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Germany’s Steffen Justus broke through for the biggest win of his ITU career, in an elite men’s ITU World Triathlon Series race that had twists and turns at every corner in Sydney on Saturday.
After a two-man breakaway in the bike leg stuck coming into T2, Russia’s Ivan Vasiliev dropped his breakaway partner James Elvery in the first few hundred metres and managed to stay out front until the second last lap. It wasn’t until the final 15 minutes that the trio of Justus, South Africa’s Richard Murray and France’s Laurent Vidal pulled ahead of the Russian. It set up a final lap showdown, but Justus didn’t look back from passing Vasiliev. He rocketed to the front and stayed there, to claim his first ITU World Triathlon Series win and first major ITU title. He said the key had been making his move at the 6-kilometre mark of the run.
“The swim was solid. I’m not the best swimmer, so I sat in the middle of the pack. In the bike I tried to stay in the top 10-15, but it was such a big group today; it’s quite dangerous in the middle. Transition two was good for me and I had a good run out,” Justus said. “Alexander (Bryukhankov) made a fast run in the front, so it was good for me because it split the pack. From 6km mark I tried to push a bit and he dropped; so I kept running and running to make a bigger gap and make it to the finish line.”
Murray shook off Vidal to claim his first ITU World Triathlon Series medal and the first in history by an African athlete. He said he had expected a podium in his career, just maybe not so soon.
“I actually knew it would happen some time, maybe not now, I don’t want to sound cocky or anything like that, but it’s been coming together for quite a while,” Murray said. “I’ve had a problem with my swimming, I’ve come from a running and cycling background and I just needed to get my swimming there and today I wasn’t really sure how I was going to feature in the run. It’s the first time I’ve run against the best in the world. So it’s been good and I’m looking forward to San Diego.”
Vidal’s bronze is his second consecutive podium in 2012, and his first series podium since 2009. It was also significant given that Sydney was where he crashed out last year, and didn’t know what his future in the sport was.
“It was good, it’s never easy to get the podium,” Vidal said. “Obviously when I was on the run, I went all in to try to catch Steffen (Justus), I was a bit short today. its a good race, the crowd was amazing, the course was great. Its not often where you get to rack your back in between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I mean, it’s stunning and racing on this course is clean and real. So I loved it.”
With plenty on the line in the men’s race in terms of Olympic qualification, both individually and in terms of National Olympic Committees (NOCs) qualifying the maximum spots, it wasn’t surprising that Vasiliev went hard from the start. As Russia’s third placed man on the qualification list, a good result would go a long way to securing his NOC three spots in London.
Within the first ten kilometres, Vasiliev went off the front with Elvery, who also rode in a successful breakaway with Alistair Brownlee in London last year. As two groups behind them became one huge pack of over 50 athletes, Elvery and Vasiliev added to their lead by an average of ten seconds per lap. While a few small groups tried to break from the main pack, including Chris McCormack and Jan van Berkel, then McCormack, Diogo Sclebin, Bruno Matheus and Stuart Hayes, none were successful.
Heading into T2, Vasiliev and Elvery had a lead of just over a minute and the Russian moved quickly to add to it. While Elvery was overtaken, Vasiliev doggedly held on. Behind him the battle was heating up, though, as Alexander Bryukhankov, David Hauss, Justus, Vidal, Murray pushed ahead of the rest. In the final kilometre Justus pulled away and after high-fiving fans down the finishing chute, and leaped through the finish tape with an ecstatic fist pump, in a huge show of emotion.
But the podium places weren’t the only important results in Sydney, with plenty more having an affect on the London Olympic field. Vasiliev finished sixth, which should see Russia hold onto three spots in London for now, while Canada’s Kyle Jones, Simon Whitfield and Brent McMahon all finished ahead of Portugal’s Joao Pereira, which bodes well for their chances to send three athletes.
New Zealand’s Kris Gemmell claimed his individual spot in London with seventh, meeting Triathlon New Zealand’s qualifying criteria as the first Kiwi in the top eight. Australia’s chances to send three men took a hit given that Courtney Atkinson didn’t race, McCormack was the highest placed Australian after both Brad Kahlefeldt and Brendan Sexton withdrew on the bike.