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Rainsley (GBR), Garcia (ESP) Score Wins at World Triathlon Cup Hong Kong

by DOUG GRAY OF WORLD TRIATHLON MEDIA

 

-Japan’s Jenji Nener earns first Wold Cup Triathlon medal by finishing 3rd

Men’s Race

It was a day of firsts in Hong Kong. At the inaugural edition of the Hong Kong World Cup, Alberto Gonzalez Garcia (ESP) not only became the first male victor of the event on Sunday morning. He also claimed his first World Cup win, matching the achievement of Sian Rainsley in the women’s race.

In the opening salvo of the swim, much of the field drifted to the right, beyond the line of the first buoy. Several highly ranked men, including Kenji Nener (JPN) and Márk Dévay (HUN), had stationed themselves on the farthest right side on the pontoon and had to check back.

In the end, it proved of little consequence as Dévay was the first man out of the water. The Hungarian athlete clocked 9:15 for the choppy 750m. Diego Moya was next out while Nener and Darr Smith (USA) emerged afterwards in unison.

Exploiting the early break

Over the first of five rapid bike laps, a front pack of thirteen men came together. A pack of equal size hovered some 15 seconds behind. While Nener, Dévay and more set the tempo at the front, Kevin McDowell (USA) took up the challenge of reeling them in from the chase on his return to international racing.

Such was the pace, the second pack on the road fractured. One of the pre-race favourites, Lasse Nygaard Priester (GER), slipped back from the chase group into the clutches of the main pack. Janus Staufenberg was among those to take an eye-catching turn at the head of the large third group.

The leaders, though, were 20 seconds to the good at the front and continued to push.

Nener rode like a man possessed as he sought a maiden World Cup medal, although threats such as Antonio Serrat Seoane (ESP) and Gonzalez lurked in the lead bunch.

By the final lap of the bike, the leaders succeeded in breaking the will of the main chase group and extended their margin.

The pressure rises

After sterling work on the bike, Panagiotis Bitados (GRE) stormed through T2 to take the lead. Robin Elg (HKG) was quick to follow and gave a rapturous home crowd something to cheer. Having been omnipresent at the front, it was little surprise to see Nener also on hand.

Luke Willian (AUS) had the best T2 of the next group on the road. He faced a tall order in closing down the lead trio of Serrat, Nener and Gonzalez. On the first of the two run laps, Nener tested his Spanish rivals’ legs but they were equal to his efforts.

Prior to the race, Nener had detailed in his Paths to Paris interview how he had hoped to fight for the podium in Hong Kong and test himself in the heat of the moment. In Hong Kong, he did just that and forged onwards. Yet his rivals did not relent. Serrat made a dash off the front but Gonzalez closed the gap.

Gonzalez strikes

Having won a medal at the opening World Cup of the season in Napier, Gonzalez was in terrific form. In the final stages, he sensed an opportunity and pounced.

His move was decisive and carried him to the gold medal by 5 seconds. After the race, he heaped praise on his teammate, Serrat, as well as his fellow front pack riders.
“We were always in the front with the guys and on the bike and we collaborated really well and kept the gap,” said Gonzalez.

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In a tense final sprint, Serrat held off Nener to seal the silver medal. As with Gonzalez, Serrat was effusive towards his compatriot.

“I tried to go really fast but then Alberto caught me and I knew his sprint was really good and I didn’t have any more today. I am happy for Alberto (Gonzalez Garcia), he’s a good friend and team mate and I am really happy for him.”

For Nener, it was perhaps not the final result he may have desired. Nevertheless, he came away with a first World Cup medal and having executed the race exactly as hoped. At the finish he confirmed that he was “thrilled”.

“Of course it wasn’t the smartest race nor was it tactical, especially in this heat,” he added. “But if I am going to race against the best in the world, the level is up and I am not going to be leading so I have to put myself out there and race aggressively.

Behind the medallists, Willian ripped the second fastest run of the day to rise to 4th place. In addition, David Cantero del Campo (ESP) made it three Spanish men in the top-5. Cantero had exited T2 in the main pack however he unleashed a field-leading 5km – indeed, he was the only man under 15 minutes – to nab 5th place.

View the full results here.

