EDMONTON—Joanna Brown continued her breakthrough season with a career-best seventh-place finish on an absolute monster of a World Triathlon Series course in front of a huge Canadian crowd in Edmonton on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Brown, who had her first two World Cup podiums of her career this spring, proved she can match strides with the cream of the triathlon crop after putting down a huge effort in the sprint distance race, clocking a time of 1:02:20.
“I’m pretty stoked with the result. I knew that I was ready for a result like this so I’m pretty happy to be able to do it,” said Brown, who has been 17th twice in her career at WTS races. “The success that I have had as a junior and as an under-23 athlete gave me confidence to be ready for this level. I have seen this coming, I’m happy with it and we’ll keep building.”
Taking advantage of ideal race conditions around Edmonton’s River Valley, Brown of Carp, Ont., came out of the 750-metre non-wetsuit swim in the heart of Hawrelak Park in the middle of the pack of 30 athletes, 20 seconds back of the leaders, and two seconds ahead of hometown girl, Paula Findlay.
With Bermuda’s Flora Duffy and 19-year-old American, Taylor Knibb, putting the hurt on the field with a nearly perfect 20-kilometre bike ride, it was Canada’s Brown and Findlay, taking their turns to pull the chase group of 15 riders up the punishing hills of Groat Road and technical turns on the bike course heading back into the stadium.
“This is a really tough course – it might be one of the toughest courses we’ve been on all year. We go up that hill six times on the bike and there are some good technical elements in it with a hairpin turn as well,” added Brown. “I think it took a lot out of me for the run. I wasn’t ready for how heavy my legs were going to feel.”
Masterfully tackling every inch of the bike course, Duffy also dropped Knibb with 2.5-kilometres to go in the sixth and final lap before cruising to her fourth straight victory in as many starts on the five-kilometre run, finishing with a time of 1:00:22. Knibb captured her first career World Triathlon Series medal, claiming the silver with a time of 1:01:22.
With the leaders 82 seconds ahead when foot hit pavement, Brown and Findlay were amongst the pack of 15 left running for the bronze medal. Brown charged her way to the front for the first of three laps of the run around Hawrelak Park, but dropped back to seventh once finally crossing the finish line.
“I knew the bronze medal was coming from the pack that I was in. The goal was to go for it, but when I hit that first hill on the run, I knew I didn’t feel great,” said Brown. “The course took a lot of out me, and I was just holding on until the final lap when I got a second wind.”
American Katie Zafares found her legs on the run, storming out of the chase group to secure the final spot on the podium, winning the bronze medal with a time of1:01:51.
Findlay held on for her second 15th-place finish on the streets she grew up biking and running on. The Olympian and five-time World Triathlon Series winner posted a time of 1:03:32.
“It was an okay day. I’m not thrilled with it, but also not disappointed. This is my first WTS race since last year so a top-15 was the goal,” said Findlay, who was also 15th when Edmonton hosted the Grand Final in 2014. “That was an honest bike course going up that hill six times. You get to the top, get relief and then there is another short hill and that’s when it hurts. Riding has been my strength lately. I had it in my mind I could attack on that hill, but everyone was doing that. It was one minute you had to commit to getting out of the saddle and going all out.”
It was a family affair for the Findlay’s, who have been instrumental in bringing elite triathlon racing to Edmonton. Her mother was the race director, her father the medical director, while her brother was helping with the venue setup.
“It’s always fun racing Edmonton,” said the City’s favourite redhead. “Regardless of how I’m doing, I get to the finish line and the people are screaming as if I had won. Most athletes don’t get to race at home. It is fun, and I’m grateful to be able to compete here.”
Dominika Jamnicky, of Guelph, Ont., was the only other Canadian in the field and placed 25th (1:05:38).
Three Canadians were among 45 of the world’s best men’s triathletes to dive into the pond at Hawrelak Park.
Coming out of the water in the middle of the pack, all three Canadians rode the majority of the challenging 20-kilometre bike course at the back of a pack of 35. Slowly picking their away towards the front while staying out of trouble, Matt Sharpe of Victoria, entered second transition in fourth place, while Tyler Mislawchuk of Oak Bluff, Man., was 11th.
But it was five of the world’s elite who took control of the race, bolting onto the five-kilometre run course, leaving the Canadians and the rest of the field in a world of hurt.
Racing in a group of five, Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle blew the pack apart when he sprinted into the lead heading into the stadium for the second time, confusing it for being the final lap. Forced to head out for a third trip around Hawrelak Park, Spain’s Mario Mola quickly moved back ahead of Birtwhistle and never looked back, finishing with a golden time of 54:51. Birtswhistle recovered from the mishap to turn in a courageous silver-medal effort, clocking-in at 55:01. Richard Murray, of South Africa, placed third at 55:06.
Canada’s Sharpe dug deep to respond to the lightening-quick pace, finishing 23rd with a time of 56:31. Alexis Lepage, of Gatineau, Que., had to serve a 10 second penalty for a mount line violation, dropping him into 31st spot at 57:50. Mislawchuk rounded out the Canadian contingent in 36th (59:36).
The world’s best triathletes will now travel east to Montreal for the second of back-to-back World Triathlon Series races in Canada, August 5-6.
Top-Five Women and Canadian Results:
- Flora Duffy, BER, 1:00:22; 2. Taylor Knibb, USA, 1:01:22; 3. Katie Zafares, USA, 1:01:51; 4. Summer Cook, USA, 1:02:03; 5. Jolanda Annen, SUI, 1:02:09
- Joanna Brown, Carp, Ont., 1:02:20; 15. Paula Findlay, Edmonton, 1:03:32; 25. Dominika Jamnicky, Guelph, Ont., 1:05:38.
Top-Five Men and Canadian Results:
- Mario Mola, ESP, 54:51; 2. Jacob Birtwhistle, AUS, 55:01; 3. Richard Murray, RSA, 55:06; 4. Jonathan Brownlee, GBR, 55:14; 5. Raphael Montoya, FRA, 55:19
- Matt Sharpe, Victoria, 56:31; 31. Alexis Lepage, Gatineau, Que., 57:50; 36. Tyler Mislawchuk, Oak Bluff, Man., 59:36.