This year marks the 10th anniversary of an ITU race in Madrid, from its start as a European Cup, then World Cup, and then the ITU World Triathlon Series since its start in 2009. This year it’s also special because it’s where the London 2012 Olympic Games qualification period started two years ago and also where it ends. But aside from the Olympic dreams that could be decided this weekend, there are also two elite titles on the line, and the two fields assembled mean both races are going to come down to the wire.
Elite Women’s Preview
Andrea Hewitt missed only her second series race in series history by sitting out San Diego, but that does nothing to affect her favourtism for Madrid. Hewitt’s incredible run of podium finishes hasn’t been matched over the past six months, in fact the last time she wasn’t on an ITU podium was in London last year, when she finished 6th. She’s also a previous Madrid winner, it’s where she claimed her first series win back in 2009 and could take the lead in the overall series rankings with a win.
But Hewitt isn’t the only one in form. Nicola Spirig endured a tough 2011, but is off to a brilliant start to the Olympic year with a silver medal in Mooloolaba, a fifth place in Sydney and a European Championship win. The two women that shared the podium with Spirig in Eilat are also ones to watch, Ainhoa Murua finished sixth in Sydney before going on to silver in Israel while Emmie Charayron has great history in the Spanish capital. She won silver here in 2009, before stamping another classy run last year to claim bronze.
But there are even more European athletes who have found their best race form so far this year, France’s Jessica Harrison came just a few seconds short of the San Diego podium when she finished fourth, while Germany’s Anne Haug backed up her best series result of seventh in Sydney by doing it again in San Diego. The Netherlands’ Maaike Caelers also posted a personal best in San Diego, with 11th place, while Great Britain’s Vicky Holland and Liz Blatchford are back near the top, Blatchford finished fourth in Mooloolaba and Holland fifth in San Diego – her best result since the 2010 series. Ireland’s Aileen Morrison has also done well so far this year, with a podium place in Ishigaki.
The list of contenders who might not have hit their strides just yet in 2012, but will be aiming to in Madrid, includes the formidable Chilean Barbara Riveros Diaz, who is competing in her second race this year, Australia’s Emma Jackson, Switzerland’s Melanie Annaheim and Daniela Ryf, who are all chasing results that will help their bids for their respective Olympic teams.
Elite Men’s Preview
It will be the first year in series history that Alistair Brownlee does not win in Madrid, as he’s sitting this one out in his continued recovery from an Achilles injury. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a Brownlee on top of the podium for the fourth year in a row. Jonathan Brownlee might not have competed in a race in seven months when he came to San Diego, but it didn’t matter as he dominated the field to claim his first series win in 2012. Jonathan is also almost as comfortable with Madrid as his older brother; last year they stood on the podium together for the first time here â€“ they went on to do that six times in 2011 â€“ and he said after San Diego he couldn’t wait to race in Casa de Campo park.
â€œI intend in race in two weeks,â€ he said directly after the finish in California. â€œI want to race in Madrid, it’s course that I love, it’s a tough course, it’s a true triathlon course and last year was a very special race for me and Alistair so I would love to race there again.â€
But the top of the podium isn’t just as clear cut when you take into account the form and history behind the rest of the field. To start, Frenchman David Hauss and Laurent Vidal have both claimed debut ITU World Cup victories this year and are in career-best form. There hasn’t been a WTS winner from France just yet, although Hauss and Vidal have both medalled, and they are the leading contenders to break that streak.
Along the same lines, it might be finally time for either Sven Riederer or Alexander Bryukhankov to break their bridesmaids tags. Both now have five series medals, but are yet to record a series win. Riederer was impressive in making up time on the leaders last week to run himself into second place and finished only three seconds behind Brownlee, while Bryukhankov is also a dangerous threat in any race he enters. Bryukhankov’s compatriot Dmitry Polyanksy also can’t be overlooked, he podiumed in Yokohama last year and finished fourth in last year’s Beijing Grand Final, behind the Brownlee brothers and Riederer. Spain’s Mario Mola is also one to watch, he finished just off the podium in both Mooloolaba and San Diego, in fourth place, and is on track to claim his first series podium.
Then there is Great Britain’s William Clarke and Tim Don, both trying for one last solid performance ahead of Great Britain’s Olympic selection, and others trying to work their way back into form, like Australia’s Brendan Sexton. It all adds up to an intriguing race for the podium and the series rankings, without current series leader Richard Murray in the field, there are a host of athletes who could jump to the front after Madrid.
The 2012 ITU World Triathlon Madrid gets underway when the women’s elite starts at 5.45pm (local time) on Saturday, May 26, followed by the men’s race at 1.45pm on Sunday May 27. Follow every movement live through www.triathlonlive.tv. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/triathlonlive.
Check back on triathlon.org later this week as we preview the final fight in the race to qualify for London 2012.Â Who needs a clutch performance to book a spot in the Olympic Games?Â We’ll break out the calculators and spell it all out later this week.