 

Women’s Race

There was no doubt who the first ever World Cup race in Hong Kong belonged to on Sunday morning, as Great Britain’s Sian Rainsley managed to hold off the American duo of Katie Zaferes and Kirsten Kasper to secure her first ever win at this level.

It had been a testing 750m swim in Victoria Harbour as the athletes battled around the buoy, leaving a seven-deep group out front that managed to keep clear of the chasers for the full 5 laps of the 20km bike. Out onto the run, it was only at the bell that that front three finally shook off those around her, before Rainsley produced the decisive move after over 2km of the lead chopping and changing to take the tape ahead of the 2019 World Champion Zaferes and Kasper.

“I didn’t race much last year, I was quite injured so just being back on the start line was exciting,” said a beaming Rainsley. “I felt a bit more relaxed because I thought, let’s just blow off the cobwebs. I’ve been training a lot with my partner Tom, who just podiumed at a 70.3 in Australia this morning, so it’s a good day for our household! I only just got on the front group, so was happy to make that and on the last run lap, I just sprinted as hard as I could and it paid off today.”


USA and GB dominate the swim

It was the familiar sight of GB’s Olivia Mathias and Sophie Alden leading the swim at the turn and making early headway with Kasper and Zaferes in pursuit. Race number one Summer Rappaport (USA) put in a surge to come alongside the leaders, and that added momentum stretched the field over the closing stages towards the pontoon.

The choppy water and long ramp made the exit tough, and it was up the steps into transition that Rappaport seemed to lose ground, the 40-second run to the bike racks shuffling the pack and Emma Jeffcoat (AUS) powered to the front with Spain’s Cecilia Santamaria Surroca.

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Magnificent seven pull clear

With Rappaport stranded off the back along with Canada’s Sophia Howell, that front seven developed into a tightly-knit group, while further back it was Swiss Julie Derron and Austria’s Therese Feuersinger trying to close their gap to a group headed by Ilaria Zane (ITA) and Erika Ackerlund (USA) who were 20 seconds off the front.

The 2018 World Champion Vicky Holland (GBR) couldn’t get on to Derron’s wheel and slipped back to a third group with the likes of Tilda Mansson (SWE) and Yuka Sato (JPN), the Swiss soon on the front of that main chase group over lap two and looking to reel in the leaders.


Bravo on the hunt

The lead hit 30 seconds and there it remained until the very final stages of the last lap, Mathias, Alden and Jeffcoat fastest through transition and away first but weren’t allowed time to enjoy the moment, and it wasn’t long before the seven came back together.

Seven became four, two Americans and two Brits, as Santamaria and Jeffcoat were first to be dropped, then Alden was unable to keep the pace as Zaferes, Kasper, Rainsley and Mathias pushed on.

Further back, Bravo and Derron were going through the gears, Holland also flying through the field as was Denmark’s Alberte Kjaer Pedersen, but Mathias was suddenly 10 seconds off the front three and the medals looked all but decided.


Final push pays off

Kirsten Kasper pushed on the short downhill but there was no shaking her rivals, nothing between them with 500m to go, but it was then that Rainsley was able to summon the finish she needed, kicking clear and carving out daylight as the blue carpet neared, 6 seconds the winning margin as she soaked up the cheers. Zaferes took silver, bouncing back after a tough Continental Championships in Miami, Kasper back on the podium with bronze, Bravo running her way to fourth, Zane in fifth.


“The last race I did I didn’t finish and after a DNF it is always hard to put yourself in the right mental space for the next race,” admitted Zaferes. “I am really proud of myself for this race, it wasn’t an easy second, it was a hard-fought one. I am just really happy I strung together a decent swim, bike, run and transitions as well. The swim felt a little weird, but I just tried my best to stay relaxed, stay connected and take it piece by piece so that was a really big focus for this race, not to get too ahead of myself.”

“It’s great to be back on a podium, honestly I didn’t decide to do this race until two weeks ago so this is a great way to come to Hong Kong for the first time and get back on a podium,” said a satisfied Kasper. “This early in the season, I didn’t know where my run fitness was so that was a mental battle. I wanted to try and be strong and make sure I was on the podium, maybe even fight for the win. Those girls were strong together and got me today but I am just glad to be part of that podium. That was validation that what I did this winter paid off and I am grateful to my team for helping me figure out how to get back to the podium.”

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