It didn’t take long for Olympic silver medallist Javier Gomez to stamp his authority on today’s Subaru ITU Mooloolaba Triathlon World Cup in hot, steamy conditions on the Sunshine Coast.
The 28-year-old Spaniard looked as comfortable as most Australians do “sitting in front of the telly watching the footie” when he came out of the bike transition for the first of five climbs up the testing Alexandra Headlands hill.
He may not have had the moist comfortable of swims, although he was still fourth out of the water but it was only a matter of time before the two-time ITU World Champion who was second to Alistair Brownlee at last year’s London Olympics showed all the class that makes him one of the true superstars of the sport.
An athlete often described as the most versatile triathlete in the world, who was crowned the Xterra World Champion last year; won the recent Escape from Alcatraz Race in San Francisco and will race the 70.3 in Barcelona this year “because he enjoys a challenge.”
After a comfortable ride in the chase pack over the tough 40km bike course, Gomez then trailed British Olympian Stuart Hayes and young New Zealander Mike Phillips by 10 seconds up the hill for the first time.
But one lap later he had dropped them both and had opened up a 15 second gap over defending champion Laurent Vidal (France) and in-form Australian Peter Kerr.
Then followed Hayes trying to hang on with ever-present young Aussie Ryan Bailie desperate to stay in touch.
From that moment on it was a matter of who would share the podium with the impressive Spaniard, crowned world champion in 2008 and 2010 as he continued to assert his authority on the field as sweat poured out of every pore in their bodies.
That was until Gomez’s coach told him to back off as he cruised up and down the hills with ease with the rest of the chase pack seemingly on struggle street.
Gomez ran the field ragged to record his 13th ITU World Cup victory taking second place overall from Canada’s Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medallist Simon Whitfield and with only Australian legend “The Croc” Brad Beven, who will be inducted in to the Triathlon Australia Hall tomorrow night ahead of him. (ITU records show Beven has won 17 although Beven’s memory has it at 19).
In the end Gomez was crowned the winner in a time of 1hour 54 minutes 323.2 seconds ahead of Australian-based Matt Chrabot (USA) 1:54.53.2 with Peter Kerr (AUS) third in 1:54.53.2.
And he also put it in perspective saying: “I didn’t taper for this race, I have been training quite hard up here on the Sunshine Coast at Noosa and this was only a training race. I have set myself for the first ITU World Championship race in Auckland next month, that’s going to be a big one.
“I knew it was not going to be a fast race but it was going to be a tough race. I felt OK and luckily it was enough for me to win.”
Gomez was also quick to set the record straight about his future. “My main goal is the ITU World Series and the 2016 Rio Olympics.”
And while Gomez was always going to be the man to beat, the big question was could long-striding Victorian Peter Kerr hang on to his brilliant early season form which has seen him finish third in Geelong and win in Devonport and Wellington and take another podium finish?
The podium charge developed into a race in three between Chrabot, Kerr and dogged Irishman Bryan Keane who staged a real dog fight over the second half of the run as they challenged each other “up hill and down dale”.
Chrabot broke away and Kerr admitted he thought he would be the odd man out until he dug deep and produced the “toughest 500m sprint of his life” to snatch third place ahead of Keane with Bailie again producing another “hang tough” performance to maintain his recent consistency.
Kerr said having Gomez in the race added a certain urgency to the field and he admitted while he commanded enormous respect he wasn’t someone to be scared of.
“You have to respect someone like Gomez but you should not be scared of him; you should not be scared to put pressure on him,” said Kerr.
“Gomez is absolutely the class athlete so running with him at least for 1km, 1.5km that’s about my aim to try and at least get him to know who I am for maybe future times. I couldn’t be happier.
“It was sensational running out there and I absolutely didn’t want to let anyone down that shouted my name on the day, I hope I’ve done them a little bit proud.
“I knew I had to time trial that 10km, it was never going to be won in the first or second lap; it was going to come down to the last lap, so every hill was just about conserving. That was my plan and it came up ok.”
Chrabot had not been on the podium since 2011 and revealed he suffered with thyroid issues which disrupted his 2012 but he has begun training in Canberra with Cameron Good and Mitch Kibby and a great group of Aussies.
“Australia has been my home for the past three months. I came into this race with no expectations. My aim is to be part of the lead group out of the water a really good lead into T2 and then to just stay with the leaders as safely and considerably as I can.
“I tried not to get ahead of myself today, I wasn’t trying to win the race in the opening two kilometres. No one wins the race in the opening 2k when you’re racing against Javier Gomez and Laurent Vidal.
“I am really weak on the bike at the moment. I have been running so much lately. My strength on the bike is just not there right now.
“My coach told me to just sit on the bike today and hide as best you can so that is what I did.
“It’s still early in the season and the run is still my focus right now so this is just the best result I have ever had so early on. I am so stoked.
“I am just taking one race at a time. I will go to Auckland next in a few weeks and then I will go back to the US for a few races. I don’t know if I can get on the podium again but I will just aim to stay with the leaders and hopefully have another great race.”
Elite Women: Sunday, 17 March 12:45pm.
Swim 1 lap ocean swim (1.5km)
Cycle 7 laps. Mooloolaba Esplanade (40km)
Run 4 laps. Mooloolaba Esplanade (10km)
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