History will be there for the taking for Jake Birtwhistle as the World Triathlon Series comes to an exciting climax over the final two rounds in Montreal this weekend and on the Gold Coast for the 2018 Grand Final next month (September 13-16).
Over the last decade only 2008 Olympian and 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Brad Kahlefeldt has earned a place on the men’s WTS podiums for Australia and that was a third placing back in 2010.
Podiums dominated by Spain with 14 top three finishes – six of the them on the top of the WTS – with Javier Gomez winning four and Mario Mola two – and leading the field towards a hat-trick in 2018.
Birtwhistle is currently sitting in third place on the 2018 rankings on 3245 behind training partners Mola (4850pts) and Vincent Luis (France) 3810.
The trio have been in Flagstaff, Arizona at high altitude training under coach Joel Filiol, since Edmonton a month ago although Luis will not race in Montreal, with Mola, fourth and fifth-placed South Africa’s Richard Murray (3085) and Spain’s Fernando Alarza and ninth-placed Kristian Blummenfelt (2096) the others from the top 10.
“Living and training at 2200m elevation makes for some tough work,” said Birtwhistle, as he prepares for the tough Standard (Olympic) distance race of 1.5km swim; 40km bike and 10km run.
“I’ve never been this high before so I’m excited to see how I’ve adapted once back down to sea level to race. Sitting in third in the series overall is a great position for me to be in and I have the opportunity to add to that with points from Montreal and then Gold Coast.
“The athletes in front of me, and the ones close behind on the rankings have already used five events towards their WTS position.
“As I have only four events included, I hope to add a strong fifth event to hold or improve my position going into the Grand Final.”
After Montreal, Birtwhistle will go back home to Launceston for his recovery week and then head to the Gold Coast to join coach Filiol and his training group for the final preparation.
Joining Birtwhistle on the start line will be Rio Olympian Aaron Royle and rookie Brandon Copeland, make his 2018 WTS debut after making his debut in Stockholm last year.
Royle, who admits to having an up-and-down season, said: “Montreal is a tough race, much tougher than it appears on paper and seems on the TV.
“There are a few sharp hills on the bike, dead roads and swirling wind through the tall buildings which makes for a tough race.
“I have a full score of points for the WTS, but some of the races are not very high scoring ones, so I would like to be able to take out my worst race (Bermuda) and replace it with a good score in Montreal.
“I’ve had some solid races this season, with some not so great. A few very good Team Relay performances as well which I’ve been very privileged to be a part of.
“I’m sitting in 15th place on the WTS rankings so far and with a couple of races left there is a chance I could move inside the top 10 if I can put together some good results in Montreal and Gold Coast.”
Copeland, who was named in Australia’s Under 23 World Championship this week revealed he has had a great block of training in Boulder, Colorado (1624m above sea level) after racing the Major League Triathlon races for the Gold Coast Tritons in Atlantic City and Vail Valley.
“I’m looking forward to having a solid hit out against some great athletes and seeing where I’m at ahead of the Gold Coast World Championships.
“I’m really excited to see how I’ve progressed since last year and to test myself against the world’s best.”
The women’s race is developing into a real teams’ race between the USA, Great Britain and Australia with training partners, defending champion Ashleigh Gentle and “Miss Consistent” Natalie Van Coevorden well positioned to really push Australia’s hopes for the Montreal podium.
They will be joined by Commonwealth Games Relay gold medallist and one of the strongest swim-bikers in the field Gillian Backhouse and the emerging Kelly-Ann Perkins.
Gentle spells danger for the field led by Series leader Katie Zaferes and Edmonton winner Vicky Holland (Great Britain) who raced away to beat Gentle and Georgia Taylor-Brown (Great Britain) in Edmonton.
Throw in Kirsten Kasper, Taylor Spivey (USA), Jessica Learmonth and Jodie Stimpson (Great Britain) and it augers for a race that could well unfold dramatically over the final stages of a tough 10km run that may just play into Gentle’s hands.
Gentle became Montreal’s first champion and returns this Saturday to reclaim her throne, while also hoping to snag her first WTS win of the year.
Gentle continues to be one of the strongest runners in the field, however she has found herself chasing on the bike, which has made it hard to get in the right position for the podium.
However, in Edmonton she turned it around, stepped onto her first podium of the season by finishing second. She’ll want to carry that momentum into Montreal.
Van Coevorden forced her way into Australia’s second placed Mixed Relay for the Hamburg World Championship and the team that won in Edmonton and with her eighth place in Hamburg.
Anywhere near that form will have her ready to pounce in this USA-Great Britain-Australian battle with Rachel Klamer from the Netherlands.