Heated battle awaits for Men’s World Title

by Chelsea White, ITU Media

After a whirlwind year of exciting World Triathlon Series racing, the time has finally come to crown the men’s ITU World Champion.

With multiple men sharing success throughout the year, the quest for the World title is closer than ever. Mario Mola (ESP) has been the leader of the Columbia Threadneedle Rankings for the majority of the season and will enter Cozumel still grasping tightly to that position. However, Great Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee is on his heels in the Rankings and will want to do anything he can to get the title for himself.

Separated by only 235 points before lining up for the final WTS competition of 2016, a string of possibilities could occur on race day that could determine who will be the next World victor. Simply put, Mola needs a podium to keep the top position in the Rankings, but that won’t be quite as easily done as said, with both Olympic medallist Brownlee brothers racing, as well as the likes of Richard Murray (RSA) and Fernando Alarza(ESP).

When it comes to this one-lap 1.5 kilometre ocean swim, athletes are going to have to be prepared for anything. While the paradise location often offers calm water, waves and choppy conditions are always a possibility in the ocean and could make for one tough swim.

It will be an unlikely sight if Slovakia’s Richard Varga does not lead out of the water. In his 33 WTS races in his career, he has exited as the swim leader 28 times. A four-time Aquathlon World Champion, he led out of the water at the Olympics, and at every WTS race this year. Since he also is a training partner to the Brownlees, having Varga in front in the swim increases his chances of making the lead bike pack with them, which gives the Brits the advantage.

Expect Jonny not be too far behind Varga. His strong ability in the water was seen in Rio when he and older brother Alistair were fourth and fifth out of the water. Other strong swimmers that could make an impact in the ocean is Olympic bronze medallist Henri Schoeman (RSA), Russian brothers Igor and Dmitry Polyanskiy,Aaron Royle (AUS) and the Frenchmen.

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The swim is a critical part of the race for Mola, as he’s not as strong as these men, and a poor swim could cost him both a medal and a world title.

A strong swim and quick transition will likely determine who will make the lead bike pack and who will have to fight in the chase.

In order for Jonny to overtake Mola as the World Champion he needs to finish first with Mola off the podium all together. That means we anticipate that the Brownlees will put forth a similar strategy as the Olympics, where they hammered hard early on the bike in an effort to get an insurmountable gap over the chase. Strong in all three disciplines, Alistair and Jonny like to make sure every single competitor works it during the race, especially if they want to hang in the lead.

Training partners Mola and Murray cycle well together, as we saw in Edmonton, with Murray consistently motivating chase packs to bridge up to the leaders. The key for them will be not overusing their legs on the bike, as well as staying hydrated in the hot, humid Mexican weather.

USA’s Ben Kanute, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt and Denmark’s Andreas Schilling are all phenomenal cyclists, as is Aussie Royle. Each of the men possess the power to create breakaways that could really shake up the field for both Brownlee’s and Mola’s plan for a world title.  Both Royle and Kanute also feature well in the swim, so expect them to be in that front pack onto the bike.

There is dangerous running speed in the men’s field. If the pre-race favorites all hop off their bikes together, look out for some major showdowns on the run. Mola and Murray are considered two of the fiercest runners in the circuit. Murray had the fastest 10-kilometre split time in Rio, and Mola holds the record for the fastest split time in ITU history at 28:59, a time that he recorded at last year’s Grand Final in Chicago. Add in that Murray won the World Cup race in Cozumel last year in blasting heat, and cards could be stacked in his favour.

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Making strides on the pavement as well this year is Spaniard Fernando Alarza. He has been on three WTS podiums this year, including getting his first WTS win in Cape Town, which saw him overtake the Columbia Threadneedle ankings for a brief period.

But the Brownlees are also light and lethal on their feet. The mentally tough Alistair is not a competitor you want to push your chances with down the finish chute. That said, all bets are off if Mola, Murray and the Brownlees are near each other onto the run.

The x factor
The hot weather could be the best allies Mola and Murray have, as the Brownless have not traditionally fared well in warmer conditions. Though this wasn’t the case at the Rio Olympics, Alistair suffered at the Test Event last year with both injury and heat, while Jonny suffered heat stroke at the Gold Coast this year, causing him to finish third.

While he may opt to work for his brother during the final WTS race of the year, Alistair could actually be a factor in keeping the world title from his brother if Alistair beats Jonny. A similar scene played out in Edmonton two years ago when Alistair couldn’t win the world title, but returned from injury to destroy the field with a breakaway on the bike that was key to him winning the race.

Men’s start list

The men will race on Sunday, September 18 at 3:00pm.

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