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WTS Yokohama: 10 things we learnt
1. Yokohama not so hot as an Olympic dry run: The Japanese city lies less than a 40km bike leg from Tokyo and its course profile – essentially pan-flat – resembles what triathletes can expect at next year’s Olympics. Acclimatising to the time and cultural differences will provide valuable experience, but one factor that Yokohama could not recreate were the expected conditions come August 2020 – likely to be so oppressive the racing has been moved to early morning starts. History tells us that turning up the heat leads to unexpected outcomes in triathlon, so don’t read too many omens into this one.
2. British selection goes from tough to tougher: The women’s race might have played out as a precursor for the harshest of British Triathlon selection decisions for the Olympics. Jess Learmonth always leads the swim, pushes the pace on the bike, and is currently tied for second place in the series rankings. But it may not be enough. The more her cycling improves, the greater the chance of the front group staying away from the rest of the field – and that includes the faster running Brits. Had the chasing bike pack containing Georgia Taylor-Brown and Non Stanford caught the leaders in Yokohama, the chances of a GB medal would have increased. But before Learmonth fans cry foul and worry unduly, if and when Duffy and potentially even Nicola Spirig return, the race dynamics will change once more. Before selection is determined, there are plenty of twists and turns to come.
3. Dicing with the dismount line: Quite why pro triathletes cut the bike dismount so fine is almost as unfathomable as how technical officials could make an accurate penalty call amidst a flurry of legs and spokes careering down the blue carpet. Given any advantage would be negligible, there seems to be an unwritten code that no-one will actually be penalised for transgressing, except, as Jonny Brownlee, ala London 2012, will recall (then with the mount line), ‘rules is sometimes rules’. So, with next year’s Olympics in mind, perhaps all triathletes should give themselves a little grace as to where they plonk their feet.
4. The joy of a home hero: Yuko Takahashi may not be the highest profile triathlete in the world, but when it comes to racing in Japan, she tops the bill – and that will be multiplied 10-fold next year. The Asian champion has been in the sport for over a decade, is still improving, and in Yokohama went one better than her previous best of fifth place in last year’s Bermuda WTS. It brought smiles all round. Home heroes bring a vital ingredient to the WTS. Bermuda was all the poorer for local ace Flora Duffy’s absence in the last round and Leeds won’t be the same unless a Brownlee or two shows up.
5. Lose the wetsuit, concede the race: Yokohama is a long-standing host on the World Series and many of its past races have seen the field come together to form one main bike pack for a less-than-enthralling roll around the city’s streets. It didn’t happen in either race this time, and a major factor was the non-wetsuit swim. Without the neoprene, weaker swimmers are exposed, the race fragments, and among the big names to drop out of contention early here were men’s world champion Mario Mola and women’s 2018 Grand Final winner Ashleigh Gentle.
6. More glee for Yee: Britain’s Alex Yee, originally from London and now training in Leeds, produced another step up in performance to be the sole triathlete to run under 30mins for the 10km split (29:58). While he officially needed a top three finish to achieve the first part of the Olympic selection criteria, the 21-year-old, who finished fifth, must already be inked in for Tokyo, particularly with the Brownlees’ injury challenges and no other medal contenders emerging. Yee is not infallible, but after the curtain-raiser in Abu Dhabi we stated he could win a WTS race this season and his Yokohama performance further solidifies that view.
7. The first pedal strokes determine the race: As Britain’s Tom Bishop, Non Stanford and Georgia Taylor-Brown will attest, the frenetic moments heading out of T1 and on to the bike course define the narrative of the race. All three Brits were cut adrift by fine margins, and with it went their chances. It felt particularly tough on Bishop, who swam within 19sec of the lead, yet unable to latch on to the front was left time-trialling solo for several kilometres trying to bridge the gap.
8. You don’t out-kick sprint king Luis: After his fourth place in Bermuda last time out, we concluded that despite being the series leader, Vincent Luis was still an enigma when it comes to the highest level. What wasn’t acknowledged – and that he’s proved time and again – is that to beat the Frenchman, he needs distancing before the blue carpet. Otherwise, as shown in Yokohama, when it comes to a sprint finish, there is no-one better.