Luke Willian ran away from a strong field to take his second career World Cup gold by a 5 seconds margin over Justus Nieschlag of Germany and 6 seconds over 3rd place Sam Ward of New Zealand.
In his first race back in the ITU short course realm after taking a year focusing on the long course distance, five-time ITU World Champion, two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion, 2012 Olympic silver medalist and one-time XTERRA World Champion Javier Gomez of Spain finished 5th. Gomez, in a return aimed at qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, was 13 seconds back of Willian’s race-winning 56:05 mark for the sprint distance event.
After the wind whipped and choppy 750-meter swim, Slovakia’s Richard Varga led the 67-man field out of the water, followed closely by Sam Ward of New Zealand, Russell White of Ireland and Tayler Reid of New Zealand. Gomez emerged with a large first chase pack.
A lead pack of four men including Varga, Ward, Gianluca Pozzatti of Italy and Reid broke out to a 7 seconds lead on the first of four 5-kilometer laps on the bike. Gomez and Ryan Sissons of New Zealand’s led a small first chase group and were soon joined by another 20 men who quickly overcame a further 10 seconds gap.
Eventually the two lead groups formed a single crowded pack on a challenging course which featured one short but steep hill and several tight corners. Eventually Gomez found his way to the front and made a short breakaway up the steep hill.
After a traffic jam arrival at T2, Willian led the field on to the run, followed closely by Jayden Wilde of New Zealand and Valentin Wernz of Germany, who took bronze at the Mooloolaba World Cup earlier this month. Soon thereafter, Wernz faded and Nieschlag and Ward advanced to the lead group and Gomez pulled close into 5th place.
Powered by a dominant run, Willian pulled away on the final lap and hit the line in 56:05 with a 6 seconds margin of victory over Nieschlag, who edged Ward for the silver in co-equal 56:11 times. Wilde took 4th in 56:16 and Gomez netted 5th in 56:18.
“Had a good swim today,” Willian told ITU media. “We rode really well and I made sure I was at the front into transition. We know it’s a technical course so it was really important to get out in front. I started out in front and kept going and didn’t look back. I saw on the first lap that I had a bit of a gap and it kept getting bit bigger every time I checked so there was a lot of confidence there.”
Nieschlag was quite satisfied with his silver and running in close quarters with Gomez. “It was amazing,” he told ITU media. “After fifth place in Cape Town, I am really happy. It was a good fight. Running with Javier, always a pleasure.”
Ward took satisfaction with his podium performance. “I was really going for that top step today. I am really happy to be on the podium today. The swim was so choppy, positioning was so important. The bike was a really honest bike course, it showed the pace was on. I knew Gomez was close. I was prepared to go with him as long as I could and I managed to do that.”
Gomez also was pleased with his reintroduction to the short course arena. ““It was fun,” he said. “It was a really good course, especially on the bike. I made a few mistakes. I went too far in T2 and had to turn around to put my bike in and lose a few seconds, which made me start a little too hard on the run. I just didn’t have much left on the last lap. It’s OK, it’s quite early for me in the season. It was a good racing experience again and hopefully I get better for the next ones.”
New Plymouth World Cup
Taranaki, New Zealand
March 31, 2019
S 750m / B 20k / R 5k
1. Luke Willian (AUS) 56:05
2. Justus Nieschlag (GER) 56:11
3. Sam Ward (NZL) 56:11
4. Hayden Wilde (NZL) 56:16
5. Javier Gomez (ESP) 56:18
6. Valentin Wernz (GER) 56:25
7. Brandon Copeland (AUS) 56:29
8. Andreas Salvisberg (SUI) 56:29
9. Ryan Sissons (NZL) 56:30
10. Stefan Zachäus (LUX) 56:37
17 Tony Smoragiewicz (USA) 57:01
18. Matthew McElroy (USA) 57:05
29. Jason West (USA) 58:32
36. Morgan Pearson (USA) 59:04