WTS 2018: Season Review

by Doug Gray/ITU Media

The 10th World Triathlon Series season continued in the rich tradition that triathlon fans have by now become accustomed: standout, inspirational individual performances, young guns making names for themselves on the biggest stage and experienced campaigners delivering the kind of consistency that earns world titles. Here’s our recap of the 2018 WTS season highlights…


The 2018 season got underway in grand style in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, with a sprint-distance race that took in sections of the city’s famous F1 race circuit. Remarkably, heavy rain greeted the athletes on the start line, further complicating what was already a challenging bike course. Henri Schoeman put in a brilliant swim that left defending champion Mario Mola 30 seconds back and, once Britain’s Jonathan Brownlee had come off his bike, it was the South African who seized control expertly, not even the flying Spaniard able to reduce the deficit sufficiently but still securing silver, ahead of France’s Vincent Luis.

For the women, the big question was whether anyone could stop Flora Duffy in 2018, and it was the reigning champion alongside GB’s Jessica Learmonth leading out of the water in the first race of the season. A bike issue then forced the Bermudian out of the race on the second lap, while Katie Zaferes was one of several top names to come off at speed, the American having led with just a lap to go. Kirsten Kasper (USA) and Rachel Klamer (NED) were with Learmonth out of T2 along with Natalie van Coevorden (AUS), Lotte Miller (NOR) and Melanie Santos (POR) and it was to be a delighted Klamer who powered home to claim a first-ever WTS win, Learmonth in second and van Coevorden in third.

The action moved to the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean as Bermuda made its WTS hosting debut, and what a debut it was! Flora Duffy had been instrumental in the venue’s addition to the calendar, and it was the local favourite who pulled out one of the all-time great performances to lead out of the water, dominate the bike and smash the run to take gold. Just 10km into the bike she already had a 40-second lead over the pack, and after 10 laps and climbs of Corkscrew Hill, Duffy’s control was abundantly clear. With 750m left to run she finally allowed herself a smile and was carried home by the crowds’ cheers, Zaferes and Vicky Holland (GBR) locked in a battle for second that would become a theme of the season, the Brit just edging silver after a photo finish.

As in Abu Dhabi, it was Henri Schoeman setting the early pace but compatriot Richard Murray also enjoyed an excellent swim. The infamous Corkscrew Hill brought the front-runners together in a large pack but it was Norway’s Casper Storneswho made the early break with 30km still to go, blowing away the field with only Denmark’s Andreas Schilling keeping anything like an eye on Stornes’ progress, while teammate Kristian Blummenfelt led the chasers. Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden then made their own break and eventually crossed in second and third respectively, the first time in WTS history that one country had achieved the podium clean-sweep.

It was Springtime in Japan as Flora Duffy and Katie Zaferes emerged from the water out front and onto their bikes at WTS Yokohama, where the flat, fast course allowed the duo to open up a sizeable early gap. By the end of the third lap they had been caught, however, and now formed part of a pack of nine. Marginally off the pace out of T2, Duffy put the hammer down straight away on the run and with only Zaferes going with her early on, it was the Bermudian who would go on to secure her second successive win of 2018, Zaferes finishing 33 seconds behind and Non Stanford (GBR) in third, grabbing her first WTS podium for two years.

The nature of the Yokohama course also saw a large lead group establish itself in the men’s race and a huge train of cyclists snaked its way through the city streets, Jumpei Furuya (JPN) Mola, Schoeman, Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS) and Matthew Sharpe (CAN) among the 40-plus athletes together. Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk and Australia’s Ryan Bailie were right alongside Mario Mola for the first 500m of the run, but the Spanish star soon clicked into his rhythm, extending his lead in the race and at the top of the rankings, to be followed over the line by Birtwhistle and Fernando Alarza (ESP).

See also:  2015 ITU World Triathlon Series kicks off with Abu Dhabi debut

It was on the familiar Leeds course that Vicky Holland’s season would really get going, producing an excellent swim and a powerful run to earn her first WTS win since Edmonton back in 2015. Far from having it all her own way, the Brit was made to work hard as Taylor Spivey (USA), Katie Zaferes and Jess Learmonth controlled the early stages of the bike, and it was also here in the north of England that Zaferes would maintain her Series lead with a gutsy late display to hold onto third and take the bronze. Britain’s young star Georgia Taylor-Brown put in a superb finish to deliver a career-best silver.

In the absence of his brother Alistair, Johnny Brownlee was hoping to kick-start his season on familiar turf, while Mario Mola knew that he would remain Series leader no matter the result. The Spaniard was right in touch with the leaders by the end of the tight and technical bike while Brownlee was struggling and would eventually have to pull up, but it was Richard Murray who threw down the gauntlet from the opening strides of the run. The South African held off the challenge of Mola to take the tape, while Vincent Luis assumed second place in the overall 2018 standings with bronze.

The year’s European WTS action moved to Germany in mid-July for one of the classic sprint races; WTS Hamburg. It was Vincent Luis who again looked to seize some initiative early on, but Kristian Blummenfelt and Jonny Brownlee went with him on the 20km bike. As the Norwegian pulled up it looked like Britain versus France until Richard Murray and Mario Mola closed in at the halfway mark of the run, the reigning champion taking to the front with 1.5km to go, Brownlee right on his shoulder in an exciting finale. Mola dropped the hammer and pulled away for another stunning win, followed over the line by Luis and Murray.

