The second race of the World Triathlon Championship Series took place in Roundhay Park in Leeds on Sunday 6 June, bringing the best triathletes from around the world to the city.
This was the fifth time that the city has hosted an elite triathlon race, however, for the first time, it started and finished in Roundhay Park as the women and men of the World Triathlon Championship Series rounded off the event weekend.
Competing over the standard distance, the athlete’s dived off the pontoon into Waterloo Lake before completing their swim, bike, run and crossing the finish line outside Mansion House.
In the men’s race, the usual sight of Richard Varga (SVK) leading from the front of the swim was backed up with both Alistair and Jonny Brownlee close on his feet. A steady stream of athletes followed the Slovakian athlete as he dove back in for his second 750m lap.
Out of the water and through transition 1, Alistair drove from the front of the hill as three groups emerged with British interest in each one. The Brownlee brothers in the leading group, Alex Yee in the second, and Sam Dickinson, Tom Bishop and Gordon Benson in the third.
As the nine-lap bike course unfolded, the three groups merged together to form one pack and it was Dickinson who took charge to establish himself a lead which at one point reached 13 seconds.
On the hill out of transition 2, Dickinson was caught and passed by Jonas Schomburg (GER) however his lead was short lived as Yee and Hayden Wilde (NZL) took charge on the run.
Yee showed his customary strength on the run to blaze ahead of the New Zealander, opening up a lead on 28 seconds as he started his fourth and final lap. Elsewhere, further back Jonny Brownlee was battling to secure himself a top-ten finish.
With his approach to the finish area cheered by the spectators allowed into the park, Yee ran up the ramp, cheering as he won his maiden World Triathlon Championship Series gold medal and took top spot in the series rankings.
American, Morgan Pearson, finished second with Martin Van Riel of Belgium crossing the line in third. Jonny Brownlee came home in nineth, with Bishop 16th, Dickinson 23rd and Grant Sheldon 40th. Benson recorded a DNF on the bike leg, with Alistair Brownlee disqualified for a swim infringement.
On his first win at this level, Alex Yee said: “That’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. It’s been so long since I’ve seen so many of the people that I saw whilst I was racing because of Covid and to do it in front of all of those people and just deliver is really special and at such an important occasion I guess as it was today and a home race as well.
“That was incredible, there was so much noise. I can’t describe it, when it just feels like you’ve got 4,000 people behind you giving you an extra push. I’m over the moon to get a result like that. Whoever gets selected, I have so much respect for all of the other guys in the mix, Alistair is the greatest of all time, Tom’s been such an incredible mentor for me so whoever gets selected I’ll be happy.”
Speaking after the race, Jonny Brownlee said: “Fair play to Alex. I reckon it’ll be the first of many wins in the World Series, he’s an incredible athlete and he works hard and deserves it.
“I’m never going to forget these races in Leeds, I’m very fortunate to race in my hometown five times now and this one is literally where we do run sessions so I should never ever forget how fortunate I am to do that.”
As the women entered the swim in Waterloo Lake it was long distance athlete, Lucy Charles-Barclay, who emerged as the fastest in the water. Charles-Barclay was tailed by Sophie Coldwell, Maya Kingma (NED), Jessica Learmonth and the USA’s Taylor Spivey and it was the athlete racing in her home city, Learmonth, who pushed hard coming out of the water to lead the field into the first transition.
Out on the bike course a leading pack of Learmonth, Kingma and Coldwell stretched the field, creating a gradually increasing time gap between a chasing pack of Charles-Barclay, Spivey, Vittoria Lopes (BRA) and Flora Duffy (BER).
As athletes transitioned into a hilly four-lapped run, Learmonth, Kingma and Coldwell stayed resilient, maintaining their podium positions despite a strong run from Flora Duffy seeing her break away towards the lead pack. A decisive move from Kingma saw her march past Learmonth as they ran towards the blue carpet finish. This culminated in a victory for Kingma before Learmonth and Coldwell sprinted across the line to claim 2nd and 3rd place respectively after a hard-fought run.
Duffy’s tenacity saw her cross the line next before Charles-Barclay marked the occasion with a well-earned 5th place finish after breaking away from Spivey. Beth Potter again showcased her running legs with a strong performance in the final third of the race leading to a 7th place finish ahead of France’s Cassandre Beaugrand.
Sian Rainsley crossed the line in 13th place at the front of a large chasing pack that also included fellow Brit, Non Stanford in 17th. Olivia Mathias was the final British athlete across the blue carpet finish in 25th.
Celebrating silver on home soil, Learmonth said: “As usual, I’m fairly surprised. I came into it thinking I just wanted a solid race, to be honest. I wanted to work hard on the bike and the swim and that set me up nicely. I was able to relax on the run a bit as I had a bit of a buffer and I was able to enjoy myself up until the last lap, when I absolutely died. To see there were a lot of crowds there was great and as usual, I just love Leeds.
“The crowds made a massive difference. It’s a shame the Olympics are not in Leeds! It gives me that extra percentage. They were so loud, coming up that hill it was ridiculous. I loved it and the weather was beautiful.”
After securing a place on the podium, Sophie Coldwell said: “I’m lost for words as it doesn’t normally happen for me. I feel like I’ve missed a lot of opportunities, so to actually finally get a podium at home - I’m lost for words. You put in all the hard work and sometimes you don’t get the rewards so it’s nice to finally do that.
“The bike was really onerous; I found the bike really hard. I just tried to hold off Flora [Duffy] and hold onto that podium. I've missed having the crowd. That was phenomenal, having them cheering the whole way around including my friends and family. It’s been awesome.”
Andy Salmon, British Triathlon CEO, said: “Following last year’s postponement, it’s great to have been able to bring elite triathlon back to Britain and to have spectators here to see the action.
“Well done to Alex on his performance, to see such a quality field featuring British and international talent taking to the park was a pleasure to see and I hope it’s inspired people across Britain to get involved with swim, bike, run this summer.
“My thanks go to all involved who have helped to make this weekend happen. Our event team, volunteers, partners at UK Sport, Leeds City Council, World Triathlon and AJ Bell, and of course all the athletes, coaches and spectators who have been part of this festival of triathlon.
Billy MacKay, Marketing Director at AJ Bell, said: “Congratulations to Alex Yee and Maya Kingma on their victories today at AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Leeds. It was great to have live elite triathlon and paratriathlon back in Britain this weekend, and we’re really pleased to have been able to support the event to provide a great athlete and spectator experience as title sponsors.”
Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education said: “We were so proud when Leeds became the host of the British leg of the World Series in 2016 and it has been great to watch the event go from strength to strength.
“This year we, along with the event organisers, were faced with the huge challenge of ensuring the event could go ahead in a safe, Covid-19 complaint way and I want to say a huge thanks to everyone involved in making that happen. Well done to everyone who took part across the whole weekend and of course, a massive congratulations to the winners.”