The packed grandstands witnessed two sprint finishes for the ages in Tiszaujvaros on Sunday afternoon, as first the women’s and then the men’s World Cup races boiled down to flat-out charges from some of the best in the business over the final 200 metres.
First, it was Emma Jeffcoat who hung tough as Sara Vilic (AUT), Kelly-Anne Perkins (AUS) and Miriam Casillas Garcia (ESP) kicked, only for the Australian to motor through the middle of them all and take the tape.
“You really won’t wipe this smile off my face,” she said with glee. “To come away from Tiszy with the win just blows my mind. I’m pretty determined when you give me a bit of a challenge so when it came down to a sprint finish I always just thought ‘go for it and don’t look back’ so I just kept going right to the line and literally gave it everything I had.”
“After a rough start to the season this feels really good, said Eli Hemming. “It’s really fun to be doing a sprint finish, but it’s even better with your buddies.”
With the morning storm having passed and the course drying out, 30 women took to the start line having negotiated the previous day’s Semi-Finals, Hungary’s own Zsanett Bragmayer wearing the no.1 as fastest qualifier but just one of a cast of medal contenders.
It was the home favourite and Miriam Casillas who were the first to emerge from three typically intense laps of the lake, the Aussie trio of Perkins, Jeffcoat and Natalie Van Coevorden right with them onto the testing 8-lap bike.
The leaders were soon joined by the likes of Vilic, Ilaria Zane (ITA) and Sophie Alden (GBR), while Erika Ackerlund (USA) and Brittany Dutton (AUS) found themselves stranded between packs and pushing to catch the leaders.
It proved impossible as the gap stretched and the nineteen-strong peloton clicked into an easy rhythm, nobody trying to roll the dice and pull away but all working well and looking to keep some gas for the run.
Bragmayer and Zsofia Kovacs were still giving the crowds plenty to shout about as they tucked in among the front runners out of T2 as another group, albeit now down to a more manageable seven, found their way into contention. The Hungarians then dropped off over the final lap before Natalie van Coevorden did likewise out on the final straight, leaving Jeffcoat, Vilic, Casillas and Perkins to go all out down the blue carpet.
Vilic nosed ahead, only for Jeffcoat to rally, powering in between the Austrian and Casillas to take the tape by a whisker, three seconds separating the top five in a fitting finish to a brilliant weekend of racing.
“To take that tape is so surreal,” added Jeffcoat. “It was one of my poorest swims and I was further back than I would have liked but I tried to just stay calm. I first came here in 2016 and my whole family came and I’ve always loved it so to top it off with a win is just great.
For the full women’s results click here
A well-executed semi from Luxembourg’s Stefan Zachaus saw him through to Sunday’s finale wearing the number one, but it was a returning Aurelien Raphael (FRA) who took the race by the horns early on and powered into a huge lead after two laps of the swim.
Home favourite Mark Devay was the only one able to get back in touch, and the pair were side-by-side by the time they had exited T1 and clicked into the 20km bike. Ten seconds back were Dmitry Polyanskiy and hometown hero Csongor Lehmann, themselves ten seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Those two were quickly swallowed up, followed by Raphael a lap later, before Devay’s brave charge eventually came to an end just past the halfway mark. That left an almighty group of riders with the big-run potential of Hemming, Sullwald, Ryan Fisher and Genis Grau (ESP) still looking dangerously fresh.
That bunch of over twenty athletes poured into T2 as one, but it wasn’t long before it began to splinter, Sullwald’s stride taking him to the front with Hemming, Fisher, Grau and Barclay Izzard (GBR), fellow Brit Gordon Benson (GBR) leading the second group trying to shut down the gap.
It was at the bell that Csongor Lehmann made his move to reach the leaders and then with 1km to go he put down the hammer, sending the crowds wild. He was reigned back in just 500m later, though, and as the chute came into sight, Sullwald, Hemming and Fisher attacked together.
With Fisher looking in pole, Hemming then found an extra push to hit the line just ahead of the Australian, training partner Sullwald crossing to seal the bronze ahead of a brave Csongor Lehmann, Izzard and Benson finishing fifth and sixth.
“I had a chip on my shoulder from the start of the season so I just gave it all I got,” said Hemming. “I was pushing first for quarter of the bike but realised it wasn’t really going anywhere so wanted to save it for the run.” For the full men’s results click here
|Results: Semifinal 1 Elite Men|
|Results: Semifinal 3 Elite Men|
|Results: Semifinal 2 Elite Women|