Saturday saw yet another WTS performance for the history books as Spain’s Mario Mola delivered a record third successive victory at the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama. Mola put in one of the best swims of his career, survived a massive bike pack and then broke away solo to dominate the run section and become the first man in WTS history to record a trio of back-to-back wins in Yokohama.
“That was probably one of the best swims I have ever had, I am so happy with that. It really makes the race completely different,” said Mola after his win. The Spaniard, who went out on his own in the opening strides of the run, said of his strategy; “It was one of those things that you only do once you are in the race and you see people around you. I was feeling good, I was feeling strong, so I decided to push from the beginning and see what happens.”
The Yokohama win was Mola’s first WTS gold of the 2018 season, leaving him top of the Series rankings.
“Obviously, it hasn’t been the easiest three weeks. Seeing Carol (Routier) fighting after the accident, it was unbelievable. Everyone around me was making me feel very strong in order to be close to her, so this obviously goes to Carol,” said Mola, speaking of his girlfriend who was recently involved in biking accident.
The silver and bronze medals went to two men equally eager to get back onto the WTS podium, Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle outsprinting Spaniard Fernando Alarza to take second place and secure his first WTS podium since July 2017. Bronze for Alarza was his first WTS podium finish since June last year.
Birtwhistle said of his sprint finish, “I was pretty spent, this was my first Olympic distance race since November. I didn’t really know what to expect going in since I have been training solo the last couple of months. It’s great to be back on a start list again and to finish it up. I have started to become an expert at the sprint finish at the end, so I guess I am qualified to say that it is the hardest way to do it. I just had to dig deep, I was suffering in the middle but I just held on.”
The men lined up following the women’s race, with both events beginning the fight for qualifying points for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Diving into the water, Richard Varga (SVK) returned to form to led for the full 1.5km, exiting the swim in first place for the 24th time in his career. He was anything but alone, however, as almost the entire field climbed the ramp out of the water and entered the transition zone as one. After a battle to get onto the bikes, a large lead group inevitably formed.
The opening stages of the 40km, nine-lap bike course saw a 40-plus group riding side by side. It looked a sure thing that breakaways would soon follow but none materialised, the train of men snaking through the course lap after lap with little change.
That meant the big names were intertwined throughout the pack, including Mola, Alarza, Birtwhistle, Richard Murray (RSA), Henri Schoeman (RSA), Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) and Vincent Luis (FRA).
Behind them, a chase group included several podium hopefuls whose swim had left them just off the pace, among them Mexico’s Crisanto Grajales and the WTS Bermuda bronze medallist Gustav Iden (NOR).
As it had through T1, the lead pack entered T2 together, every member fully aware that their performance in the run would be decisive in the hunt for WTS gold. It was Mola who wasted no time getting out onto the course and into his rhythm, powering through the herd into pole position.
From there, the lead simply increased with every stride, the Spaniard stretching away from the other medal contenders behind him. Nobody was able to find an answer to Mola’s determined pace as he built up a 30-second lead, and it was to be a comfortable finale as he entered the chute to complete the 12th WTS win of his career and the first of the 2018 season.
The battle was still very much on for second and third, however, with Birtwhistle and Alarza using their fresher legs to pull ahead of the rest. While Alarza held a slight advantage over the Aussie for the majority of the 10km, it was Birtwhistle who timed his move in the final kilometre to bag silver, leaving the Spaniard to take the bronze.
“I am really happy to come back to the podium. I’ve had some difficult months. In the winter it is hard to find good moments when your head is bad, but I am really happy with the last month and to get back on the podium,” Alarza said.
Another huge performance on the day came from Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk, who successfully emerged from a tight pack in the run to land a career-high fourth-place finish.