Wollongong’s Natalie Van Coevorden has been rewarded for her consistency in 2018 and will make her debut in Australia’s team to defend its ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championship in Hamburg tonight.
The 26-year-old opened her WTS season with a bronze medal in Abu Dhabi and came back yesterday in Hamburg with a solid top ten finish – placing eighth in the WTS Sprint race – the best placed Australian.
Van Coevorden pushed hard from the chase group on the bike with fellow Australian Emma Jeffcoat and Switzerland's 2012 Olympic champion, Nicola Spirig, to try and change a race that was eventually won by patient Frenchwoman Cassandre Beaugrand.
The Jamie Turner coached Van Coevorden also tried desperately to hang on over the final five-kilometres of the run with American Katie Zaferes and Spirig also trying to hold firm, patiently awaiting their moment to pounce when Beaugrand tired.
That moment never arrived. Spurred on by her home crowd, it was also Germany’s Laura Lindemann who wanted a part of the action and she locked in on the American’s shoulder as Spirig fell away, and it was a fierce sprint for the line as Lindemann won silver, with bronze going to Zaferes with Spirig and Kirsten Kasper (USA) in fourth and fifth.
Van Coevorden did a great job to claim eighth – strong enough to impress the selectors and earn her Relay place. She will join training partner Ashleigh Gentle who maintains her spot in the Relay team, despite a DNF yesterday.
Her experience and performances in last year’s World Championship victory and the Relay gold medal at this year’s Commonwealth Games always make her a reliable selection.
Van Coevorden has broken into the team after Charlotte McShane (World Championships team member in 2017) and Gillian Backhouse (Commonwealth Games team 2018) joined Gentle as the female component in the competitive all-star Australian foursomes over the last 12 months.
Also winning his spot back in the team is Rio Olympian Aaron Royle, who comes in for the injured ITU World Junior champion Matt Hauser and joins Commonwealth Games silver medallist Jake Birtwhistle.
Royle, a member of the bronze medal winning Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, produced a stunning final leg in the recent WTS Relay Series in Nottingham to put his hand up for a place in the World Championship team again.
He too was a DNF yesterday – but he has convinced the Australian selectors he will be 100 percent tomorrow.
Birtwhistle was the best performed of any of the Australians in Hamburg, placing fifth, in a race that saw a three-way breakaway on the bike and a 20 second gap to the chase group throughout the 20km bike.
The 23-year-old Tasmanian maintained his composure and his position as the amazing Mario Mola, also among those in the chase pack charged towards the leaders.
Jonathan Brownlee (GBR), Vincent Luis (France) and Kristian Blummenfelt (Norway) had tried desperately to steal the show, but it was the unflappable Mola who carved out yet another victory with Luis taking silver and Richard Murray (RSA) also coming from behind for third.
Mola and Murray, who had done battle over the final kilometres in Leeds just weeks before, had the lead pair firmly in their sights. First, Murray put down the hammer to close the gap and pile on the pressure, then Mola seized his moment and attacked hard towards the halfway point.
For Murray, it looked like that effort might have proved too much as Mola soared and Brownlee held strong, but the story was far from over.
Soon the momentum swung again. Fortunately for Mola, who by now had some light between him and the chasers, the battle was taking place several seconds back. A gritty sprint finale meant it was to be Luis who managed to press his way into second, leaving Murray to hold off Brownlee and claim third place, with Birtwhistle a solid fifth.
Among the other Australians were Commonwealth Games representative Luke Willian (19th) and Marcel Walkington (45th) and Ryan Bailie, who suffered a 10 second penalty for breaking at the swim start, was also a DNF.
The women’s race saw Jeffcoat 16th, Backhouse 30th and McShane 35th.