Wian Sullwald (RSA) broke through for his first ever ITU World Cup win with victory at Chengdu in China today, defeating Kevin McDowell (USA) and Aurelien Lebrun (FRA), with all three posting career-best performances.
20 year old Sullwald follows in the footsteps of Richard Murray and Hendrik De Villiers as the only South Africans to stand atop an ITU World Cup podium, following on from his 15th place finish at the Capetown ITU WTS event a week ago.
The young South African was patient in the swim before sitting in a large group that rode well within themselves on the bike, before establishing himself at the front of the run and sprinting clear of McDowell and Lebrun with Tony Dodds (NZL) finishing fourth on his return from injury.
“I am happy to take the win, like I said in the press conference I wanted to be on the podium today and I made it, I am over the moon, “ said Sullwald. “I remained calm throughout the whole race, the swim was decent and the bike was quite easy, all the packs got together and were just riding along, I stuck to the back and on the last two laps I worked my way to the front and hit it hard on to the run and just kept my pace.
“Today the sun is out and it is really quite warm but coming from South African I am used to the heat and for me it was perfect racing conditions. From Capetown to Chengdu it is all going great and hopefully now I can back this up with another good performance in Yokohama.”
The swim was led out by Li Minghao (CHN) in front of huge crowds, the adrenalin no doubt pumping fast through the veins of the Chinese competitors in front of their compatriots. That early pace and some frantic riding on lap one threatened to string the field out but sanity quickly returned and a lead bunch of 37 crossed the line together at the end of lap one and then grew to 48 at the end of lap two.
All the pre-race favourites were comfortably in there, including Jarrod Shoemaker (USA), Denis Vasliev (RUS), Sullwald (RSA) Lebrun (FRA), McDowell (USA) and Tony Dodds (NZL). As the bike wore on and the temperature increased it became clear that no one was prepared to make a break on the field and T2 resembled downtown Chengdu in rush hour – there were bikes everywhere looking for their own space on the road!
The run soon separated the pretenders from the contenders though as the heat and high humidity also took a toll on some who had raced beyond themselves to that point.
Like Sullwald it was a first time on a World Cup podium for McDowell. The gutsy young American has worked tremendously hard over the past two years to return to full health and fitness, overcoming cancer (Hodgkins Lymphoma) in a brave and single minded manner.
“This is my best performance, in just my second World Cup race, to come out and get on the podium, I was trying for the win and was pushing pushing over that last bit but Wian is a class act guy, congratulations to him, it was a great race and I gave all I could out there.
“I need to keep progressing now, I will go back to my coaches and see what is next in the plan. This year for me is just about coming back, it has been a big struggle these past two years to rebuild myself and get strong. To be honest I didn’t even have this on my plan at the start of the year, we were sitting down and looked at one World Cup after another and things kept progressing well.
“This is real special for me, it is a signifying moment to say I have made it through, there were a lot of trials, my friends, coaches and parents have been so supportive of me and helped me through, without them I would not have made it through.”
To make it a trifecta, it was also a career best and first World Cup podium for Frenchman Lebrun.
“I am very pleased of course, to be honest I didn’t think I could get such a result, for me it is a long trip to get here and you have to manage jet lag so yeah, it was a really good race for me and I am really happy. There is much pressure and I am really happy with the result.
“This is my third World Cup, I was 7th in the first one and then was disqualified in the second so this is my best for sure. The city is brilliant and the course is especially for triathlon, this is a great place, they are hoping to host a World Triathlon Series race I think!”