ROTTERDAM, NED—Canada’s Joanna Brown celebrated a stellar fifth-place finish in her first elite triathlon Grand Final race on Saturday in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The 24-year-old Brown, who capped off a breakthrough season with her fourth consecutive top-10 finish on the elite series, put down a gutsy effort at the World Championships where she posted a time of 2:01:47.
“It feels a bit surreal but I guess this happened today,” laughed Brown. “It was a good day. I had what I feel is one of my best races ever on the World Triathlon Series. It just feels so good to have a result like this in my first elite Grand Final.”
The lone Canadian in the field of the top 44 women triathletes on the planet, the Carp, Ont. native was forced to control her own destiny after coming out of the 1.5-kilometre wetsuit swim in 11th spot. Making up three spots while charging through first transition, Brown took charge in a group of seven who formed a chase pack 30 seconds behind a trio of leaders.
With Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, American Katie Zaferes and Britain’s Jessica Learmonth opening up precious seconds on the field in each of the seven laps on the 40-kilometre bike course, Brown was a beast on the bike while working at the front of the pack of seven with Kirsten Kasper of the United States and Rachel Klamer, of The Netherlands in hopes of maintaining their lead on the second chase group.
Brown remained strong and in control while taking her turn leading the first chase group for the majority of the bike course which threw everything at the world’s best including tight hairpin corners and slick cobblestone roads through Rotterdam’s downtown streets.
“That bike course was so cool. It was such an engaging course. I just took control and hammered the technical sections of the bike and had a lot of fun riding the course,” said Brown. “I worked quite well with the other girls. We kept rolling at the front to keep that gap on the chase pack because we new Ashleigh Gentle (Australia) was in there. We did great work up there and it paid off in the end for sure.”
Entering second transition in fifth spot and 90 seconds down from the leaders, Brown darted out onto the 10-kilometre run course with a pack of five focused on hunting down a podium spot. With the world number 1, Flora Duffy, throwing down the gauntlet early in the three-lap run, Brown dropped to eight spot before finding another gear in the bell lap.
“I wasn’t feeling awesome at the start of the run, but I kind of got a second wind in the last five kilometres and I was able to pull away from some of the girls,” added Brown. “I’ve always found it challenging to go hard right away on a 10-kilometre run so I just build and build and keep the momentum going. The years of training and mental focus paid off and I was able to find my best gear.”
Bermuda’s Duffy solidified the 2017 World Triathlon Series title after capturing her sixth victory of the season, and her second-straight World Championship crown, with a time of 1:58:39. Katie Zaferes couldn’t respond to Duffy’s early pace on the run, but did celebrate a monster day and the silver medal with a time of 1:59:34. Jessica Learmonth held off the chase pack to lock up the bronze medal at 2:00:57.
After battling years of injuries, Brown took a major step forward in her development this summer after moving to Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre in Victoria to work with coach Jono Hall. After two World Cup podiums early in the season, the former junior and under-23 World Championship bronze medallist posted a seventh place finish at the World Triathlon Series in Edmonton before chalking up back-to-back fourth-place finishes in Montreal and Stockholm, Sweden.
“It has been a really consistent year, and that’s what I strived for at the start of the season,” said Brown, who has battled years of injuries that nearly led her to quit the sport. “This is one year of many I want to build on towards Tokyo. I have done a lot of work this year and I’m so grateful to all of my teammates that have pushed me, and the strong support team I have behind me. I’m just over the moon with excitement right now,” said Brown.
“I still have a lot of work to close the gap (to get my first WTS podium). The swim has always been a challenge for me, but I’m closing the gap every year and every race. There is so much consistency that can come from a good swim, getting out to the front of the water and the first 10 minutes on the bike. That is going to be key for my training moving forward.”
Victoria’s Matt Sharpe also enjoyed his career-best elite finish at the World Triathlon Series Grand Final with a solid 16th-place outing.
The lanky Canuck powered through cold and rainy conditions to enjoy his second-best WTS race set up by a strong 1.5-kilometre wetsuit swim.
“I didn’t have big expectations but just wanted to test myself against the best today,” said Sharpe, who suffered a collarbone injury earlier this year. “It was an exceptional day that was set up well by having one of my best swims of the year. I just dug deep, stayed strong mentally and held on.”
Finding his way into a large lead group of 25 athletes early in the seven-lap, pancake flat bike course, Sharpe remained focused on staying upright and out of trouble. The 26-year-old came into second transition in 20th spot in a large pack that headed out onto the three-lap run course.
Racing with arm warmers, Sharpe clocked a 10-kilometre run time of 32:38 to secure 16th place.
“The bike course was pretty unreal with a lot of tight corners. I tried to hold to my game plan to finish well on the bike, but I am still lacking a bit of strength and found myself at the back of the pack quite a bit,” added Sharpe. “When I got out onto the run, I actually felt better than I expected and I was able to get through a few people. With the context of my collarbone, this was a pretty good way to end the year at the Grand Final.”
Vincent Luis, of France, was the man to beat on Saturday. Running with the lead pack until the final 300 metres where the Frenchman dropped the field and sprinted to the only sub-30 minute run time of the day to secure the World Championship men’s crown with a time of 1:51:26.
Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt finished two seconds back in second spot at 1:51:28, while Spain’s Mario Mola outlasted his teammate, Javier Gomez, for the bronze medal. Mola stopped the clock at 1:51:36.
Pavlos Antoniades Finishes 15th in Junior Men’s Race
Pavlos Antoniades rebounded after a difficult 750-metre swim to fight his way through the field of 75 athletes for a 15th-place finish in the junior men’s Triathlon World Championship race on Saturday morning.
Antoniades, of Trois-Rivières, Que., clocked a time of 57:28 in the sprint distance format.
Australia’s Matthew Hauser was first out of the frigid water and led the 75-man field across the finish line with a golden time of 55:54. Portugal’s Vasco Vilaca was second at 56:22, while Ben Dijkstra, of Great Britain, rounded out the top-three with a time of 56:35.
Michael Milic, of North Delta, B.C., was the next best Canuck in 39h spot at 58:33. Victoria’s Aiden Longcroft-Harris placed 64th (1:02:10).