MONTREAL—Joanna Brown had the performance of her life in front of a boisterous Canadian crowd, finishing just shy of her first World Triathlon Series podium with a monstrous fourth-place finish in Montreal on Saturday.
Backing up a career-best seventh place finish in the sprint distance last weekend in Edmonton, the 24-year-old Brown took advantage of glorious race conditions to put together a huge breakout day against the best women’s triathletes on the planet where she clocked a time of 2:00:22 in the Olympic distance race on the streets of Old Montreal.
“It feels so damn good,” beamed Brown after crossing the finish line. “I can’t believe these last two weeks. It has been pretty awesome. I have been in a really good place and in a good environment. I have been consistent all year, and being able to train with a good group of people has brought it all together. I knew if I had the pacing right I was capable of a performance like this and I did it.”
Coming out of the 1.5-kilometre swim in Jacques-Cartier Basin in 10th spot, the feisty Carp, Ont. resident was a machine on the bike, doing her part to control a pack of 12 athletes who stuck together for the entire 40-kiloemtre cycling trip through one of Canada’s oldest cities.
Taking her turns at the lead, and finding opportunities to drop back into the pack, the new leader of the Canadian Triathlon Team was a technician around the tight turns, up the steep climbs and down the steady drops while blasting past Montreal’s famed sites.
“The swim felt really good. This is my first Olympic distance race of 2017 so I didn’t know what to expect. I was cruising along and when I came out of the water behind Flora Duffy I knew I had to get behind her wheel and not let her out of my sight because she was the only one who was going to break that pack on the bike,” said Brown. “I stayed at the front and out of trouble. I was in control and was ready for the run.”
With the lead pack of 12 miles ahead of the chase group led by Canada’s Paula Findlay, Brown hopped out of the saddle and ran into second transition in ninth position. Parking the bike and putting on the running shoes, the long-legged blonde picked off many of the world’s best in a gutsy and steady effort on the 10-kilometre run down the streets of Old Montreal en route to the historic finishing.
“That first lap on the run wasn’t great. The good thing about Olympic distance racing though is you have so much time to build up throughout each lap,” added Brown. “I just built every lap and stayed in control. I got stronger as I went on, and I knew I could pass a few people in that final lap.
It was the third-best performance finish ever by a Canadian woman in World Triathlon Series racing. Paula Findlay and Kirsten Sweetland are the only two Canadians to have ever climbed onto the WTS podium.
The top-three women on Saturday all finished under two hours on the incredibly challenging course.
Battling the flu all week and not sure if she was even going to start the race until this morning, Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle was in complete control through all three disciplines. Taking advantage of a strong transition from the bike to the run, Gentle quickly broke away from the field after putting on a running clinic. With five second-place finishes under her belt, Gentle captured her first victory on the World Triathlon Series with a time of 1:59:03.
Bermuda’s Flora Duffy’s streak of four straight victories may have come to an end, but she still claimed the silver medal with a time of 1:59:26. Andrea Hewitt, of New Zealand, rounded out the women’s podium with a bronze-medal time of 1:59:47.
Edmonton’s Paula Findlay did some heavy lifting for the chase group. Coming out of the water in 26th spot, the 28-year-old Findlay used her strength on the bike to jump into 15th spot while pulling a large pack of riders throughout the 40-kilometre ride. When the dust finally settled at the finish, Findlay came across the line in 21st place at 2:07:52.
It has been a dream season for Brown, who was originally scouted for her running strengths that propelled her to bronze medals at both the Junior and Under-23 World Championships early in her career. But her development was derailed with a string of injuries over the last three years. Things became so low she even contemplated retirement after representing Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. But thanks to enormous support from family, friends and her coach at the time – Craig Taylor – and a move this year to work with Jono Hall at Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre in Victoria, she is back on track.
“I knew I could do this, but maybe not this quick. I have been exceeding my expectations and I’m over the moon,” said Brown. “Moving to the National Performance Centre has provided amazing training for me, and for sure it is a big part of this success. Everyone has played a role and this is a complete team effort. The work that Craig Taylor has done in my development in Guelph, and now working with Jono at the National Performance Centre, together has made it all possible. They both deserve to celebrate this as much as I do. Now I just want to keep this going.
“Jono has a good plan in place. There is more work that needs to be done. My swim needs to be more consistent and we need to continue building my run volume. That is what it will take to get to that next level.”
Brown’s back-to-back career-best performances stole the show as Canada hosted consecutive World Triathlon Series races for the first time ever in Edmonton and Montreal.