By Merryn Sherwood on 12/06/11 at 1:28 pm
The battle for the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series hits high altitude this weekend with round three in Kitzbühel, Austria. And there are more questions entering this race than the previous two rounds of 2011: Can anyone stop Canadian Paula Findlay? How will Chris McCormack fare in his ITU return? Who will breakaway on the bike this year? Will Alistair Brownlee rebound from last year’s disappointing 40th place showing?
Kitzbühel was a World Cup event in 2007 and 2008 before becoming part of the inaugural Dextro Energy Triathlon Series in 2009. In the last two years, the top podium spot has gone to British men, Alistair Brownlee first and then surprisingly Stuart Hayes last year off the strength of a bike breakaway. On the women’s side, Aussie Emma Moffatt (AUS) and new Canadian star Paula Findlay have claimed the women’s titles. This year, the world’s best are back to race in the picturesque Austrian town usually known for its thrilling and rich alpine ski history, but now making a name for its thrilling, hilly triathlon bike leg that has helped to craft some unexpected triathlon results. Here is a look at the contenders for the third round of the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series.
Last year Kitzbühel proved to be one of the biggest upset races for the men, when Great Britain’s Hayes surged away on the bike leg with a group of five, then kept his lead on the run to seal his maiden victory in the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series.
This year, it could be set to throw up another interesting result, especially with the return of 1997 World Champion Chris McCormack back into the fold. But with the European Championships the weekend after, current series leaders Javier Gomez and Jonathan Brownlee, as well as reigning Olympic champion Jan Frodeno, are all sitting out this weekend’s round. The top of the podium might not change much because Alistair Brownlee – who hit stunning form in Madrid to take out his eighth series race win – is on the start list for Kitzbühel. Despite faltering here last year, Brownlee has won in Austria, during his dominant season of 2009. But there will be plenty of competition for those other podium places, and the Europeans who will race – including Alexander Brukhankov, Sven Reiderer, Steffen Justus, and Frenchmen Laurent Vidal and David Hauss will all compete. Simon Whitfield could also challenge, after having his first race of the 2011 season in Madrid, and fellow three-time Olympian Tim Don is also back after missing Madrid.
But it could also be surprising because there is a genuine wildcard in the field in McCormack, who returns to the ITU circuit 14 years after capturing an ITU World Championship. McCormack won both the World Cup series and World Championship title in 1997 and last raced an ITU event in 2004, a Pan American Cup. After deciding not to pursue a spot in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, McCormack switched to long distance and went on to capture Kona twice. At 38, he’s making a return to ITU racing with an aim to make it onto the start list at the London Olympic Games. His return will no doubt garner a lot of attention as many are keen to see how he’ll fare against the current crop of ITU stars, despite a host of big names not competing in Kitzbühel.
It will also be interesting to watch McCormack’s fellow Australians and athletes from the traditionally strong triathlon nation across the Tasman, New Zealand. No male athlete from either country has reached a Dextro Energy Triathlon Series podium yet in 2011 and if not for rising star Brendan Sexton in Sydney, none would have not even made the top-10. Last year’s series silver medallist Brad Kahlefeldt didn’t finish in Sydney and finished 51st in Madrid, Courtney Atkinson – a regular medallist in early season races – has finished 13th and 38th – while Bevan Docherty finished 18th in Sydney and didn’t compete in Madrid. All three will be looking to bounce back to form in Kitzbühel after not firing on all cylinders so far this season. Sexton has pulled out from the event.
The elite men dive into the Schwarzsee Lake for start of the men’s race at 14:30 (local time) on Saturday 18 June.
Among the women, Paula Findlay is tied for most Dextro Energy Triathlon Series wins, with four titles to her name after she stormed home to beat Helen Jenkins and Emmie Charayron in Madrid. What’s stunning is that it only took the 22-year old Canadian five races to equal Moffatt’s record and she is yet to complete a full elite season. Having exploded onto the scene last year with back-to-back wins in London and Kitzbühel and now dominating the early part of 2011 with victories in Sydney and Madrid, all eyes will be on Findlay as she defends a series title for the first time. In the first two rounds, Findlay has put herself in excellent position in the swim and cycled smart, keeping with the leaders then crushing all challengers in the run. With form like that, and now returning to the race she’s most familiar with, the real question is – can anyone stop Findlay from becoming the most successful woman in series history by toppling the Canadian in Kitzbühel?
The contenders who will be aiming to stop Findlay’s record-breaking winning streak are most likely to be Andrea Hewitt, Barbara Riveros Diaz and Jenkins. Hewitt has claimed bronze both times in Kitzbühel and after narrowly missing the podium in Madrid, will no doubt be keen to get back on the podium. Jenkins hit form in Madrid – after an unlucky bike crash ruined her day in Sydney, but just couldn’t keep up with Findlay in the last 400 metres in Madrid. Chilean star Riveros Diaz has had a stellar start to the season and is still second on the overall Dextro Energy Triathlon Series rankings behind Findlay. The U.S. fields a strong team that includes Laura Bennett and Sarah Groff who was impressive with a seventh place showing in Madrid. They will be joined in Kitzbühel by Sarah Haskins, who claimed her first ITU World Cup title in Monterrey last month and makes her 2011 series season debut in Kitzbühel.
The Australian team is yet to crack the podium this year and reigning ITU World Champion Moffatt looks most likely, having finished 13th twice. Moffatt was the winner of the first series race in Kitzbühel, in 2009 but found some form in Madrid, rather than being with the leaders and fading like in Sydney - Moffatt made up time in the run. Australia’s other Emma, Emma Snowsill, was a late withdrawal from Kitzbühel, after disappointing results of 42nd and 21st to start the season. Other notables not on the Kitzbühel start list are Lisa Norden and Nicola Spirig.
The elite women take over Kitzbühel on Sunday, starting at 12:30 local time.
Find more details about this event - 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Series Kitzbuehel