The battle to become the men’s 2019 ITU World Champion may only be reaching the halfway point of the season this weekend but rarely has it looked so wide open, with just 1500 points separating the top 13 in the rankings ahead of the 2019 AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds. And what a line up we have awaiting us on Sunday afternoon, with Alistair Brownlee, Jonathan Brownlee, Javier Gomez, Mario Mola and Vincent Luis standing shoulder to shoulder for the first time since the ITU 2014 Grand Final in Edmonton.
Yorkshire will welcome all of the athletes as warmly as ever, but it will be for the return of local heroes the Brownlee brothers that they will reserve the biggest cheer on Sunday afternoon. From Roundhay Park’s lake swim, down through the first point-to-point portion of the bike and then into the tight and technical city-centre loop, the atmosphere will be electric, as Leeds once again provides the kind of setting that requires true brilliance to emerge on top.
It is a course that current World Champion Mario Mola knows and loves but, whilst he may have won the season opener in Abu Dhabi, the Spaniard has since struggled to find his very best form, the likes of Vincent Luis (FRA), Henri Schoeman (RSA), Fernando Alarza and a returning Javier Gomez (ESP) all staking their claims for this year’s title with fine showings in Bermuda and Yokohama.
Great Britain’s old guard will be well represented by double World and Olympic Champion Alistair Brownlee, back to short-form racing in style over the past month with World Cup gold and a European title added to his list of achievements, while brother Jonathan will be equally keen to deliver in front of his home fans after being forced out with illness 12 months ago.
But GB’s new generation also arrives in the form of Alex Yee. Few are faster over 5km or 10km than the 21-year-old, who hung on to Mario Mola with true grit to earn silver on his WTS debut in Abu Dhabi. When you are capable of making up 20+ places across the run, a decent bike segment on this technical course would mean anything is possible.
Last year, it was South Africa’s Richard Murray who produced the performance of the day, holding off Mola with a blistering run to secure his first Olympic-distance WTS gold. Murray registered his first win of 2019 racing for Team Ejot in the Bundesliga at the start of June, marking an impressive return from injury but it could still prove too early for more Leeds fireworks.
Top of the rankings heading in to the weekend and spearheading another strong French contingent will be Vincent Luis. Having finished fifth, fourth, first so far this campaign, he will need to produce his very best on the bike course to maintain that kind of form. Teammate Leo Bergere will be hoping to follow another fourth place of his own in Abu Dhabi with a podium here, and will surely take added inspiration from compatriot Dorian Coninx’s storming victory at WTS Bermuda in April.
The ever dangerous trio of Casper Stornes, Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden will be joined by Norway’s new generation of contenders in Endre Espedal and Vetle Bergsvik Thorn, two promising youngsters both making their WTS debuts in Leeds.
It was Blummenfelt who put in the fastest cycle in the field in 2018, closely followed by Ryan Bailie who will start alongside fellow Australian Jake Birtwhistle, another of the strongest runners in the field and a man who will want to recapture his top-10 form from Abu Dhabi after disappointing results in Bermuda and Yokohama.
Henri Schoeman was back to his best in Yokohama last month, narrowly edged out into second place by Luis after a typically consistent display across the three disciplines. The South African arrives from training in Durban having shaken off a cold and looks ready to make his play for the Series Leader spot at the halfway point of the season.
Spain is well represented once more on the start line with another multiple World Champion Javier Gomez Noya continuing to enjoy his return to the ITU fray ahead of Tokyo 2020 with second in Bermuda and fourth in Yokohama and Fernando Alarza having registered a trio of top-10 displays so far in 2019’s gripping World Series.
Elsewhere in the starting line ups, Domen Dornik represents the ASICS World Triathlon Team in his first WTS of 2019, Germany’s Justus Nieschlag will take much heart from finishing second at the Cagliari World Cup after a sprint to the line with Alistair Brownlee and Marten Van Riel will look to build on his fifth-place finish here last year and eighth in Yokohama.
You can of course watch the race live in full on TriathlonLIVE.tv and follow on social media using the hashtag #WTSLeeds
For the full men’s start list, click here