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All eyes were on Alistair Brownlee in his comeback race and he made certain to impress. The reigning ITU World Champion produced a masterful performance in Kitzbühel today, punctuated by an eye-popping 29:51 10km run split, and ascended back to the top of the podium for the 12th time in an ITU World Triathlon Series race. The result resoundingly answered questions around his Achilles injury as he re-asserted his position as the gold medal favourite at the London Olympic Games.
“Obviously I couldn’t have done much better today, there’s always a bit of uncertainty so it was good just to get out there and see how it worked,” said Alistair after the race.
Russian brothers Igor and Dmitry Polyanskiy led the elite men after first lap of the swim in Lake Schwarzee. Alistair looked to have a slower than usual start in his return from an Achilles injury. However, he managed to pull himself up from 15th in the first lap to fifth by the end of the swim, exiting the water alongside his brother Jonathan.
From there the Brownlees wasted no time on the bike and within the first kilometre rocketed off the front with another Russian, Ivan Vasiliev. That trio quickly build a 25-second lead on a chase pack of 28 athletes in the first lap.
But they were no match for the organized German Olympic team at the head of the first chase. Jan Frodeno, also returning from injury, Steffen Justus and Maik Petzold worked together effortlessly at the front to cut the gap to 20 seconds on the second lap and by the third of six laps, they had bridged to the leaders and became a large group of 31. After those groups merged, Stuart Hayes controlled a fast pace at the front of the pack as the group rolled into T2 together.
From T2, Alistair led from the start, sprinting out of transition to the lead. Jonathan tried to stay with him but he never came close from leaving T2 as Alistair hammered out an unforgiving pace that no one could match. He cruised to the finish line with a time of 1 hour, 50 minutes, 13 seconds, capping off a successful return.
“Races never go to plan, I never really have a race plan these days,” said Alistair, who has won seven of his last nine ITU races. “We just tried to push the early part of the bike as hard as we could and see what happened, but we couldn’t get away, but I think it was important we hurt a lot of people’s legs early on. It’s nice to be back on the podium and it is fantastic that we got a one-two. That’s what we always aim to get and it’s a special day.”
Jonathan came across for silver, more than 50 seconds behind Alistair, his 13th consecutive ITU podium, an astounding streak that started in July 2010 in London.
“It was a tough, tough race,” said Jonathan. “Today was a real test because it’s a strong field and everyone who is going to be in the Olympics was there. It was kind of a practice Olympics really, so to have everyone there and still come second is great.”
The real battle behind the Brownlees was for bronze between Gomez and the big Russian Alexander Bryukhankov. At one point both him and Polyanskiy had passed Gomez but the Spaniard came charging back to run clear of both Russians. Gomez held on for bronze to complete the podium after holding off a late surge by Bryukhankov before the reaching the blue carpet.
“It was a tough race, very fast from the beginning,” said Gomez. “I didn’t have my best swim and then we had to work hard on the bike to catch the breakaway with the Brownlees and then we never stopped, we went pretty quick the whole way and on the run I felt quite good. I just tried to follow the Brownlees and after almost one lap I blew up and it took me another lap to recover and the Russians caught me and then I stayed behind a little bit. But on the last lap I felt quite good again, I could beat them and make the podium which is always good.”
Russia occupied fourth and fifth with Bryukhankov and Polyanskiy respectively. Despite missing out on the podium, Bryukhankov retained his hold on the series lead.
Justus was tops for the German team in sixth place while France got two in the top ten with Laurent Vidal in seventh and Tony Moulai in eighth. Brit David McNamee scored a career-best WTS result in ninth while New Zealand’s Tony Dodds rounded out the top ten, also a WTS career high for him.
Rising American star Verzbicas clocked the second fastest run split behind Alistair but finished in 32nd position in his debut in the ITU World Triathlon Series.