Luke Willian, like no other, takes Taranaki Gold, Jazz Hedgeland bronze
Near perfect conditions on the west coast of the North Island, NZ for the athletes competing in the New Plymouth ITU World Cup this morning. The women’s elite race kicked off in style, with a variety of internationals including Japan, USA, Switzerland and Hungary all in for the points race for Tokyo contention.
The ocean was whipped with a slight chop and offshore breeze at Ngamotu beach in New Zealand’s only ITU World Cup race. Water temps of around 20 degrees meant no wetsuit, therefore quicker transition into the cycle, giving the stronger swimmers an advantage.
Emma Jeffcoat taking her start number literally by emerging from the water first alongside fellow Aussie Tamsyn Moana-Veale. Heading out on the bike course after a flawless T1, our green and gold girls dominated at the front of the lead group, while Kelly-Ann Perkins ran into mechanical issues. The women stayed in two tight packs the whole cycle leg. Jeffcoat held the lead from Nicole Van Der Kaay (NZL), Sophie Corbidge (NZL) and Ainsley Thorpe (NZL) powered through into the second lap of the cycle course.
The next three laps of the cycle course saw everyone settle into position, with Hedgeland taking the calm yet driven approach.
From T2 into the 5km run, Italian Angelica Olmo set the pace with the tight international field trailing closely behind. The blue carpet beckoned, and it was Angelica Olmo (ITA) lifting the banner, Jolanda Annen (SUI) one second behind for silver, followed closely by Jaz Hedgeland (AUS) for the bronze with a time of 1:03:36, nine seconds off the pace.
Emma Jeffcoat came in fifth place, with Kelly-Ann Perkins missing the top ten in 11th and Tamsyn Moana-Veale in 32nd.
The course claimed nine DNF’s in the field, unfortunately including Charlotte McShane (AUS).
Hedgeland, clearly elated after claiming the bronze said, “Mooloolaba was my first race this year and I just went out way too hard on the run, so I just wanted to make sure I didn’t do the same thing today. It was a bit difficult watching the girls run away but I just knew the pacing I was doing and was able to finish hard at the end.
“There are so many good Aussie girls out there right now and I just want to take it to the next level and podium in a world cup I really thought that’d give me some confidence. I’m so happy to be able to do that today.”
In the men’s elite the mandatory ‘no wetsuit’ swim favoured the swimmers and was no surprise to see Richard Varga (SVK) take the lead in the choppy conditions and 67-strong men’s field.
The 750m swim saw a group of ten storm into transition together, but it was Tayler Reid (NZL) who negotiated it best to lead out onto the four lap 20km bike course to tackle a technical course of chicanes and hills.
Willian and silver medallist from Mooloolaba Brandon Copeland both were in the lead group with the chase pack 18sec behind which included Ryan Fisher who spearheaded the attack to close the gap.
The second lap saw the packs spread out, with approximately 13 second split between the two bunches and Javier Gomez Noya (ESP) 5x world champion move into the lead.
With time running out and the second group not working efficiently enough Fisher and Hayden Wylde (NZL) jumped out of the group and eventually bridged up to the leaders.
On the final kilometre it was all about positioning as they hit T2 together. Valentin Wernz (GER) was the first head out and charged to a lead just 500m into the 5km run, Willian was equal to the challenge and moved up to the German to etch out a 10sec lead to the field. Willian didn’t stay with Wernz for long as he powered ahead to break away in the first 1km.
Willian increasing the gap with each powerful stride, in front of Wernz and Hayden Wilde (NZL).
Willian held his form and nerve as the runners were coming at him, but his brave move paid off, enjoying the final 200m on the blue carpet and claiming gold for Australia, with a time of 56:05 followed by second place Justus Nieschlag (GER) and third place taken out by kiwi Sam Ward who claimed the silver in 2018.
Luke Willian, delighted with his second world cup win, “Good swim today, rode really well, with the rail tracks it was really technical, so it was important to get out in front and kept going and didn’t look back, about 100 metres up the road was all I had in mind.”
“On the first lap (of the run) I saw a bit of a gap and thought oh we’re on here and it just kept getting bigger each time I checked and so there was a lot of confidence there. Then I saw them up the top of the hill and I thought yeah, I’ve got this now I can kind of enjoy the last 200 metres and really soak it up.”
Copeland had a solid race to finish 7th, Fisher 16th, Callum McClusky 37th and Ryan Bailie in 45th place.