Triathlon’s man-of-the-moment Jake Birtwhistle, winner of a brilliant bronze in yesterday’s World Triathlon Series round in the individual sprint race, anchored the team to a stunning victory over the USA with New Zealand an eye-catching third.
Australia tweaked its relay order with the in-form Ashleigh Gentle, second in yesterday’s individual race, leading off, followed by Rio Olympian Aaron Royle and Wollongong’s consistent performer Natalie Van Coevorden.
Gentle, Royle and Van Coevorden always had Team Australia in striking distance and despite trailing Great Britain by over 20 seconds going into the final leg, Birtwhistle’s strike power, shown in last week’s ITU World Championship Mixed Teams Relay silver, was always going to be the X factor.
Birtwhistle, second out of the swim, and into the final transition, kept tabs on his opponents at the start of the run but as he stepped up pace they all fell away to wrap up the gold for Australia, continuing to excel in the newest triathlon event added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program.
The 24-year-old running machine from Launceston was quick to praise his team mates.
“Full marks to these guys, they really set it up for me today,” said Birtwhistle.
“We were in it right from the get go and we were racing for the win – it’s a great feeling.”
Gentle only found out just before the race that she would be leading off, switching from her third leg option from the Commonwealth Games winning team and last week’s world championship silver.
“I only found out this morning that I was going first,” said Gentle, “and it was certainly a different experience in what was such a competitive race.”
British front runner Jessica Learmonth, third to team mate Vicky Holland and Gentle yesterday, hit the front on the bike with US girl Taylor Spivey to give their teams a breakaway start.
Gentle began to surge her way through the pack and drove hard on the bike to ensure she was always within striking distance on the run and she was able to tag Royle with a close up fifth.
Britain’s Olympic silver and bronze medallist Jonathan Brownlee and Frenchman Vincent Luis, who anchored France to last week’s World Championship, were quick to dominate the bike and into the run, desperate to get as big a lead over Royle, who dug deep to tag in a close up seventh.
“That really did hurt,” said Royle, “there were some great athletes out there and I just wanted to give Natalie (Van Coevorden) the best possible chance and get as close as I could to the leaders.”
Commentator Barrie Shepley was quick to call: “You can’t let the Aussies back into it.”
But that’s just what happened.
Van Coevorden, drafted into the team for last week’s World Championships, stood up and delivered again, as the New Zealanders with Nicole Van Der Kaay after a strong run from Tayler Reid, put their hands up.
The girl from Wollongong swam well, rode strongly and tagged Birtwhistle in seventh.
And it was a case of give Jake a sniff and the Aussies were right back in it.
Birtwhistle claimed young second placed Kiwi Hayden Wilde towards the end of the swim to come out of the water second, and through the bike he was happy to guide the pack round the 6.5km two-loop course to catch Britain’s breakaway, Christopher Perham.
And with 700m to run it was the majestic, long striding Birtwhistle who ran away with the gold medal for another successful, weekend in Edmonton for the Australian team, keeping all comers at bay.