The first Mixed Relay Cup was today declared a roaring success. With bumper crowds, global podium-mounting athletes and a natural amphitheatre courtesy of Nottingham city centre, British Triathlon’s latest event was 90mins of can’t-tear-your-eyes-away action.
Seventeen teams took part in the four-teammate tag race, each completing a 300m swim, two-lap 7.5km bike and 1-lap 1.5km run before handing over the honours to the next athlete. With four international teams, it didn’t have the gobal impact of the World Champs, in Hamburg, but the predominantly British line-up showcased the very best of our nations’s talent, drawing teams from the sport’s top training centres across the UK.
The two Leeds teams, although missing its most famous sons due to injury, were still the pre-race favourites, boasting four Olympians between them – Non Stanford, Gordon Benson and Lucy Hall all racing for Leeds II and honorary Leeds athlete Aaron Royle (of Australia) for Leeds I.
Hall’s partner Mark Buckingham made up the Leeds II team, having got the call-up just 24hrs before the race start to replace Royle, who’d been bumped up to the Leeds I squad to replace Jonny Brownlee.
Joining Royle in the top squad was last week’s silver medallist in Stockholm, Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Tom Bishop.
The Loughborough I team, meanwhile, boasted Commonwealth gold medallist Jodie Stimpson, Sophie Coldwell, Ben Dijkstra and Chris Perham, none of them strangers to a podium or 10.
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Nottingham’s crowds ‘thunder clap’ did a fine job of mimicking the ITU’s famous ‘ba-boom’ pre-race build-up, as the first 17 athletes took to the River Trent for a deep-water start.
Loughborough I (Coldwell) was the first of the Brit teams to make a move, coming out second in the swim behind Japan’s Fuka Sega. Leeds I (Taylor-Brown) and II (Stanford, on her first race back since the Leeds WTS in June, having struggled with injury in 2017) had okay swims to exit mid-pack. Although a strong swimmer, Sega is inexperienced on the bike and run and soon fell back post T2.
Eleven athletes raced as one pack over the short, technical 7.5km bike course, Stanford the first to dismount into T2.
Kate Waugh, 18, of the GB Juniors squad, kept Stanford company before Taylor-Brown and Canada’s Joanna Brown overtook them both for first and second place.
Taylor-Brown for Leeds I was the first to tag her teammate, Royle, who did a spectacular belly flop into the Trent, closely followed by Canada’s Matt Sharp.
Leeds II’s Benson with Ali Brownlee’s parting words still ringing in his ears –“Race clever” – was the next in, ahead of Loughborough I’s Perham.
Royle, with a sizeable cushion out of T1 took the bike leg alone, the chasing trio – with a tactically slow Benson sitting at the back – unable to match his speed.
By T2, Royle was 13secs ahead of the trio, but with fresher legs, the Leeds II’s Benson was soon in front, keeping Canada’s Sharp honest in second.
In this order, Benson passed to Hall; Sharp to Paula Findlay; Perham to Stimpson and Royle to Learmonth.
By mid-bike, it was a four-way battle for three podium spots, and with a 1min advantage over the rest of the field, the quartet could take the pace down a notch.
Onto the run it was Leeds I’s Learmonth and Canada’s Findlay who had the freshest legs, leaving Loughborough’s Stimpson in third and Leeds II’s Hall in fourth.
Doing the final honours for Leeds I was Tom Bishop, who played a blinder from the start knowing that he might not have an answer for the run speed of Loughborough I’s Dijkstra. By the start of the run, he’d built a gap of 33secs.
With fumbles in both transitions for the less experienced Dijkstra, Bishop was able to romp home to claim a comfortable victory for the Leeds I team. Dijkstra’s followed him in for Loughborough I’s silver, while Jeremy Briand ran through for Canada’s bronze. Having only been back in the UK for two days, Buckingham did a solid job to give Leeds II fourth at the finish.
“I didn’t think I had it in me actually,” admitted the winning team’s Learmonth post-race. “So I’m quite surprised. But I just had to go max out and try not to get any penalties.”
“Leeds was just really strong, I just couldn’t get across to Tom [Bishop] on the bike, but we all fought fantastically so we’ll be going home with smiles on our faces,” said silver-medallist Dijkstra of Loughborough I at the line.