Alexis Lepage had the race of his life to capture his first career World Cup triathlon medal, sprinting to the bronze on Sunday in Chengdu, China.
The 25-year-old charged to third place with a stellar sprint to the line that ended in a photo finish for the final two spots on the podium in the rare two-day race format.
A perfectly executed race in all three disciplines, the Gatineau, Que. native clocked a time of 27:55 in the super-sprint distance that combined a 500-metre swim with a 10-kilometre bike and 2.5-kilometre run course.
“It has been a long winter with a couple of DNF’s in my last two races so I’m really proud to be on the podium,” said Lepage, who credited his recent move to work with coach Jono Hall at Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre in Victoria as a key to improving his skillset.
“I didn’t expect that today, but I’ve been working so hard and I have been training quite good. It just feels so great to be on the podium.”
Lepage, along with Canadian teammate Matt Sharpe, qualified for Sunday’s final after each finished sixth in their respective semifinal sprint distance races (750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike, 5-kilometre run) on Saturday. The top-nine athletes in each of the three heats, along with the next three fastest times overall, locked up one of the 30 spots on the pontoon for the battle for the medals.
“The plan yesterday was to keep it under control, and never push too much on the bike or the run,” said Lepage, whose first major international podium finishes came last year with a gold and silver medal in CAMTRI races.
“I had a great start on the swim today and just followed the good feet. We worked really well together on the bike. I felt comfortable and everything came together on the run. I still had some legs for the run so I was happy with that one.”
Lepage went flat out once diving into the water for the non-wetsuit swim. Coming out of the water in third place, the Canuck put his head down, cranked up the pace and tucked himself into a pack of 11 riders out of the first transition that included his Victoria-based teammate Matt Sharpe.
The lead group quickly dwindled to eight following a crash by a New Zealand athlete, forcing Sharpe back into a large chase pack that was 31 seconds back after the first of three laps on the hilly and twisting bike course.
Riding for the duration of the bike with the pack of eight, Lepage hopped off the bike with three athletes abreast at the front, fighting for position for the 2.5-kilometre foot race.
With Australia’s Matthew Hauser running away to the gold medal with a time of 27:42, Lepage was in a three-way battle 13 seconds behind for the final two spots on the podium.
Running stride-for-stride throughout the final lap, Lepage made the first move with just over 200-metres to go before the flat run course looped back down the finishing stretch, resulting in an all-out sprint.
Lunging at the finish line, Ben Kanute from the United States claimed the silver by a hair over the long-limbed Quebecer. A photo finish determined the medals after both posted equal times at 27:55.
“It was a pretty tough sprint finish. I thought I was going to get second, but Ben passed me in the last five metres. It just feels so great to be on the podium,” said Lepage.
Matt Sharpe also battled until the end, finishing in 14th spot at 28:24.
Canada’s 19-year-old teenager, Hannah Henry of Victoria, had a strong showing in her World Cup debut. The lone Canadian woman to qualify for the finals with the top-30 athletes after finishing 13th in her seminfinal heat, Henry finished 19th overall at 32:23.
The top-14 athletes in each of the two women’s semifinals, and the next two quickest times overall, earned spots in Sunday’s final.
Germany’s Laura Lindemann ran her way into the winner’s circle with a time of 31:18. Renee Tomlin, of the United States, was second at 31:34. Belgium’s Valirie Barthelemy stopped the clock at 31:35 for the bronze medal.