If his first performance back on the blue carpet in Hamburg last weekend was an impressively assured display, the manner of 2020 World Champion Vincent Luis’ win in Karlovy Vary on Sunday morning was an even stronger statement of intent for his Tokyo Olympic credentials.
This time over the standard distance and on a hugely demanding course, Luis’ gold really never looked in doubt from the moment he powered out of the first transition in front. Behind him at the line, Portugal’s exciting 20-year-old talent Vasco Vilaça again impressed to take silver in only his third outing on this distance, Belgium’s Jelle Geens motoring to bronze with a stunning run.
“It’s really nice to race as the World Champ. Karlovy Vary is a great race and a tough one that really rewards the best swim-bike-runner. I was really happy with the group on the bike and it was a shame they (Kenji Nener and Mark Devay) crashed there with 1km to go, but it’s the kind of race I like; a quick breakaway on the bike and then a fight against the top runners.
The men lined up under optimal dry, sunny conditions on the edge of Rolava Lake, the huge field including the newly crowned World Champion Luis and a wealth of big names, many fresh from the exertions of individual and relay championships just eight days before. It was at the end of the first lap of the testing swim that Richard Varga came out ahead of the pack, running down the pontoon and launching himself back in for the second pass closely pursued by Luis.
Luis took to the front over the final few hundred metres, rounding off what was a devastating swim for his main rivals and their chances of staying in touch on the bike. He followed it with a typically liquid transition to roll out to the point-to-point bike section in a familiar pole position with Schomburg, Devay and Nener for company, Vilaca and Germany’s Jonas Breinlinger quickly bridging up.
A strong six behind were doing their best to close in, Csongor Lehmann (HUN), Alessandro Fabian (ITA), Diego Moya (CHI) and Bence Bicsak (HUN) among the names trying to catch on as they hit the town section, but there was soon 30 seconds of daylight between them and the leaders and they were swallowed up by a big train of riders.
The gap grew lap-by-lap as the leaders worked well and attacked together, from 60 seconds up to 80 on the final lap, a not-100% fit Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), Jelle Geens (BEL), Richard Murray (RSA) and Ben Dijkstra (GBR) among the names unable to get into striking position and having to save the legs for the tough run ahead.
A dramatic late twist saw Nener and Devay come together in the tunnel on the final lap to sadly end their challenges, Schomburg also tangled up but carrying on suddenly some 25 seconds back, and it was Breinlinger, Vilaça and Luis 1-2-3 out of T2.
Murray and Geens set about their task 65 seconds back, Bicsak and Dijkstra in pursuit of them, but out front for the second week in succession it was Luis and Vilaça shoulder to shoulder as Breinlinger dropped back on the first climb.
After passing Schomburg, Geens closed in on Breinlinger, and had cut into Luis’ lead at the halfway point of the 10km but was running out of course. The Frenchman was losing Vilaça by this point too, and the final 5km became yet another showcase of Luis’ impeccable technique and relentless power.
There was simply to be no catching the World Champion, who delivered another big statement of intent for the Olympic year ahead, crushing the demanding course to grab World Cup gold in fine style.
Geens was easing through the gears too, moving into a podium spot after dropping Murray who finished in fourth, Breinlinger eventually finishing in eighth. Bence Bicsak was in good shape for fifth, the Spanish duo of Genis Grau and Antonio Serrat claiming sixth and seventh, Lehmann and Dijkstra rounding out the top 10.
“It’s two hours of extreme pain, I don’t know how I did it, I just thought keep digging – one more stroke on the swim, one more lap on the bike, one more km on the run,” said a happy, exhausted Vilaça. “Ive never been in a group that worked so well together, but then putting the shoes on I cramped up and didn’t know what I could do, so I waited to see if my legs would recover and then after two laps I started to get back into it. I’m so happy to be racing with these guys.”
“The swim was very rough,” said Geens. “I had to really cross from left to right to that first buoy and then we started out quite strong on the bike but then I was getting annoyed with some of the people in the group. On the run I was still frustrated and said to myself no one is going to outrun me, but I couldn’t quite get the second I wanted.”
For the full results, click here