Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee hadn’t raced an ITU event since the London 2012 Olympic Games, but the Gold medallist showed nothing had changed when he led from start to finish in his 13th ITU World Triathlon Series win in San Diego on Saturday in a performance that was simply breathtaking in it’s complete dominance over a quality field.
Brownlee was second out of the water, stayed in the lead pack of the bike throughout the race and then broke away on the run early on. While initially Portugal’s Joao Silva went with him, he dropped within the first lap and Brownlee kept increasing the gap, to win by an incredible 22 seconds from South Africa’s Richard Murray and Silva, in a total time of 1 hour 47 minutes and 16 seconds.
“I’m sure you think I’m lying when I said I’ve only done six weeks training, but I swear,” Brownlee said afterwards. “I hadn’t done much running until six weeks ago and then just pushed on since then, but I think it’s good having a winter free of injury and I just enjoyed that today, it felt great.”
Murray claimed his second consecutive podium in San Diego, going one better than bronze in 2012 with silver, in what was his first WTS race of the year. Silva’s bronze was his second consecutive series medal, after bronze in Auckland, and was enough for him to move into the overall series lead after two races.
But today was the Brownlee show, in a performance that keeps the San Diego title in teh family after brother Jonny won last year. Perhaps most frightening for the rest was that Alistair wasn’t sure how he would go today.
“It’s only this last week I have started to feel good on the run, that is why I tried to push on the bike to see if I could win it there, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, I actually started pretty slow, the first ‘k’ I tried to go pretty easy, and then push on after that.
“I was pretty nervous as well to be honest after not racing properly since last summer, I didn’t know what to expect, I was on the start line thinking it is good to be back, with all the nerves, standing on the start line thinking this is what I do. I felt pretty good, obviously Jonny wasn’t racing which makes a big difference and Javier Gomez wasn’t on form and they are the two big competition really so I had it a bit my own way I suppose. If Javier was on form it might have been a bit different. But yeah, that was fantastic I am really happy with that.
“I purposely didn’t go too fast on the first couple of ‘k’ on the run; I found myself getting through the first lap comfortable and then push on a bit. I didn’t know if I had that ability to really push on, I have seen a few people blow up on this course, Jonny did a bit last year, some of the women yesterday so I was a bit careful with that, mainly I think because it is so flat and fast. I just went out and ran at my own pace and couldn’t believe there was no one there after 1500m.
“I think Silva was still with me at the turn around and then he wasn’t and then I know Murray was about ten seconds behind me after the first lap. I knew then I was pretty good because I hadn’t gone that fast on the first lap and I really tried to push on in the second lap. I’m just pleased it is over with now, whatever the outcome was whether it was second third or fourth, it’s just nice to be back racing after last year and everything I have done this winter, so it is good.
“I think I was holding it in a bit before the race because I was a bit nervous but as soon as I actually started racing it was very much the kind of thought ‘this is where I belong’ you know, I really genuinely enjoyed it.”
Earlier in the day the men hit the water for two laps under hot San Diego skies, and while Richard Varga leads out of the water in most events he takes part in this time it was local Santa Cruz athlete Tommy Zaferes leading the first bunch out of the 1500m swim in an incredible 16.03. Varga, Brownlee and Javier Gomez were in close attendance as the rest of the field was left strung out behind the amazing pace set by the leaders.
On the back of this great swim, a lead group of nine quickly established a lead of close to a minute on the first lap of the bike and with Brownlee helping drive the train, the pace was as quick and the chase group looked to be fighting a losing battle almost before the race had fired a shot in anger.
But with the chase being led by New Zealand’s Clark Ellice, Germany’s Jan Frodeno and Murray among others, they cut around 10 seconds per lap to get to the halfway point on the bike just a few seconds behind. While Alistair Brownlee decided to take a chance and make a solo breakaway on that lap, it didn’t last and on the fifth lap, the leaders and the chase came together.
While there was some cat and mouse games within that pack of 34, with athletes like Denis Vasiliev, Andrey Bryukhankov and Jesus Gomar trying to get a small break, the 10 second lead they had after T2 didn’t last long. Brownlee quickly reeled in Vasiliev with Silva following on his shoulder.
But around two kilometres in Silva fell back and Murray pounced. While the chasers included Gomez, Steffen Justus, Dmitry Polyankskiy, Adam Bowden and Mario Mola at the halfway point it was clear the medallists were already decided as the gap stretched to over 30 seconds.
For the final few kilometres, the race then turned to just how fast Brownlee could run and even after he slowed to high five the crowd and then walk to the finish line, he still stopped the clock at 29 minutes and 30 seconds for the run leg.
Murray was delighted with his second place, but couldn’t help but be a little in awe of the winner as he mixed metaphors post-race.
“I’m absolutely through the moon, I was not sure how this was going to play out today, this was the first serious racer of the season for me. The swim was one of the roughest I have done in such a long time, the first buoy everyone was together, start of the season everyone pounded each other around the buoys, the bike was good, it was good honest work from the second bunch and Alistair just dropped us, he goes fast man!
“I think it comes a close first to Hamburg, I did well there last year and had a good one here this year as well. Running around the beach and the crowds and people just come out of their houses you know, it is something really special, I love coming back here, it is where triathlon all began. I’m glad I came to the US because there is a bit too much European racing going on.”
Silva’s third place means he is now leading heading into the event he has already won twice, Yokohama. Mario Mola’s fifth place puts him in second, while Javier Gomez sits in third in the overall 2013 ITU World Triathlon Series rankings.
“Yes I am really happy with this third place, it has been an amazing beginning of the season, I have had a good winter of training without many injuries. Mostly I am happy to be returning home after this race because I have been out since Auckland so it will be great to go home.
“In Auckland I played a little bit defensive so this one I thought why not, see what I get and Alistair is too strong so not yet. I love Yokohama so next I will be there, I have a connection with the place so we will see what happens there.”