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After dominating the third and final stage which ended with a 2 kilometer run, super runner Richard Murray of South Africa took the Day 1 overall lead, followed by super swimmer Richard Varga of Slovakia in 2nd and Australian Olympian Ryan Bailie in 3rd.
In their wake was a strong invitation-only field of men including 2016 WTS World champion Mario Mola, 2016 WTs Grand Final winner Henri Schoeman of South Africa and long course star Brent McMahon of Canada.
While the live streaming video coverage and commentary led by Chris McCormack and Emma Frodeno was equal to the top notch World Triathlon Series efforts, understanding the big picture was hampered by lack of official timing and full results on the live coverage – still missing six hours after the fact. Most outstanding aspect was the thrilling multi-loop bike course which included a 14 percent gradient over 200 meters on Mango Tree Hill and a narrow, twisting high speed downhill which rewarded bike handling skills and courage.
Round One – Swim 300 meters / Bike 6 kilometers / Run 2 kilometers
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Richard Varga of Slovakia led the swim in a 3:21 split, trailed by Igor Polyanskiy of Russia, Henri Schoeman of South Africa, Jake Birtwhistle of Australia, Mola and Gomez. Once on the cycling leg, Varga led the first lap followed 4 seconds later by Ben Shaw of Ireland with Gomez 9th and Alistair Brownlee obviously off form in 17th place. Next, Shaw joined Varga at the front and shortly thereafter, Ironman 70.3 specialist Josh Amberger took the lead, then Shaw took a solo turn at the front. On the 5th of 6 laps, Shaw miscounted and took his feet out of the bike shoes one lap too early and fell back into the chase pack. On the third leg, Ryan Fisher of Australia took an early lead followed by Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, and Gomez. By the finish, super runners prevailed as Jake Birtwhistle of Australia led across the line, followed by Mola and Murray.
Round Two – Run 2k / Bike 6k / Swim 300 meters
At the start of the run, competitors were led out on a rolling start in order of their finish at the end of Round 1 – but were not separated by their gap times from the leader. Shaw, making up for his crucial lap counting error, and Birtwhistle led the field through all four laps. Fisher and Birtwhistle surged to the lead on the bike while Brownlee faded to the back of the pack. By the end of the ride, Shaw fought back and joined Fisher at the lead in T2 and leapt into the water together followed by Birtwhistle. Once again, Varga’s swim strength served him well as he overtook Fisher, Shaw and Birtwhistle to take the stage 2 win followed by Andrea Salvisberg of Switzerland and Igor Polyanskiy 3rd.
Round 3 – Bike 6k / Swim 300 meters / Run 2k
On the opening bike leg, Josh Amberger of Australia and Andrea Salvisberg surged to the front and built a 15-seconds lead after four laps. Brent McMahon led the chase pack, but it was Ryan Bailie of Australia who made a heroic charge to join Amberger and Salvisberg arriving in transition with the lead. Underlining the risks of the serpentine high speed downhill, Shaw crashed out on the turnout of transition. Salvisberg led the trio into the dismount and was first to take a flying leap into the water and led the pack to the first buoy. Varga then took over the lead, with Ryan Bailie on his shoulder.
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In 5th place on the swim, Murray was close enough to strike quickly on the run. Murray kept building his dominating lead, lapping Alistair Brownlee and earning enough of a winning gap to take the combined overall lead at the end of Day 1 and in excellent position to vie for the $100,000 top prize for the overall winner at the end of Day 3. Varga and Bailie sprinted for second place with Varga edging Bailie at the line.
Given the larger time gaps from the leaders to the chasers in the third round, the third round podium duplicated the top three finishers on Day 1 – Murray, Varga and Bailie.
“I planned to take it pretty easy on the first day, but then on the last run I noticed the favorites were behind me, so I knew it was my moment to go,” Murray told Triaguide.com. “I don’t think [Alistair] was in the best shape ever when he came here. I can’t say it wasn’t great, I’ve done it once before, but I think he had an injury, maybe the heat got to him or something.”