In a race that saw Hall of Famers and home town heroes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee consigned to 44th and 35th places, and the 3-time WTS World Champion Mario Mola of Spain was stuck in 29th place, WTS Leeds provided a stage where the theme was make way for the new breed.
After any attempt at a breakaway on the swim or bike was nullified when the bike leg devolved into a traffic jam of 25 men at the front, the matter was fated to be decided on the run. Because superstars like Mola, the Brownlees, Richard Murray and the new fast kid on the block Andrew Yee were stuck in the chase pack a minute back at T2, the run leg started off with some of the usual suspects. But after it all shook out, the race came down to two rising stars.
Coming out of T2, Jonas Schomburg of Germany made a bold bid for glory and ran to a 24 seconds lead midway through the second of four 2.5 kilometer loops. As expected, veteran stars like Jonny Brownlee, Javier Gomez, Henri Schoeman and Vincent Luis took off in the middle of a 10-man pack chasing Schomburg. However, Jonny Brownlee and Luis faded back on the first lap. When the chase pack thinned, Javier Gomez and Henri Schoeman shared a five man pack with Sam Ward of New Zealand, Pierre le Corre of France and Matthew McElroy of the U.S. –m a 27-year-old mixed relay star whose best ITU solo results were two 3rd place finishes at World Cups. Within range was Jacob Birtwhistle of Australia, a certified run star who had been battling to get out of an early season slump.
Just before the halfway point of the run, Schomburg was swallowed up by the chasers led by veteran stars Javier Gomez and Henri Schoeman. Sticking stubbornly in the mix was McElroy and Sam Ward of New Zealand while Birtwhistle tip toed into range.
On the third lap, Schoeman surged to a 50 meter lead, while Birtwhistle joined Gomez, McElroy and Ward. In the final 800 meters, Birtwhistle jetted ahead, Schoeman and Ward fell back and McElroy and Gomez fought it out for second place.
With 200 meters to go, Birtwhistle was untouchable and McElroy edged past Gomez for the silver.
“I’ve had five World Cup podiums, but to finally make a statement on the WTS scene is life-changing,” McElroy told USA Triathlon media. “It feels amazing, honestly — the best achievement I’ve ever had in my life and in my sport career. It was pretty unpredictable. I think today I just did everything right. The swim, bike, run combo was spot on, and my mindset going into the race was very positive. I’m excited for the future.”
The last time a U.S. man medaled in the ITU World Triathlon Series was in 2009 (under its previous name, the ITU World Championship Series), when Jarrod Shoemaker won gold in Hamburg, Germany.
Birtwhistle was equally thrilled. “It’s been a long time coming to make the top step of the podium,” he told ITU media. “After a rough start to the season, I haven’t put together a good race that I’m proud of. So, it's nice to finally be able to come out and give good performance and show the world what I’m capable of and finally get that first WTS win.”
Birtwhistle said that his decent swim unlocked the possibilities. “To swim well and be in the mix right from the get go definitely makes my job easier,” he said. “Still I had to work hard on the bike. Lots of attack and it wasn't easy to stay at the front. I was able to stay in touch but I was really hurting at the start of the run. Still, I was able to mark every move and stay with the front guys.”
Birtwhistle said his make or break moment came on the third lap with Schoeman holding a 50 meter lead. “On that third lap, Henri had a bit of a gap and I thought I had no need to let him have that gap. I am kind of known for that back end of my runs. I figured today I better go a bit earlier.”
Leeds, United Kingdom
June 9, 2019
S 1.5k / B 40k / R 10k
1. Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS) 1:45:12 S 17:43 T1 1:05 B 55:39 T2 00:25 R 30:21
2. Matt McElroy (USA) 1:45:19 S 17:43 T1 1:02 B 55:43 T2 00:26 R 30:26
3. Javier Gomez (ESP) 1:45:21 S 17:36 T1 1:00 B 55:51 T2 00:26 R 30:28
4. Henri Schoeman (RSA) 1:45:31 S 17:23 T1 1:08 B 5:55 T2 00:25 R 30:40
5. Sam Ward (NZL) 1:45:42 S 17:45 T1 1:02 B 55:37 T2 00:23 R 30:55
6. Vincent Luis (FRA) 1:45:46 S 17:29 T1 1:02 B 55:53 T2 00:27 R 30:56
7. Martin Van Riel (BEL) 1:45:47 S 17:27 T1 1:10 B 55:48 T2 00:25 R 30:57
8. Pierre Le Corre (FRA) 1:45:47 S 17:28 T1 1:04 B 55:51 T2 00:23 R 31:02
9. Fernando Alarza (ESP) 1:45:49 S 17:40 T1 1:04 B 55:45 T2 00:28 R 30:53
10. Jonas Schomburg (GER) 1:45:52 S 17:26 T1 1:04 B 55:52 T2 00:22 R 31:08
29. Mario Mola (ESP) 1:48:02
35. Jonny Brownlee (GBR) 1:48:57
44. Alistair Brownlee (GBR) 1:50:34