Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee executed a perfect race strategy that seemed destined to give Jonny another world title ... until the last 200 m of the race when everything went dramatically awry.
September 19, 2016 | NEWS|
There were 68 men who dove off the dock into the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean here in Cozumel for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, but all eyes were on a few – with a tiny lead in the overall standings, Mario Mola had to finish in the top four if Jonathan Brownlee were to win, top five if the younger Brownlee finished second. And, for most of the race, it appeared as though Mola’s worst nightmares were all coming to fruition and the world title was about to slip from his grasp.
Then, with 200 m to go, it all changed.
First things first though. Let’s tell you how we got to this point.
The 1,500m swim started out in the ocean and ended in the beautiful Fonatur marina. Out of the water first was France’s Aurelien Raphael, who had both Brownlees hot on his tail as they ran down the dock and up to T1. In the end a group of nine was able to get clear including the first three along with Aaron Royle (AUS), Greg Billington (USA), Alessandro Fabian (ITA), Joao Pereira (POR), Henri Schoeman (RSA) and Andrea Salvisberg (SUI).
Trailing by 21 seconds as he ran out onto his bike, Mola found himself in the second group, which included a good portion of the rest of the field. The large group struggled with organization, especially on the many narrow stretches along the technical course, and steadily lost time to the smaller group ahead.
By halfway through the bike the gap was about a minute – by the end of the 40 km ride the deficit was 90 seconds.
Starting the run it was Jonathan Brownlee who set the pace for the most part, with his fellow medalists from Rio – brother Alistair (gold) and Schoeman (bronze) – hanging on behind. Schoeman went to the front for a brief stretch starting the third lap, but Jonny made his move before the end of that lap and opened up a gap on the other two heading into the final lap.
Mola, along with training partner Richard Murray (RSA), Ryan Bailie (AUS) and Crisanto Grajales (MEX) was gaining some time on the three ahead, but certainly not enough to appear to be a threat. Into the final lap of the race Mola’s chase group had moved ahead of all of the breakaway group except the three Olympic podium finishers.
Jonathan Brownlee appeared to have the race in hand and brother Alistair seemed to be waiting for the final stretch to sprint by Schoeman when the seemingly perfectly executed plan went dreadfully awry. With less than a half kilometer to go, Jonathan Brownlee started to slow. Schoeman started to push in hopes of catching the Brit, with Alistair marking his move. Then, with 200 meters to go, Jonathan collapsed. Alistair stopped to help him up, leaving Schoeman to run in for the win. Alistair helped his brother along and got him across the line in second, then followed to take third.
Meanwhile, the chase group had also splintered over the final part of the race. Murray, who had “felt like a sack of potatoes” on the bike (his words, not ours!), found some energy on the tail end of the run and pulled away from the rest of the group. On his way to a fourth-place finish, he suddenly pulled up short of the line, wanting to make sure he didn’t take the spot that would guarantee his training partner the world title. Once he learned his countryman had taken the day, he jumped across the line with Mola, celebrating the Spaniards world title.
The Spanish federation would appeal to have Jonathan Brownlee disqualified for accepting assistance from brother Alistair, but “the ITU competition jury unanimously ruled against disqualifying Jonathan,” according to a release from the ITU. “The ITU competition jury made this decision in accordance to Appendix K, Rule 7, which states that athletes can receive help from another athlete, Technical Official or Race Official.”
Mola ended up taking the ITU world championship title by just four points over Brownlee, while Spain’s Fernando Alarza took third in the standings.
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