the Series lead. Learmonth, back after an absence from racing with injury, finished 2nd with Coldwell in 3rd to claim her first WTCS podium.
Duffy had the quickest run of the day in 33.47, but her deficit after the swim and bike was too much to mount a series challenge for the podium and finished in 4th with Charles-Barclay securing 5th on her ITU debut, perhaps an indication for future goals in short-distance racing. HUUB’s Beth Potter had a career-best WTCS finish in 7th and Sian Rainsley making a great debut in 13th.