Mola, Duffy Take Wins at 2017 WTS Yokohama

by Chelsea White/ITU Media, Featured image by Delly Carr/ITU Media

Men’s Elite

For the second year in a row, Spaniard Mario Mola claimed victory at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama. The win was also his second of the season and catapulted him back to the top of the WTS rankings.

“I am very happy obviously, it has been a very good day for me. On the bike we had to be careful. We saw at the end I think it was Jonny who had a crash with so many others. But with this day you never know what is going to happen, today luckily it worked well for me so I am very pleased with it,” said Mola.

The win came after a tough day full of wet weather conditions, that pushed every athlete to the limits.

“I have said this before, with triathlon it doesn’t matter how fit or how good you think you are, races put you in a place where sometimes you are happy and sometimes you are disappointed. But I was confident that I made the work during the winter, I kept doing the same work and when the result comes around you have to be pleased, so I will just keep trying to work to do the same things in the future.”

Joining him once again on the podium is Spanish compatriot Fernando Alarza, who earned his second medal of the season, after the bronze in WTS Gold Coast. The bronze then went to Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, who pulled off a last-second attack on the blue carpet to overtake Henri Shcoemann and get the final podium spot, which also was his first WTS podium of the season.

Alarza said, “The race was terrific for me, from the start around the first buoy I was a fighter. And then on my bike I was freezing, this water was not great for me, my feet were freezing but then I warmed up. I lost maybe 20 or 30 seconds in the second transition, but I am happy for Mario, happy for me and happy for the Spanish team. I think it was another good race.”

While the women faired the wet conditions first on the day, by the time the men lined up to take on the Japanese harbor, the rain was stronger than ever. Jumping into the water, the men did not spread out despite the longer distance. Jonathan Brownlee became the swim leader after lap one and held onto the title to exit the waters first, which was the first time for the Brit since San Diego in 2012.

Surviving the busy first transition, a large pack formed that tallied around 30 men all of which contained some of the day’s biggest names such as Javier Gomez Noya, Mola and Brownlee.

Just like in the women’s race, the wet course made for some mechanical issues for some athletes. Some men were unlucky and experienced crashes that forced them to pull out of the competition, eventually decreasing the lead bike pack down to around 20 men.

The chase pack behind, which was being led by Aussie Jake Birtwhistle, had a large gap of over two minutes that never gained.

As the lead bike pack headed close to the second transition, it seemed that it would be Brownlee against the Spaniards on the run course. However, Brownlee got caught in a bike crash right outside T2 and took him out of the running for the podium. But while many thought his day would result in a DNF, true to Brownlee fashion, he picked up his bike and ran it in to be able to finish the race. Brownlee ended up 42nd on the day, but his effort to finish showed character on his first WTS race of the season.

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Once into the running shoes, certain men took off. South Africa’s Henri Schoeman, Hungary’s Gabor Faldum and Blummenfelt were the immediate frontrunners, but on the first lap, Mola picked up his pace and swifted by into first place.

He then never slowed down and never saw any threats. He carried on into the finish line to claim his ninth career WTS gold.

Behind him however was a battle going on for the remaining two medals between Schoeman, Alarza and Blummenfelt. The three took turns passing each other and eventually Alarza pulled ahead to take the silver.

While it then looked like Schoeman would take bronze after Blummenfelt held a face of struggle, he surprised even himself and sprinted ahead of Schoeman with just enough time to snag the last podium spot. Earning the WTS Yokohama bronze came as a familiar face after he stepped onto his first WTS podium at the same venue just last year.

“I gave up a little bit in the last 5k, but I was just struggling to hang on. I thought if I wanted to get second place I would have to beat them and get in front, but I wasn’t able to. I think I was just sick of not getting a podium, and today was my first podium of the year,” said Blummenfelt.

Women’s Elite

In her first race back after claiming her debut World Triathlon Series World Title last year, Flora Duffy (BER) returned to the 2017 season and walked right back to the familiar top of the podium when she won the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama.