With only 250 points separating Zaferes and Holland at the top of the Series leaderboard before the race, the return of Flora Duffy from injury was sure to shake things up for the elite women in Hamburg. France’s Cassandre Beaugrand was narrowly ahead of the Bermudian out of the water, but the reigning champion dominated for much of the bike ride. It was to be Beaugrand who would pull away from the rest of the field just past the halfway mark of the 10km run, however, from which point she never looked back, ensuring an emotional first WTS win for the young French star. Local favourite Laura Lindemann (GER) just pipped Zaferes to silver, but with Duffy finishing in 10th, the American was still able to extend her series lead.

From Hamburg, it was on to Edmonton and the first of two stops in Canada, Katie Zaferes now with a 750-point Series advantage over Rachel Klamer, Vicky Holland in third. It was the British quartet of Jessica Learmonth, Jodie Stimpson, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Vicky Holland who were well-placed as the cycle unfolded, Klamer and Zaferes also towards the front through some very tight twists and turns. The 2017 Series runner-up Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) powered her way into contention in the early stages of the run, with Zaferes dropping off the pace at the halfway point. After a see-saw battle, it was Vicky Holland, winner here in 2015, who dropped Gentle with 500m to go and secured gold ahead of the Australian and compatriot Taylor-Brown.

The formidable Mola, Luis, Murray and Birtwhistle all lined up side-by-side, with Johnny Brownlee on the opposite end of the running start for WTS Edmonton, and it was the Frenchman and Brit out onto the bikes first, soon to be joined by Belgium’s Martin Van Riel and Tayler Reid of New Zealand.  The Belgian was alongside Blummenfelt, Luis and Mola into T2, Brownlee, Alarza and Birtwhistle also in among the strong group of athletes, but Mola lay down the marker after 7km, only Blummenfelt going with him and bravely battling to the finish to take second place while a brilliant Birtwhistle finish secured the Australian bronze.

The beautiful city of Montreal saw the penultimate race of the 2018 season, with perfect conditions greeting the athletes and Vicky Holland knowing that a good result would see her able to close in significantly on Series leader Zaferes. The Brit was 50 seconds back out of the swim and the front pack continued to stretch away over the bike, before Switzerland’s returning Nicola Spirig led a spirited fightback that saw the chase group – Alice Betto (ITA), Chelsea Burns (USA) and Holland among them – catch Zaferes, Sophie Coldwell (GBR) and Learmonth. Coldwell then dropped off and Holland kicked on to open up a sizeable lead, driving on to secure a second 2018 WTS gold in Canada and ensure a thrilling shootout for the World title on the Gold Coast with Zaferes’ second place maintaining a slender overall lead heading to Australia.

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With Mola boasting a 1,000+ points lead heading into a soggy Montreal men’s race, it was down to the likes of Luis and Birtwhistle to earn enough points to keep in touch with the Spaniard heading to the Grand Final. Henri Schoeman and Seth Rider (USA) were first onto their bikes, Mola 30 seconds and Murray 45 seconds back, and as Andreas Schilling pulled away in the rain, a huge chase pack formed behind him. Blummenfelt, Stornes, Shachar Sagiv (ISR) and Charles Paquet(CAN) then combined to carve out a more significant lead of a minute by the time they were out of T2, Birtwhistle and Mola heading the chase pack. Blummenfelt was hunted down from that moment on, though, Mola working his way past the field to sit on his shoulder with 1km to go and then ease past 900m out and deliver a consummate run and victory, the Norwegian second once more, Birtwhistle bursting past Murray for third.

A year’s worth of WTS thrills and spills then all boiled down to the Gold Coast Grand Final in September. The women’s title was a clear shootout as to who would finish ahead out of Vicky Holland and Katie Zaferes; a season of ups and downs for the Brit including three golds versus the sheer consistency of the American who had yet to top the podium in 2018. Choppy water separated out the field in the swim but the drama was only just beginning; Zaferes, Cook, Taylor Spivey and Kasper for the USA and Holland, Learmonth, Stimpson and Coldwell for GB all in the lead pack, with Gentle pushing the chase group hard. With 17.5km to go one large pack had formed and from there the run was always going to prove decisive. Holland, first out of T2, was soon joined by Gentle and Zaferes and the three did battle for a thrilling 10km run during which the momentum swung from one to the other until Zaferes fell back, leaving Gentle to take the gold and Vicky Holland to earn a superb World title by just a 52-point margin.

Ahead of the men’s race, Mario Mola was already almost guaranteed the world title, so it was down to Vincent Luis to push hard from the swim to secure the runner-up position ahead of the likes of Birtwhistle and Schoeman. Despite coming off 10km into the bike, the Frenchman battled back, Martin van Riel pulling away only to suffer his own bike issues mere moments out of T2 and leaving Blummenfelt with his old adversary Mola 35 seconds back. With the lead halved after the first of four laps the writing looked on the wall, Vincent Luis a picture of calm as he out-ran Mola to win his second Grand Final gold, while second for Mola ensured his third successive world title. Murray crossed the line third ahead of Pierre le Corre (FRA), while 7th place kept a delighted Birtwhistle on the overall podium in third.

“Katie has only been off the podium once this year and she is so strong across the board, swim, bike, run”, said Holland after her Series-securing finale. “It is really hard to beat someone who doesn’t have a weakness. I feel for her coming so close and being the leader the most of the way through the year but I really wanted it and I am so delighted that I won it in the end.”

“Javier (Gomez) has been an inspiration to me my whole career, someone I always look up to and who has set the path for all Spanish athletes, but I never imagined having three titles”, said 2018’s freshly crowned World Champion Mario Mola. “I have to thank my coach for the last five or six years and my girlfriend – they have been there and created a perfect environment to keep me happy and going forward.”

For the full final 2018 WTS standings click here.

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