The Scribbler

15 June 2016

World Triathlon Leeds – watching the elites

I found a spot on the kerb of the Headrow to watch the start of the women’s race on the big screen. I was still sipping my water and recovering from my own race as they dived in off the pontoon.

It’s never easy to keep track of athletes in the swim but it was clear that team GB’s Jessica Learmouth and Lucy Hall were in the leading pack with Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. As they emerged from the second lap of the lake, USA’s Gwen Jorgensen and GB’s Vicky Holland were in the mix for the run to transition and the bike leg.

13419094_10154451241114928_1254479179588044760_n

Gwen Jorgensen passes Flora Duffy on the run, right in front of me. Picture by Roger Loxley

At this point I went off to see if my bag with my dry clothes had arrived, and tried to meet up with my friends, but with the course being live for racing, it was impossible to cross from one side to the other. It was obvious that my bag wouldn’t arrive for a while, so I made my way to a spot close to Millennium Square to watch the race. By sheer coincidence my friends from Newcastle were across the road, so I could see them, but couldn’t reach them.

Soon I heard a cheer from the bottom of the street and the bikes emerged with two team GB girls in the leading pack. It took until they’d passed to identify Jessica Learmouth and Lucy Hall mixing it up with Flora Duffy up front, but they earned their cheers anyway.

Then there was a pause. It seemed a long gap before the following pack came through with Vicky Holland and Jodie Stimpson getting the yells and cheers for this one. The crowd continued to yell, cheer and clap as the racers came round each time and we soon lost track of the laps, but nothing much changed, with the lead group maintaining around a 1 min 40 second lead.

We knew it was the last lap when they started slipping out of their shoes to approach the dismount line. The pros do this at high speed and make it look really easy. As they turned into transition, they were out of sight.

It was exciting to watch the race in this way, without the benefit of a big screen to show what was going on around the rest of the course, anticipating who would approach the bottom of the street from the roar of the crowds and squinting to see who it would be.

I was really pleased to be able to identify the tall, rangy figure of Gwen Jorgensen as she appeared, like the Terminator at the bottom of the hill. Flora and the team GB girls kept her at bay for a couple of laps, and we wondered if the gap was too much for even this phenomenal runner to close.

But she did, and we saw it coming from the bottom of the road. Gwen had pushed closer and closer to Flora Duffy who had worked so hard to break away on the bike and she eventually overtook her right where I was standing in the crowd.

Gwen is a superb athlete and it was a thrill to see her powerful running style up close. I cheered her on, even though I’d have loved to have seen a GB girl up front.

My heart was with Jodie Stimpson, who had so narrowly missed out on a place in the Olympic team, but I was proud to cheer on any one of them. In the end it was Vicky Holland who took third place on the podium alongside Flora and Gwen and gave the Leeds crowd a home champion.

In the break between the women’s and men’s races I took the opportunity to move around and grab a bite to eat. By chance my pal Jules had found me and fed me a flapjack – the first thing I’d eaten apart from a slice of orange and a piece of banana, since the end of my race.

We watched part of the men’s swim and saw Richard Varga come out of the lake first, swiftly followed by Jonny and then Alistair Brownlee a few places behind. The Leeds lads are always out to do their best, but with a true home race they’d want to win more than ever. The question was, which brother would have the upper hand?

They were soon on their bikes and on their way into the city. I found my way back to my spot ready to spot them as they came into the highly technical, twisting city centre loops.

13394133_10154451831414928_1880834670025366115_n

Jonny Brownlee getting plenty of crowd support. Picture by Roger Loxley

It seemed no time at all before we heard the cheers and saw the leading group of hometown heroes Jonny and Alistair, with Australian triathlete Aaron Royle and France’s Aurelien Raphael.

There was a gap before the chasing group came through – not so big as that in the women’s race, but enough to make you think that the winners would come from the lead group. We were surprised not to see Mola of Spain racing alongside Gomez, who was in the second group.

Of course, the crowd were pleased that the Brownlee boys were in a great position to dominate this race. With such a technical course through the city there was little change up at the front and as the lead pack came round the last turn for the dismount, it was still a race between the Brownlee boys and Aaron Royle.

The crowd was vocal for the women’s race, but the noise increased on every lap of the men’s. As they were into the run, we heard a surge at the bottom of the hill and looked down to see a lone runner streaking ahead in a team GB tri suit. But which Brownlee was it?

I spotted the distinctive floating running style of Alastair Brownlee and declared it to be him before I could really be sure. And I was right. He bounced past seemingly effortlessly, and sorry Ali, but I couldn’t take my eyes off your legs. How do you run so beautifully?

13450157_10154319498159047_2797085767920831699_n

Alistair Brownlee acknowledging the crowds on his way to a win. Picture by Roger Loxley

In such commanding form, there’s no betting against Ali, and he continued to pull away from his hard chasing brother on every lap.

We kept our eyes on Gomez among the chasers and cheered every runner through. Some were obviously working hard, the set of their jaw or the look in their eyes showing the effort they were putting in.

They ran unbelievably close to the barriers, with the crowds hanging over with cameras, clapping, cheering and screaming encouragement. You could see every bead of sweat, every nuance of expression. You don’t get that close to world champions at any other event that I know of.

Again we miscounted the laps and were cheering on Ali like he’d won on the penultimate lap. It’s a good job we weren’t running ourselves as we’d have been one short! But there were no such mistakes from the pros and had there been a roof over Leeds City centre. we’d have raised it with our shouts as the brothers came through for the last time, with Alastair taking an unassailable lead.

He smiled and held his arms out, drinking in the crowd support with a thumbs up and a high five or two along the last few metres. The white rose of Yorkshire flags were out as we cheered him home to a gold medal, with brother Jonny taking silver for a very proud Leeds 1,2. Aussie Royle took his third place after remaining strong throughout the run.

It was an incredible thrill to be so close to these superb athletes in action, to see and hear the crowds response to a fantastic race, and to appreciate the efforts of everyone who took part. On the last lap, a Japanese athlete’s legs buckled, cramped up or just ran out of juice and we spurred him on. The final athlete through got almost as big a cheer as the winner as we recognised the effort and challenge involved in taking part in a triathlon in the world series.

Blog at WordPress.com.