Ashleigh Gentle threw caution to the wind and the waves to win her first ever sprint finish in front of a “Thunderstruck” home crowd in the World Triathlon Series Grand Final on the Gold Coast over the weekend.
The 27-year-old Commonwealth Games gold medallist celebrated over a decade on the National team with a heart-stopping sprint finish to the legendary sounds of the ACDC rock classic which thundered through the loud speakers as she crossed the line.
It heralded in her finest hour and a spine chilling sprint finish over Great Britain’s newly crowned WTS champion, Vicky Holland.
Although the world title was out of Gentle’s reach before the race and developed into a showdown between American Katie Zaferes and Holland, the Grand Final was there to be won.
Gentle knew she still had an opportunity to pull out the race of her life, saying before the race, “I’m treating this like a one off world championship.”
And after an enthralling 1 hour and 52 minutes the Grand Final race came down to a 200m sprint between Gentle (overcoming a bloodied foot from a burst blister) and Holland, the gritty Brit who kept coming and coming.
After looking over her shoulder no less than four times in the straight, Gentle celebrated like never before when she grabbed the banner and Holland did likewise, knowing she had won the duke out with Zaferes to win her first ever world crown.
“It is without doubt the best performance of my career and I still can’t believe I actually outsprinted Vicky Holland, it is something I will remember for a long time,” said Gentle.
“I tried to be really aggressive and really smart – knowing Katie and Vicky were duking out for a world title.
“I had never really had to prove myself in a sprint finish before so it was actually the best sprint of my racing career.
“And while I did suffer a painful blister which left my foot bloodied it actually distracted me from the pain in the rest of my body and something you can overcome with a potential grand final victory.”
Unlike so many of her WTS races throughout the season, Gentle put herself in the race from the outset, exiting the choppy 1.5km swim just 27 seconds behind the leaders – and in striking distance of victory – a scary thought for her opponents, who know just how good she is on the bike, let alone her lethal run leg.
The day then unfolded perfectly and fell into Gentle’s lap as she also constructed the smartest race of her life, too.
“From the swim, I had to fight for my position the whole time; it felt like it was a six foot swell out there in the Broadwater; it was very choppy and I guess people thought that’s not a place where I would swim well but I did,” said Gentle.
“I had to get myself back in contention; I was really happy I could stay safe on the bike too; I don’t know what it looked like on the screens but it was really windy out there.
“There were corners where we were all fighting for position; it was a huge pack and if you dropped back outside the top ten it was really dangerous.
“I know there was a crash and a cone came flying at me which someone hit on lap three so getting off that bike I was really happy.
“I definitely had plenty of Aussie suits around me on the bike, particuarly Emma Jeffcoat who did a great job and put in a massive surge on the bike to bring the chase pack up to give me a chance to produce the run I knew I was capable of.”
Gentle said she heard “Thunderstruck” for the whole 34 minutes of the run.
“They must have replayed it 10 times – it was amazing and I can’t thank the crowd enough for getting right behind me … I’m still in disbelief.”
Gentle’s training partners under coach Jamie Turner, Natalie Van Coevorden and Charlotte McShane finished 17th and 19th respectively followed by Jeffcoat (31st) and Backhouse (50th).
Jeffcoat played a major part in ensuring Gentle had a safe journey in a massive pack of 30 riders and Van Coevorden and McShane were always in the thick of the action.
But in the end it was Gentle’s day – a day she won’t forget in a hurry – even though it may take a while to sink in.