Luke Willian stamps his intention for Tokyo 2020 at WTS Yokohama
Commonwealth Games representative Luke Willian has emerged as an Olympic hopeful following another solid performance in the third round to the World Triathlon Series on a hot day in Yokohama.
In a classy field, 23-year-old Willian was the best placed of the nine Australian’s (5 females and four males) that lined up for the second Standard distance race of the series.
Willian ran himself into seventh place from the second group, he clocked the third fastest run of the day 30.21, same split for Luis.
In the men’s race, Rio Olympian Aaron Royle who was part of the front group in the swim and bike finished 21st (14th) followed by Commonwealth Games silver medallist Jake Birtwhistle (23rd) and Marcel Walkington (42nd) in a brilliant race which saw the series leader Vincent Luis (FRA) win his first race of the season.
50 men lined up in Yokohama in the third stop of the World Triathlon Series, with Luis, Schoeman and Marten Van Riel (BEL) dominating the tough swim from the first strokes. They didn’t have the chance of breaking a large gap, and behind them into transition came a large group of athletes, including Javier Gomez Noya (ESP), Dorian Coninx (FRA) or Aaron Royle (AUS).
But as soon as they got out of transition, they were quickly joined by Jonas Schomburg (GER), Bicsak, Ilia Prasolov (RUS) and Alois Knabl (AUT). The ten of them rode together keeping the chase group at a safe distance between 30 seconds in the first laps and up to 56 seconds at the end of the 40km, working in turns to manage carefully the sharp turns and the different surfaces of the circuit.
They all knew that some of the fastest runners IN the field were in that second group, including Fernando Alarza (ESP), Alex Yee (GBR), Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), Ryan Sissons (NZL) or Casper Stornes (NOR). And they also knew that some of the likely candidates to end in the podium were even further back, with Mario Mola (ESP) and Jake Birtwhistle having a disappointing swim.
When the group of ten changed the bike for the running shoes, Luis decided to push from the first meters and tried to break away, to be followed on his heels by Schoeman, Bicsak and Noya. The four of them added one extra gear to break away from the rest with more than 7km to go, and it looked clear that the battle for the medals was going to be on them… until they saw Yee.
Behind the leaders, the young and talented British runner started chasing rival after rival, reducing the gap with Luis in 30 seconds in the first 5km of the run. By then, the British looked exhausted and the four leaders increased a bit their path, so the efforts of Yee were in vain and he had to see Luis managing to sprint to the finish line to grab the victory in Yokohama, with Schoeman a few seconds behind.
Another final sprint, this time from Bicsak, saw the young Hungarian passing over Gomez to claim his first ever WTS podium after collecting the bronze medal in the U23 World Championships last year. Alarza, Luke Willian (AUS), Van Riel, Sissons and Sam Ward closed the top ten positions for the day.
Earlier in the day Katie Zaferes (USA) continued her dominance on the circuit winning a third WTS title after wins in Abu Dhabi and Bermuda rounds, she remains undefeated in 2019. It was a brilliant day for the American’s with a clean podium sweep, Summer Rappaport the silver and Taylor Spivey the bronze.
Of the five Australians in the women’s field it was 2018 WTS Abu Dhabi bronze medallist Natalie Van Coevorden was the first Australian to cross the line finishing 14th ; Emma Jeffcoat 18th and Jaz Hedgeland 21st. 2018 Gold Coast grand final winner Ashleigh Gentle was forced to withdraw, and Kelly-Ann Perkins lapped.
The Australian’s put themselves into a good position after the swim with Jeffcoat, Van Coevorden, Perkins and Jaz Hedgeland in the chasing group on the bike that was initially 15 seconds behind.
Jeffcoat attempted to bridge the gap to them on her own to no avail and settled back into the chase group. But over the 9-lap bike course they could not organize themselves to make any inroads and continued to lose time. At the change over the gap was out to a minute and the medals up the road.
Onto the run Zaferes proved that she is indeed the one to beat this season, charging hard in the first meters, followed by teammate Rappaport. The American duo quickly dropped Lotte Miller, Maya (NED) and Jessica Learmonth (GBR) first, and then Spivey and Yuko Takahashi, who ran shoulder to shoulder for most part of the 10km run.
Zaferes waited until the last 500 meters for the final push, and without looking back added an extra gear to cross the finish line in first place, getting her first ever victory in Yokohama. Behind her Rappaport, and both of them waited smiling for the third American to cross the finish line, Spivey, who had managed to drop Takahashi also in the last meters of the run.
Meanwhile Rio Paralympic gold medallist Katie Kelly (PTV1) produced a solid swim, bike and run performance to grab silver with guide Brianna Silk in her first real test of international competition. Equal to the task for the men was Jonathan Goerlach (PTV1) also grabbing silver with guide Sam Douglas.
Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Lauren Parker finished with a hard-fought bronze after a disrupted preparation following back surgery eight weeks ago. Parker finished 54 seconds behind winner and Commonwealth Champion Jade Hall (GBR) and shaved nearly five minutes off her 2018 time.
In other results were: Nic Beveridge (4th PTWC), Emily Tapp (7th PTWC), Josh Kassulke (7th PTS5) and Clint Pickin (8th PTS4).
2019 Yokohama ITU World Triathlon Series Results