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Tasmanian Jake Birtwhistle will return to the Gold Coast next month chasing a maiden world title when he goes head-to-head with defending champion and training partner Mario Mola for the World Triathlon Series.
Birtwhistle, the 23-year-old Commonwealth Games gold and silver medallist in April, comes back to spearhead the Australian team six months after a barnstorming bronze medal in Montreal earlier today.
It moved Birtwhistle from third into second on 4010 points – 824 points behind Mola (4925) and 291 ahead of Frenchman Vincent Luis in the race for the title.
Mola is the defending champion – and a two-time winner of the WTS – while no Australian has ever won the Series – with Brad Kahlefeldt the closest, finishing third in 2010.
The flying Spaniard produced arguably his greatest 10km run over one of the toughest courses splitting a stunning 29 mins 48secs after giving away over a minute to tearaway leader on the bike, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, who held on for silver.
Blummenfelt hung tough until the final kilometre when the never-say-die Mola – now alongside two-time Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee as the sport’s finest runner – pounced and pounded away to take his fourth win of the season.
A similar performance on the Gold Coast (September 13-16) will leave Birtwhistle, himself happy with his 31.30, content with second or third – a dream season for the lanky lad from Launceston.
“I’m really happy with that performance,” said Birtwhistle, “and there was the added incentive to catch and pass Richard (Murray) with those extra points on offer.
“It was an aggressive swim and bike and I stayed where I needed to … and there have been some big improvements … I was able to stay engaged during the middle stages and catching Richard became a realistic goal and I kept pushing forward and it did give me that extra motivation.”
Birtwhistle was full of praise for Mola, who went out of his way to pat Birtwhistle on the back as the Australian struggled to catch his breath after digging deep and charging across the line.
“Mario is not only a friend and training partner, but I have to say an unbelievable athlete– and I’m happy to be competing against him and happy for him to be my training partner … what he did today was unbelievable,” Birtwhistle said.
The pair, along with Luis and under the guidance of coach Joel Filiol had come off a high altitude training camp in Flagstaff Arizona and looking at their 1-2 finish they certainly adapted to the sea level without too much trouble.