Olympic qualifier Aaron Royle has capped an Australian triathlon resurgence on the cobblestoned streets of Stockholm overnight, with a brilliant bronze medal performance behind Spain’s four-time world champion Javier Gomez.
The 25-year-old from Newcastle, Australia’s first Olympic qualifier for next year’s Rio Games, arrived onto the start line with the mentality of “nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
And it resulted in his second ever podium finish in the fiercely competitive ITU World Triathlon Series and his first in 2015.
Just three weeks ago the Wollongong and Vitoria Gasteiz (Spain) based former Under 23 world champion finished sixth in the Rio Test Event to book his place on his first Olympic team.
In Stockholm he again showed he is more than capable of mixing it with the best of the best and over one of the toughest courses on the WTS circuit.
Royle had plenty of green and gold company with training partner Ryan Bailie hanging on for fifth place and just 24 hours after London Olympians Erin Densham (sixth) and Emma Jackson (ninth) dug deep for the girls in an encouraging weekend for the Australian team, en-route to the Chicago WTS Grand Final next month (September 15-19).
Ryan Fisher was also in the thick of the action on the bike and into the run before finishing 24th while Jake Birtwhistle missed the front group on the bike and fought on to finish in 38th, with Cameron Good 45th.
Gomez, who won the Rio Test Event, finished the day with an unsurpassed run that brought him into the finish line with a lead of almost a minute to capture his second WTS win and sixth podium of the season.
The other two podium spots came down to an impressive battle between Royle and Joao Pereira (POR) – who had yet to see a podium this year. Ultimately a last-minute push from Pereira granted him the silver medal, leaving Royle with the bronze.
A tough hill caused some groupings to shift and those with the legs were able to capitalize and push out ahead once the run began. Those legs belonged to Gomez, Pereira and Royle, who ran as a trio for the first lap. South African Henri Schoeman and Bailie paired up immediately and followed as a two-man chase vying for the fourth and fifth position.
With two more podium spots up for grabs, the momentum shifted with Schoeman and Bailie catching Pereira and Royle, creating a four-man pack with only two medals up for the taking.
The last lap saw Bailie drop out of the running however, followed by Schoeman in the last kilometre. It was only at the carpet did Pereira showcase an extra ounce of effort that allowed him to overtake Royle for the silver medal.
“The hill, the cobbles, the tight corners, it just makes it an unrelenting course…it doesn’t really matter where you are on the bike, you are still working hard, it’s a real strength orientated course and that really suited me,” said Royle.
“I had to fight hard in the last three kilometres but I was feeling fairly strong so I was telling myself to just stay relaxed.
“After qualifying for Rio I have been able to train and feel relaxed knowing I have qualified already - I went into the race with the mentality that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“The swim was good, getting out in the top three - it was pretty choppy and didn't split up that much so I knew we needed to work the start of the bike to keep the gaps from the swim.
“The bike was good - I did my share of riding and working with the group to increase our lead. It’s a challenging course with a hill, cobbles and very technical so its the type of course that wears your legs down by the end of the 40km.”
Royle was quick to send a cheerio to his parents back in Newcastle.
“This is for my parents who are back home watching. My Dad has been a bit ill over the last few months and mum’s been in hospital the last few day’s so hopefully that will put a smile on their faces,” said Royle.
“I know it’s in the wee small hours in Newcastle but hopefully they’re smiling back home.”
Bailie, who sits firmly in sixth on the WTS World Rankings, admitted the tougher the course the better he like it and as always he gave it everything he had on the final 10km but in the end said he just “ran out of gas.”
“Today didn’t quite go according to plan, but I will get another crack in Chicago, and another performance like today, I would love a podium there,” said Bailie.
“I was pretty surprised with my swim, I didn’t think I was swimming as well as I did, I obviously made that front group which is always important.
“The tougher the course the better for me, I like the tough courses, obviously Auckland is another course I like and Stockholm is another cool race as well.
“We didn’t come here last year….so full marks to the organisers for getting it back this year.
“It’s exciting to see Aaron on the podium after the year that he’s had. I would have liked to have been there myself but I just wasn’t strong enough over the last two and a half kilometres.
“The first kilometre was pretty quick and I just backed myself that I could back end the last portion of the run.
“I knew I could pull myself back up but (in the end) I just ran out of gas pretty much.
“It’s been tough training after Rio (the Test event) but getting four weeks (training in) before Chicago then hopefully that back end will be stronger before Chicago.”
A delighted Triathlon Australia Performance Manager, Bernard Savage said it was “a great weekend for the Australian program with really encouraging results in both the men and women,” Savage said.
“Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie were just fantastic. Aaron committed to the run early, backed himself and got the reward.
“He has built on the confidence gained from his performance in Rio while Ryan continues to improve and has once again put himself in the competitive section of the field.
“He has had such a competitive year and I am sure the breakthrough podium is only just around the corner.
“Both boys have eyes firmly on the World Series Final in Chicago and I am sure will be significantly better there.
“It was excellent to see Erin Densham improving and on the way back to some good form. We are really looking forward to seeing her maintain this momentum through Edmonton into Chicago.
“Emma Jackson has put in her best performance for the year and this will be great for her confidence leading into Chicago. I am sure we are yet to see the best of Emma, she will only get better from here.”