After having to pull out of the first two races of the season due to injury, Duffy lined up in Japan and executed a performance that proved she is ready to tackle another world crown attempt.

“I didn’t know what I would have in the tank for today, I was pretty nervous coming into the race today, I felt like a WTS first-timer, but I had to keep reminding myself that I am the World Champ and I need to ride with confidence. So the race worked out great to my strengths and I am super happy,” said Duffy.

Rain made the race day a little more challenging for all the women out on the course, but it was Duffy who used it to her advantage to get her first gold of the year.

“The rain is intimidating for everybody, but everyone including my fiancé Dan kept telling me ‘No Flora! This is going to be your strength, be confidence and ride like you always do and you’ll be fine’. I had low pressure on my tires and I felt super comfortable out there, so it worked.”

Joining her on the podium were USA compatriots Katie Zaferes with the silver and Kirsten Kasper with the bronze and first WTS podium of her career.

Zaferes said, “I am really excited, I didn’t make that race the easiest for myself so I was just really happy. And my favourite part is that it was a pretty technical bike and I did really well in it and that was something I have been working on all winter.”

Conditions for the third stop of the 2017 WTS were wet and rainy, making for what would be an interesting and slippery race ahead. Jumping off the pontoon for the two-lap non-wetsuit swim, it once again was Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth and Lucy Hall who took charge as the leaders in the water. The long distance of the 150 metres spread out the women and upon exiting the waters, a group of five consisting of Learmonth, Hall, Sophie Coldwell (GBR), Duffy and Summer Cook (USA) headed into T1 ahead of the pack.

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Getting onto the bike the rain continued to pour down, which caused a few issues out on the course. Great Britain’s Non Stanford who was debuting her WTS season in Yokohama slipped on a corner and took her out of the running.

Showcasing that she is till the queen of the cycle, Duffy wasted no time breaking away from the field and within a couple kilometres she had created a gap. She did not go alone however as Brit Coldwell rode with her. The two continued to create a time and space between a group of 10 riders behind them and were despite efforts, were never caught for the entire 40k course.

The group of 10 as the top chase contained Learmonth, Hall, Vicky Holland (GBR), Alice Betto (ITA), Zaferes, Kasper, Gillian Backhouse (AUS), Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS), Yuko Takahashi (JPN) and Minami Kubono (JPN) rode together as the main chase pack, but would end up losing time lap after lap and eventually be over a minute down from the top two.

The on the eighth lap, Learmonth and Zaferes took a tumble on the wet streets that took them out of the leading 10 women, but by the time the women hit the second transition zone, they both managed to regain their group.

Other chase groups struggled to get into the game. Andrea Hewitt, who won the first two races of the season, found herself down by minutes and unable to get in the running.

Heading onto the run Duffy and Coldwell had created a healthy lead of 1:21. While Coldwell busted out of the gate to try and overtake Duffy, the veteran remained collected and bypassed the WTS standard distance rookie within a matter of seconds.

From there Duffy was left untouched as she continued to increase her gap and as she strode onto the blue carpet for the first time this season, she did so with a lead of 1:51 seconds, a new WTS record.

The battle for the remaining spots on the podium remained between the Americans and the Brits. Zaferes and Kasper ran together and eventually passed Coldwell. Not sure who would take the silver and bronze, Kasper then capitalized on a moment when Zaferes dropped her sunglasses and went to pick them up.

However, as the two drew nearer to the finish line, Zaferes went all out and pushed hard enough to come back and get the silver. It was then Kasper who followed behind and earned her first WTS podium of her career.

“I am ecstatic, it kind of has not hit me yet but that was a really hard race, but it was exciting too to be able to be on the podium. The rain made every component really challenging, there was a lot of girls that went down and the bike was really tough, so it was just a matter of staying up and trying to be smart,” said Kasper.

Due to her second place finish, Zaferes then took over the leaderboard and now is the top woman in the WTS rankings.

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