IMAGE|| Michael Willson
Australia’s Olympic and Commonwealth Games triathletes will be front and centre in the north of England over the next five days with the debut of the World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series and round four of the World Triathlon Series.
Tomorrow morning (3:35am AEST) will see Australia line up in Nottingham for the Mixed Relay as countries chase Series and Olympic rankings points and before Leeds hosts the WTS on Sunday.
The Mixed Relay start list features 18 teams, with a total of 72 of the world’s top athletes vying for ranking points on offer towards Olympic qualification as Mixed Relay makes its debut in Tokyo 2020.
Nottingham hosts the first stop of the new Series which will see Hamburg again host the ITU Mixed Relay World Championships on July 15. The series finale will be held in Edmonton, Canada, on July 28.
The finalised Australian team will not be announced until two hours before race time but there will be at least one new face in the green and gold, with the loss of reigning ITU World Junior champion Matt Hauser, sidelined for 10 weeks after dislocating his shoulder in a road accident, while training on the Gold Coast last month.
Hauser and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Jake Birtwhistle joined Gillian Backhouse and Ashleigh Gentle to win Commonwealth Games gold in spectacular fashion on the Gold Coast in April.
Hauser, Birtwhistle, Gentle and McShane won the ITU World Championship in Hamburg in July.
“It is certainly a shame to lose someone like a Matt Hauser from our team but we have an exciting squad of athletes to choose from and they are all putting their hands up for this new Olympic event,” said Justin Drew, Triathlon Australia’s National Performance Director.
“There is a real buzz in the triathlon world with the Mixed Relay now on the Olympic program and it brings a real team feel to the sport.
“The inclusion of the World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series for Tokyo 2020 will be another opportunity to showcase some of the most amazing multi-sport athletes on the Olympic stage.”
Birtwhistle, Gentle, McShane and Backhouse will be joined in the Australian squad for Nottingham by Rio Olympians Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie as well as young gun Marcel Walkington – second to Dmitry Polyanskiy in last week’s Astana ITU Triathlon World Cup.
ITU’s Triathlon Mixed Relay format is racing at its most exciting, where the typically individual sport combines with a team mentality.
The innovative format sees two men and two women from the same country each completing a “mini triathlon”: 300m swim, 6.6km bike and 1.5km run, before tagging their teammate in a female–male–female–male pattern.
The teams have until up to two hours before the race start to announce their final squad line ups, which leads to the first strategic battle of the day with some countries announcing their athletes well in advance, while others prefer to wait until the last minute.
Hosts Great Britain, with the preliminary squad featuring two Olympic medal winners in Jonathan Brownlee and Vicky Holland along with former ITU world champion Non Stanford and WTS medallist Tom Bishop.
The Americans, like the Australians are among those teams keeping the athletes that will be competing in Nottingham under wraps until the very last minute, but expect some of the fastest athletes in the field to line up on Thursday.
Another team that can be expected to be among the ones fighting for the podium will be Canada, with rising stars of the season Joanna Brown and Tyler Mislawchuk on their team, while Commonwealth Games bronze medallists New Zealand will line up with young stars, led by Nicole Van der Kay and Tyler Reid.
Sunday on the streets of Leeds will see Birtwhistle (third on the WTS Rankings), Royle, Walkington, Ryan Bailie and Luke Willian line up in the men’s WTS round against the likes of World Champion Mario Mola (Spain) and Commonwealth Games champion Henri Schuman while Gentle, McShane, Backhouse and Natalie Van Coevorden will feature in the women’s race – minus World and Commonwealth champion Flora Duff but featuring US pair Katie Zaferes and Kirsten Kasper.
Gentle, sitting in 12th on the WTS rankings with Van Coevorden 11th, has chosen not to return home after her fourth placed finish in Yokohama on May 12, deciding instead to head to her European training base in Spain.
“I stayed and soaked up the Commonwealth Games experience until the closing ceremony, so I guess I felt a little underdone leading into (the last race) Yokohama,” said Gentle.
“So for the first time I kept travelling onto Europe after Yokohama WTS.
“It’s been great to have some time to settle into our base in Vitoria Gasteiz and prepare for Leeds.
“I’ve put in some consistent work and feel as though I’ve definitely built on my strength and fitness from last month. I’m really excited to race Leeds and also Nottingham Mixed relay tomorrow.
“I didn’t have the best of races in Leeds last year but I really loved racing here in the UK, the event and crowds were amazing. I’m happy to be back.”
Leeds has certainly been a happy hunting ground for Royle, who is now based in the city alongside both Jonathan and brother, two-time Olympic champion Alistair.
“Leeds is sort of a home race for me now, so I’ve been able to see the town build up to the race,” said Newcastle-born Royle.
“It holds a pretty special race for me, standing on the podium with Alistair and Jonathon Brownlee and having Javier Gomez in fourth is definitely a career highlight to date.
“There wouldn’t be many that could say they’ve stood on the podium with Al and Jon with Gomez behind them in an Olympic distance race.
“Things in training have been going really well the past few weeks, it’s now a case of transferring that across into a race.
“It’s a tough all round race, with (such) fantastic support so it has quickly become my favourite race on the circuit.”
Victorian, Walkington gets a chase to break back into the WTS circuit this week.
“I’m excited to be back in Leeds. It will be my first WTS race for the year. I distinctly remember the big crowds at the race last year along the city streets which just adds to the race atmosphere. There are some other strong athletes racing so it should be a good test for myself to see how I perform.”
WTS Nottingham Triathlon Mixed Relay Series
Thursday 7 June – 18:30 Local | 03:30 AEST (Friday 8 June)
Triathlon Mixed Relay Series