Belgium had a great day of firsts at the 2018 ITU Antwerp World Cup, with Jelle Geens claiming his first-ever victory of an ITU race on his home soil, much to the delight of the thousands of spectators who enjoyed a day of triathlon at its very best. Accompanying Geens atop the podium were New Zealand’s Tayler Reid and Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk. In the women’s race, it was yet another victory for an American very familiar with the top of the World Cup podium, Summer Cook, who claimed a sixth win of her career. Finishing behind in second and third were Britain’s Beth Potter and Italy’s Verena Steinhauser.
The local hero, Marten Van Riel, was one of the favourites going into the race, and he gave the thousands of spectators lining up in Antwerp plenty to cheer as he was first out of the water. The Belgian, who put in a splendid performance last week at WTS Leeds to finish in 5th place, was planning on leading from the front and he delivered early on.
Behind him were Jonas Schomburg (GER), one of the best swimmers in the field, and Tyler Mislawchuk (CAN), and it was those three who looked to escape from the chasing group from the first stages of the bike course, but they were quickly snared by a large pack, forming a train that would stay together for the 22km of the bike.
As the men sought to line up and try to avoid problems with the corners working in turns, some looked for opportunities to escape but with no luck. First, it was Tyler Mislawchuk, then a couple of kilometres later the Norwegian Casper Stornes made his move. Matthew Sharpe (CAN), Tayler Reid (NZL) and Uxio Abuin Ares (ESP) also had their chances, but nobody was able to burst clear.
That meant a large train of cyclists arrived together into the second transition, and with everything to be decided over the 5km run, another Belgian, Jelle Geens, decided it was time to gamble, pulling away to head a small group of ten athletes including Van Riel, Mislawchuk, Reid, Sharpe and Connor Doherty (IRL).
By the final lap, just five athletes were left fighting for the podium positions and it all came down to one of the longest sprint finishes ever, with Jeens giving all he had for the final push. Urged on by the local fans, the Belgian managed to stay a metre ahead of Reid and cross the finish line in first, claiming his first ever World Cup victory in the process. “I really feel amazing”, he said after his win. “In the sprint I thought I didn’t have anything left, but when I was a half meter behind I heard the crowd cheer, so that gave me the extra strength for the final push”. “This was a really hard race, and a really honest course, but it was also a very nervy race, with plenty of attacks. For me, to get my first World Cup victory in front of my friends and family here in Belgium, is just amazing”.
For Reid, Antwerp was the second World Cup podium after grabbing silver in Karlovy Vary last year, while Mislawchuk, finishing in third, is another newcomer to the World Cup podium, following a strong fourth in WTS Yokohama a month ago. “I thought I could run past Jelle in the last metres, but I had nothing left for the final push, so congrats to him. I learned my lesson last week in Leeds so I saved some energy for the run, and I’m very happy to be on the podium today”, said Reid.
“I am stoked with my third place here in Antwerp, I just didn’t have more legs for the last 200 metres”, said Mislawchuk. “I love the cobblestones, I’m a very technical rider so I actually decided to come here because the course looked like it suited me perfectly, so I’m really happy with my result here”.
Another Belgian, Van Riel, claimed fourth, while Canadian Matt Sharpe finished in 5th place. And the best running leg of the day was for one of the rising stars of British triathlon, Alex Yee, who clocked 14:50 for the 5km run.
The women’s race began with Lucy Hall (GBR) and Tamara Gorman (USA) setting a frantic pace from the very first strokes on the Bonaparte Dock. Behind them were two more extraordinary swimmers in Summer Cook (USA) and Valerie Barthelemy (BEL), the Belgian cheered by the local crowds who gathered under the MAS Museum to enjoy a delightful showcase of triathlon racing at its best.
The four athletes were joined by Natalie Van Coevorden out of transition and tried to ride solo for the first kilometres of the bike course, but the technical corners and the cobblestones proved too much for them to stay out by themselves, and they were quickly chased by a group of another seven riders including the strong riders Amelie Kretz (CAN), Verena Steinhauser and Kyleigh Spearing (USA).
The group worked together to stay ahead of the chasers, lining up to manage the multiple 90-degree turns and negotiate the cobblestones. Trying to stay out of trouble and still saving some legs for the run, the leading group had built up a gap of 27 seconds by the end of the 22 km bike ride.
And it was the USA’s experienced Summer Cook, who had stayed in the back of the bike group for much of the ride, who emerged first out of the last transition. Without looking back even once, she started to break away in the first kilometre, with Natalie Van Coevorden and Verena Steinhauser the only runners able to stay in check as Cook’s lead grew bigger and bigger.
The American managed the cobblestones easily in the run course and was all smiles at the finish line as she grabbed a sixth World Cup of her career. “This is a really tough bike course, and biking is my weakness, so I came here to challenge myself. After a rather disappointing race in Leeds last week, I needed to change something, and this is a great result”, said the American. “I pushed myself out of the comfort zone and it proved successful”, she said.
Behind her, the surprise of the day was for Great Britain’s former track and field athlete Beth Potter, who was able to cross the line in second place after flying past Steinhauser and Van Coevorden in the last kilometres. Potter, who represented Team GB in the 10,000m at Rio 2016, had the fastest split in the run segment of her third appearance on the World Cup circuit. “I feel so happy with this race. I had three targets for it, and I accomplished all of them. I couldn’t be happier with my performance”, said the Brit.
The third place was decided by a sprint over the finish line, with Italian Steinhauser managing to pass France’s Dodet in the last 50 metres to claim the first World Cup podium of her career. “I am so happy”, she said. “The course was extremely hard and I thought I couldn’t do it, but I managed to find some strength at the end and I was able to pass Sandra”.
The French, who won the first World Cup of her career in Astana only three weeks ago, claimed fourth place just ahead of Australia’s Van Coevorden. The first local over the finish line was Claire Michel, in 7th.
|Results: Elite Men|
|4.||Marten Van Riel||BEL||00:58:24|