So why was the Olympic champion skipping the talent rich WTS race for a minor league level World Cup conducted at the sprint distance – his first sprint triathlon in five years?
Let's start with the fact that Alistair Brownlee spent the last year focusing on longer distance races like the Ironman 70.3 World Championship (second) and an aborted try at the Ironman itself (DNS - injury). All that long distance training does change the shape of fitness to a degree.
Next, Alistair has decided to return for a fourth try at the Olympics. Adding to the complication is the fact that the Olympic triathlon program will include a mixed gender four person sprint triathlon relay. Both will require a regeneration of fast twitch muscle power.
Third, at this stage of his long term Olympic preparation, Alistair is not absolutely at his usual Olympic distance fitness. No need to beat his head against the wall absorbing an inevitable beating. Not that he should care what anyone thinks.
Finally, with his unassailable career record, Alistair Brownlee has nothing to explain to anyone regarding his long term preparation for Tokyo.
So, what transpired for Alistair at the cheerful Italian resort of Cagliari must be termed Mission Accomplished.
Alistair emerged from the swim 3 seconds behind swim leaders Justin Nieschlag of Germany and Mark DeVay of Hungary. After T1, the lead trio were joined by Ryan Bailie of Australia, Sylvain Fredelance of Switzerland, last year’s bronze medalist Davide Uccellari of Italy, and Kevin McDowell of the U.S. at the head of a lead group of a dozen who carved out a still-vulnerable lead of 12 seconds by T2.
As Brownlee swiftly and gracefully wove his way to the front with a spectacular transition, he led on to the run with Nieschlag and McDowell close on his heels. McDowell took a chance and moved to the front at the beginning of the second lap of the run. Brownlee and Nieschlag soon dismissed McDowell’s impertinence and ran together to settle matters at the finish.
With 300 meters to go, Brownlee called upon his greatness and hit the finish in 52:02 after a 14:50 5k with a one second margin of victory over Nieschlag and 12 seconds over 3rd place finisher McDowell. Brownlee countryman Gordon Benson made up for slow swim and bike splits with a race-best 14:40 run to take 4th place.
“He (Justus) was there on the swim, pushed it on the bike and is a real all round triathlete,” Brownlee told ITU media. “It was great to see, but I am delighted to be back and in the sharp end of a race. As for what’s next, I am still sitting on the fence. I have European Championships in two weeks and Leeds the week after that. I’ll see where that leaves me in three weeks’ time.”
Nieschlag was ebullient after his duel with the legendary two-time Olympic gold medalist. “It was amazing sprinting against Alistair,” Nieschlag said. “I saw he was at the limit and Alistair was a little faster. I had an awesome swim and I was out of transition first and I knew there was no chance to go away on my own, so kept it calm and went with the group.”
“I got excited a little too early and could tell the guys were hurting so I thought, let’s go,” said McDowell. “You don’t get an opportunity much to make an attack on Alistair so I just tried to make a move and you know what, I still ended up third.”
After a crowded bike ride, Sophie Coldwell of Great Britain and Nina Eim of Germany left T2 running side by side with Jodie Stimpson of Great Britain, Lena Meissner of Germany and Valerie Barthelemy of Belgium right on their heels. After a women’s-best 16:59 5k run split, Coldwell finished in 57:57 with an 11 seconds margin of victory over Eim and 12 seconds over 3rd place finisher Barthelemy.
“I was really pleased,” Coldwell told ITU media. “I’m a strong swimmer but it’s different when it comes to the sea and beach running, so I was pleased to get underway and away quite quickly. It was hard to see when we were coming back in but I just kept my head down and tried to push on from the front of the bike. It was a strong working group and onto the run I was really pleased with how it panned out. I crashed a few weeks ago on my bike so the run is a work in progress and I just wanted to keep my head down.”
Cagliari World Cup
May 18, 2019
S 750m / B 20k / R 5k
1. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 52:02 S 9:23 T1 00:56 B 26:33 T2 00:21 R 14:50
2. Justin Nieschlag (GER) 52:03 S 9:20 T1 00:54 B 26:39 T2 00:21 R 14:50
3. Kevin McDowell (USA) 52:14 S 9:28 T1 00:55 B 26:30 T2 00:24 R 14:59
4. Gordon Benson (GBR) 52:38 S 9:33 T1 1:01 N 27:02 T2 00:23 R 14:40
5. Ryan Bailie (AUS) 52:42 S 9:30 T1 1:01 B 26:23 T2 00:24 R 15:26
1. Sophie Coldwell (GBR) 57:57 S 10:03 T1 1:01 B 29:34 T2 00:22 R 16:59
2. Nina Eim (GER) 58:08 S 10:29 T1 1:03 B 29:06 T2 00:22 R 17:10
3. Valerie Barthelemy (BEL) 58:09 S 10:13 T1 1:03 B 29:23 T2 00:22 R 17:10
4. Lena Meissner (GER) 58:12 S 10:29 T1 1:02 B 29:07 T2 00:23 R 17:12
5. Anna Godoy Contreras (ESP) 58:17 S 10:07 T1 1:04 B 29:28 T2 00:29 R 17:10