British hopes ended on the tarmac in Hamburg as Australian Jake Birtwhistle defeated France’s Vincent Luis for his second World Triathlon Series win of 2019.
Jonathan Brownlee, Tom Bishop and Alex Yee were all caught up in crashes during the 20km bike leg of the sprint distance contest leading to Bishop finishing 38th, Yee, 43rd and Brownlee being unable to continue.
None of the trio were seriously injured in the collisions, for which Yee will be particularly grateful, having suffered broken ribs, vertebrae and a collapsed lung in a high-speed bike crash when racing in 2017.
Birtwhistle managed to avoid the main pile-up which took out not only Brownlee and Bishop, but series leader Fernando Alarza and Commonwealth champion Henri Schoeman.
It allowed him to help forge a six-man breakaway on the run that also included Luis, reigning world champion Mario Mola, Jelle Geens, who won last weekend in Montreal, France’s Leo Bergere and New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde.
There was little to choose between them until the finishing straight, where the former Australian track runner nudged ahead of Luis, with Geens pipping Mola as he had done seven days earlier to take the final podium spot.
It was also another feather in the cap of leading tri coach Joel Filliol, whose training group includes the first four finishers and Hamburg’s women’s race winner Non Stanford.
“Today was one of those awesome races,” Birtwhistle said. “It was a bit sketchy on the wet roads but once we got on to the run I knew we were safe.
“It was almost like a training session for us guys out front, playing around knowing it could be a tri crew podium. I knew I had a bit left in the tank when Vince passed me, and I just had to stick with him for the last 100m or so.
“I think they didn’t want it to come down to the finish chute with me within reach, but I was sticking tough and happy to be there at the end. I hope this means I’m here to stay. I plan to hang around for another year or so until the Olympics where hopefully I’ll do something similar.”
After last week’s free-for-all in Montreal, it always looked like being another open encounter around the city centre streets of Hamburg, a venue that has become a popular staple of the WTS.
Most of leading contenders were present including Mola and Javier Gomez who have won the past six world titles between them.
Predictably, Slovakian Richard Varga led out the swim, but Bishop was the first to emerge of the Brits in 22nd, with Brownlee and Yee just seconds adrift in a large pack.
Yee’s wetsuit caught in his rear wheel as he tried to leave T1 at haste, but it was his next mistake, losing grip on a corner that would cost him vital seconds and effectively end any hopes of another top 10 finish.
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Conditions were testing if not treacherous and Switzerland’s Adrien Briffod was next to hit the floor, before the real carnage ensued moments later when Denmark’s Andreas Schilling lost control when leading and as he skidded to the floor, around a dozen triathletes including Brownlee, Bishop, Alarza and Henri Schoeman all went with him.
Bishop managed to remount, but it was race over for Brownlee, who cut a disconsolate figure as he pushed his broken bike off the course. It continued a wretched season for the Yorkshireman whose only two finishes have been 11th in Bermuda and a disappointing 35th in Leeds.
It was worse still for Hungarian Bence Bicsak, though, who needed medical assistance for several minutes. Race marshals had to step in and slow the lapping riders amid early reports suggesting Bicsak may have broken his leg.
The surviving 40-man lead group made it to T2 with both Bishop and Yee jettisoned and while home favourite Jonas Schomburg briefly broke away, the leading contenders soon established themselves at the head of the race before Birtwhistle showed his turn of speed to win.