Olympic hopeful Natalie Van Coevorden has positioned herself well in the early selection mix for next year’s Tokyo Games with a solid showing in the second round of the World Triathlon Series on a rainy Bermuda day, overnight.
In a classy field, 25-year-old Van Coevorden was the best placed of the six Australians (two females and four males) on the day who made their way to the island paradise, for the first major Standard Olympic Distance race of the season.
Of the two Australians in the women’s field it was Van Coevorden with an encouraging ninth and Rio Olympian Ashleigh Gentle 26th over the tortuous Bermuda bike course and it now sees her jump 23 places on the Rankings after her DNF opener in Abu Dhabi.
After two rounds, Gentle is 13th and Van Coevorden 19th.
In the men’s race, Rio Olympians Aaron Royle (14th) and Ryan Fisher (19th) were the best of the Aussies followed by Jake Birtwhistle (28th) and Brandon Copeland (37th) in a remarkable race which saw a new winner in Frenchman Dorian Coninx.
Van Coevorden set up her day with a strong swim, exiting the water alongside US youngster Taylor Spivey –with the pair just 10 seconds adrift of Great Britain’s noted swimmer Jessicah Learmonth in a race that saw the USA’s Katie Zaferes take out her second win of the Series after dominating Abu Dhabi in round one.
Zaferes was again the major force, taking the win with the only sub-2hour time in 1:59.52, from Learmonth (2:01.33) with Canadian Joanna Brown (2:02.05) third, followed by Lisa Perterer (AUT) 2:02.14, Georgia Taylor-Brown (GR) 2:02.22, Spivey (USA) 2:02.40), Angelica Olmo (ITA) 2:02.53, Lotte Miller (NOR) 2:2:03.05, Van Coevorden (AUS) 2:03.37 and Julia Hauser (Austria) rounding out the top 10 in 2:03.40.
Zaferes showed all her strength to break away from the pack with Learmonth, Vicky Holland and Miller.
By lap four of the 40km bike course the quartet became a trio as Holland struggled to keep pace up the punishing Corkscrew Hill climb.
With Zaferes, Miller and Learmonth working together, the gap to Holland and the rest of the chase pack who had by now caught her, had increased to more than a minute and a half — the podium positions looked all but settled with the only question remaining in which order.
Heading into the 10km run, Miller led with Zaferes and Learmonth following closely behind, the trio now holding more than a 2½-minute lead over the chasing pack, headed by Brown and Perterer.
But it was Zaferes who quickly seized the initiative, demonstrating her running prowess as Learmonth attempted to stay as close as possible, leaving Miller in the distance.
Zaferes raced away much to the adulation of the crowd as she entered the home straight and crossed the line to clinch a second successive series victory after her success in Abu Dhabi last month.
It was Van Coevorden’s first top 10 individual finish since finishing eighth in last year’s WTS round in Hamburg last year, her fifth in the Antwerp World Cup and her 14th in Yokohama.
She will now accompany Gentle and coach Jamie Turner back to their South Carolina training base in Travellers Rest and the Greensville University campus.
It is then off to test out Triathlon Australia’s pre-Olympic and Paralympic training base in Miyakojima City, Okinawa Prefecture before round three of the WTS in Yokohama.
The location is a key component for the Australian National Triathlon Team where they will base themselves in preparation for Tokyo.
There were also encouraging signs for Royle, who made the switch to a new training base under famed international coach Joel Filliol and alongside ITU World Champion Mario Mola, Vincent Luis, fellow Australian Jake Birtwhistle and 2019 Women’s Series Leader Katie Zaferes.
Royle’s 14th place finish is his best individual placing since his 11th in the WTS Edmonton and best Olympic Distance since Leeds last June and post a nagging injury in a disjointed 2018.
It was also Royle’s fastest 10km split of 32.07, since Yokohama, a traditionally fast course, where he clocked 31.48 last May.
The Newcastle lad was in the top three out of the water behind Luis with the likes of Mola and Birtwhistle well back and they never really recovered.
It was Coninx of France who broke through to win his maiden WTS race in a time of 1:50:36 in a classic finish with legendary Spaniard, five-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez with Norway's Gustav Iden sharing a time of 1:50:38, for silver and bronze.
Things didn’t start well for the three-times World Champion and Series leader Mola when he was trapped in a group that also included Birtwhistle, went too much to the right of the course in the first lap of the swim, losing precious time.
On the other end of the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, his training partner Luis stretched the field from the first strokes and opened a gap that proved to be decisive.
Luis was followed closely by some other really strong swimmers, including Royle, Henri Schoeman (RSA), Alois Knabl (AUT) and Igor Polyanskiy (RUS) with legends Gomez and Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) keeping an eye on them and not letting them go.
By the end of the 1500m swim, Luis was still leading the race, with a long queue of athletes behind him.
The Frenchman knew that getting out on the bike first is really important on a course as tough as the one in Bermuda, and he delivered.
He pushed hard from the first meters of the first lap, to be followed by another 20 men pushing to break away, knowing that the famous Norwegian trio was in the pursuing group, and will do whatever it takes to catch them.
During four laps out of the ten, Luis, Brownlee, Gomez, Schoeman, Marten Van Riel (BEL) Antonio Serrat Seoana (ESP) took turns to climb up the infamous Corkscrew Hill, but the difference with the chasers, led by the Norwegians, got smaller lap by lap.
More than a minute behind them, was Mola, not used to seeing himself so far behind.
And knowing that the Series leader seemed to be out of the game, the leaders and the first chase group, kept pushing to close the gap.
By the end of the seventh lap, both groups merged into a huge pack of 33 riders, with all the big names except Mola and Birtwhistle (AUS) on it.
And when it looked like the large group was going to try to save some energy for the run, which could also be a bit of a break for Mola - now almost two minutes behind Jonas Schomburg (GER), Jorik Van Egdom (NED) and Coninx decided to go for it and try to break away in the last kilometres of the bike course.
Schomburg in fact managed to arrive by himself to the second transition, and started to run not looking back, knowing that just behind him were some of the strongest runners of the field.
Luis, Blummenfelt, Gomez and Iden started the chase right away, and half way through the 10km run it looked like the medals were going to be decided among these three.
But another Frenchman, Coninx, had a different idea in mind. Coming from behind, he first connected with the four leaders to quickly leave Blummenfelt and Luis a bit behind.
Gomez didn’t want to wait to the final meters and did his final push maybe a bit early, enough for Coninx to pass him with 200 meters to go.
Iden looked determined to improve his third place from last year and fight for the second place, but in a final sprint Gomez showed why he is a five-time World Champion, with some titles won exactly like this: sprinting until the end.
Luis crossed the finish line in fourth place, enough for him to claim for the moment the leadership of the Series, with Mola in one of the worst results of his WTS career, in 26th place.
Royle and Birtwhistle will join Mola, Luis and Zaferes in their training base in Mallorca for two weeks and then go into Yokohama for round three.
2019 MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda - Results