Ash Gentle and Jake Birtwhistle Lead Medal charge for Aussies in Edmonton
Rio Olympian Ashleigh Gentle and a man with his eyes on Tokyo 2020 Jake Birtwhistle have returned to World Triathlon Series medal podium in style in Edmonton today.
Earlier today there was further success for the Australian paratriathletes with Jonathan Goerlach winning gold in the PT Vision Impaired and Commonwealth Games silver medallist and world champion Emily Tapp winning silver in the PT Wheel Chair category.
It was a breakthrough victory for Goerlach and new guide Sam Douglas beating out a world class field.
Gentle, with a brilliant silver medal and then Birtwhistle with his trade mark late charge ran into bronze to fly the Aussie flag.
Gentle was superb in her return to Canada, where she broke through for a spectacular win over world champion Flora Duffy in Montreal last year and will defend that title next month before returning home.
“I’m a bit in shock actually was really glad to be here today in second and just really happy,” said Gentle.
In her WTS debut Kelly-Ann Perkins alongside Emma Jeffcoat were the first of the Aussies to emerge from the 750m swim just 9 seconds down on the leaders. Perkins had a minor collision on the first lap of the bike but didn’t keep her down long, although it wasn’t Jeffcoat’s day retiring early.
Natalie Van Coevorden put herself in a prime position again after the swim and lead group of the bike and while in touch early on the run she wasn’t able to match the run speed today.
Overcoming a 39 second deficit after the swim, Gentle again was prominent in the chase group that bridged up to the leaders at the half way mark of the 20km bike leg.
“Before the race I thought this was the course that might suit me the hills are quite tough obviously when you’re racing and when you’re racing over them six times.
“I was really happy to catch onto that front group, and I knew I had to be smart, stay at the front and run as well as I could,” said Gentle.
The big group entered the second transition together, with all to be decided in the last 5km run. Vicky Holland (GBR) led the group out of transition and started dropping athletes. Rachel Klamer (NED), Summer Cook (USA) and Andrea Hewitt (NZ) couldn’t keep up with the frantic rhythm in the first kilometre, and only the four Brits, Gentle and Katie Zaferes (USA) were able to maintain their hopes for the podium places. Halfway through the run, Zaferes started to struggle to keep up and fell behind a few meters. One kilometer after, it was Stimpson and Learmonth who fell behind as well.
The tough bike had hurt some legs as the group initial lead group on the run whittled down to five, Gentle found herself among four British women.
But it was the tough-as-teak Brit, Holland, who launched her gold medal bid towards the back of the run, racing away to score a deserved victory in a time of 56 minutes 51 seconds.
Gentle wasn’t far behind in 57.02, splitting Holland’s team mates Georgia Taylor-Brown (57.08) with the bronze and Jessica Learmonth (57.12) who was fourth and Jodie Stimpson (57.4) fifth.
The other Australians Natalie Van Coevorden (59.04) was 19th, Kelly-Ann Perkins (59.42) 21st and Charlotte McShane (1:00.31) 26th.
The men’s race followed the same script as the women with the lead group unable to stay away and a group of nearly 30 men came together.
In his return to WTS racing Ryan Fisher made his presence known with a fleeting solo break on the bike while Aaron Royle, Luke Willian and Birtwhistle where well placed in the group.
As expected it was a large group that entered the second transition and positioning was critical.
It didn’t take long for a small group of six to form that included some ‘fast men’, Mario Mola (ESP), Jonny Brownlee (GBR), Fernando Alarza (ESP), Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), Vincent Luis (FRA) and Birtwhistle.
As Mola and Blummenfelt applied the pressure the rest couldn’t match the pace and it was a fight for the bronze. Birtwhistle looked to be out of medal contention as lost contact but again he produced that back-end speed that propelled him from sixth to a bronze medal.
Blummenfelt knew he couldn’t afford to leave it down to a sprint finish so upped the pace to get a small gap on Mola. The Spaniard responded with another gear to secure the win and keep a hold on his world number one ranking.
When asked about his trademark final sprint that he seems to produce ‘at will’ Birtwhistle was quick to respond he’d rather not be in that position.
“I get asked this a lot recently, but I knew it wasn’t over until I crossed that line, I’d rather not have that big gap with a lap to go, I’d much rather be with them.
“There’s so much that can happen in a triathlon even a sprint distance like this, there’s so many variables that come into play and it really isn’t over until you cross the line. I used the swim, bike and run to the best of my ability today and happy to jump on the podium,” said Birtwhistle.