The Brownlee domination

ITU racing has the reputation of being a large field race where anyone can win on any day. However when forecasting results, one name is universally known and comes up time and time again; Brownlee. Since 2009, the inaugural year of the WTS series format, Alistair Brownlee has owned the ITU circuit with a dominance never seen before. In 2009 he started five series races and won all five. While many racers can only aspire for one major win in a career, Alistair was annihilating his competition winning seemingly every race of significance. Before Alistair’s competition could unearth any way to contend with him, a second Brownlee, Alistair’s younger brother Jonathan, exploded onto the scene in 2011. In his first year competing in the full ITU series, Brownlee Jr. scored five podiums in five starts. Like an exotic species invading a callow environment, the Brownlee Brothers have taken over and have left the rest of ITU reeling.

Statistics illustrating the Brownlee’s dominance are staggering. As of this writing the ITU has held twenty-five races in the series format (the ITU switched from a single-race championship to a series championship in 2009). Since the switch the Brownlee brothers have combined for thirteen wins while only contesting sixteen races. Furthermore, in those sixteen starts only once did neither Alistair nor Jonathan finish in the top two overall. (Kitzbuehel 2010, when Alistair was recovering from exhaustion and Jonathan not racing). Javier Gomez, the man widely considered Brownlee’s foil, has been outdueled ten of fourteen times in head-to-head matchups against Alistair Brownlee at world series races. The Brownlee brothers are toying with the ITU.

The 2011 Madrid WTS signaled a particularly devastating day for most ITU racers not named Brownlee. At the race both Brownlees finished the swim within ten seconds of the leader then proceeded to hammer away in a twelve man breakaway on the hilly course. Their group continued to lengthen the gap between the chasers and both Brownlee’s were clear of the entire field by the 3k mark on the run. In a comfortable victory, Alistair and Jonathan had enough time to stroll down the blue carpet hand-in-hand before crossing the line nearly a minute ahead of third place. From that point it was all Brownlee as Alistair or Jonathan won every race remaining in the series (minus Hamburg which each declined to enter). They would share the podium four times and eventually finish first and second in the overall series rankings.

What is scariest about the Brownlees is that they have no weakness to exploit. Both swim extremely well and it is not uncommon for either to lead the swim. At the 2011 Grand Finale they had the two fastest swim splits. Later at the finish line Jonathan would remark “I was first out of the swim, I didn’t even want to do it like that.” The 40k bike, a vulnerability for many ITU racers, is a strength for the Brownlees. Both can be seen leading the charge on the bike attempting to breakaway out of the swim. Alistair is a particularly vocal motivator rallying the break into a functional pace line. When riding in the peloton the Brownlees are not victim to breakaways because they are always at the front, not minding breaking the wind. At the 2011 London test event Alistair with three others broke away from a formed peloton midway through the ride. Perhaps most impressive is that both of them don’t even need to push the pace on the bike because they can outrun basically everyone with routinely sub 30 minute run splits. Both have done a lot of winning and have done it in a variety of ways. It seems the Brownlee Brothers only lose when freak happenings occur.

If there is one achilles heel to the success of the Brownlee brothers - it would be Alistair’s achilles heel. In February of this year Alistair tore his achilles and has not yet returned to racing. It will surely effect his preparation for the Olympic Games held this August. The Brownlees would benefit and hopefully take away some caution from the story of Vanessa Fernandes. Fernandes, quite possibly the most decorated draft legal triathlete of all time, collected 20 World Cup victories before the age 25. However, since the 2008 Olympics she has been largely sidelined overwhelmed by pressure, exhaustion and an aggregation of injuries.

The Brownlee brothers story seems to be perfectly written for the 2012 Olympics, they are the two highest ranked triathletes racing in their home country in what is expected to be the most spectated event of the Games. And it is by all expectations the Brownlees’ race to lose.