Campbelltown’s Natalie Van Coevorden remains Australia’s top ranked athlete on the World Triathlon Championship Series after a tough day of racing when the WTCS returned to Leeds over the weekend.
Unveiling a new bike for the occasion, Van Coevorden, emerged from a very competitive pack to finish an encouraging 11th in a women’s race that saw French star Cassandre Beaugrand make an impactful comeback to the World Triathlon Championship Series podiums.
While in the men’s race, which saw a breakthrough WTCS win to New Zealand’s Tokyo bronze medallist Hayden Wilde, it was Commonwealth Games silver medallist Jake Birtwhistle who was the best of the Australians in 21st.
Birtwhistle returned to the course yesterday alongside Matt Hauser, Sophie Linn and Charlotte McShane in Australia’s sixth placed finish behind first time relay winners Germany, Olympic champions Great Britain and France in the Mixed Relay – the start of the Olympic qualification process.
Saturday’s individual action featured a return to a demanding Leeds Sprint Course in Roundhay Park after Yokohama’s Standard OIympic Distance event.
And a month after the disappointment of not finishing the previous race in Yokohama, Beaugrand sprinted to victory despite her 10 seconds penalty pit stop at the top of the downhill sprint to the finish ahead of local British stars Georgina Taylor-Brown and Sophie Caldwell.
Van Coervorden, Australia’s highest ranked female in last year’s WTCS, raised her 2022 ranking three places and is again the top ranked Australian, sitting in 13th place in the overall women’s rankings.
A field of 55 women lined up for a 750m wetsuit swim with Waterloo Lake temperature slightly above 17 degrees, and it was Beaugrand who led the field with her long and strong stroking technique ahead of Bermuda’s Olympic champion Flora Duffy and American Taylor Spivey.
Van Coevorden put herself in the race through the early hustle and bustle stages to make the charge in and out of swim-to-bike transition in 12th place followed by team mates Emma Jackson (14th), Kira Hedgeland (22nd), Sophie Linn (41st) and Jaz Hedgeland (42nd) as the field scrambled for clear space.
With the podium fight well out in front of the chase pack, a determined Van Coevorden, weaved through the chase pack, trying to move up the road, while staying out of trouble.
And she exited T2, rubbing shoulders around the right turns to position herself with what looked like a possible top ten finish, only to finish just behind 10th place Spain’s Miriam Casillas García – with a host of big names including US star Kirsten Kasper and Dutch pair Rachel Klamer and Maya Kingma behind her.
In the end the Hedgeland sisters Kira and Jaz were in 24th and 28th respectively, followed by Jackson in 35th and Linn, who also spent 10 seconds in the penalty box, 40th.
The 27-year-old Birtwhistle again had to weave his way through the field into 21st place in the men’s race after exiting the swim towards the end of the field in 50th position.
Birtwhistle dug deep for a fast finishing five kilometre run split – the equal 10th fastest time of 14 minutes 53 seconds in a race that was conducted at a brake-neck pace from the outset. But it was Wilde who produced the fastest run of the day – clocking a stunning 14:11.
The Australian boys played catch up for the entire race after most exited the water after the 750m swim outside the top 20.
Behind 21st placed Birtwhistle, came Matt Hauser (26th), Brandon Copeland (32nd), Aaron Royle (34th) and Luke Willian (46th).
Twenty-four hours later it was Hauser who led the field out of the opening swim leg in the Mixed Relay, as 19 teams battled it out less than a year after the Mixed Relay made its brilliant debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Hauser and Birtwhistle featured in a new look Australian foursome with Linn making her relay debut and fresh McShane returning after sitting out Saturday’s individual race.
And while Hauser got off to a flyer, he struck a snag during the T2 transition when his handlebars got tangled with another bike, which he had to sort out before getting to his run shoes, costing him valuable time and he dropped back to 15th before charging through the field to tag Linn in sixth.
Birtwhistle and McShane fought on bravely for a sixth-placed finish over all on the hilly and technical course in Roundhay Park, with every athlete doing a 300m swim, followed by a 6.9km bike and a 1.9k run.
The Relay was the first event counting for the Mixed Relay Olympic Qualification system, but it was also the first one in which the new rules of men starting the Relay and women crossing the finish line were in place.
Overall it was a positive performance for the Australians– a learning opportunity in the new format.
The next Mixed Relay race will take place in only two weeks at the Montreal Mixed Relay World Championships, a race that will give the first direct classification -two men and two women- for the Paris 2024 Games.