Fuelled by the fires of what played out in Abu Dhabi last November, the two top-ranked triathletes in the world Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde have delivered seasons to top even the heady heights of 2022. The pair headed in to those finals having steamrolled their way through the Series, only for Leo Bergere to pull off a remarkable first win with a performance worthy of a World Champion.
This time around, with the top of the rankings looking eerily similar with one race to go, there will be an even greater hunger and determination not to let the chance slip through their fingers a second time.
Just like last year, Yee has three wins so far this campaign, Wilde has two. Unlike last year, Wilde knows the feeling of beating Yee down the blue carpet, thanks to that brilliant victory at WTCS Hamburg. Unlike last year, if either can win in Pontevedra on Saturday afternoon, they will become World Champion.
Then there is Portugal’s Mr Consistency Vasco Vilaca, waiting in the wings to ‘do a Bergere’ and blow away the form guide if he can land a first top-tier win and Bergere himself who, even a few points further from the leaders than he was heading to Abu Dhabi, remains a massive threat.
On a new Olympic-distance course, with all the unique pressures of a Championship Finals, the weight of expectation around the favourites and a field deep with medal contenders to fend off, anything can happen. You can watch it all play out on TriathlonLive.tv from 17.20 CEST on Saturday 23 September.
Winner takes it all
Having won the lion’s share of the golds this year, both Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde head to Pontevedra knowing that they are probably each other’s biggest hurdles to winning and to the title. Yee was imperious in Paris over this distance, but injury denied Wilde a chance to compete on the run. The Falcon was superb in Hamburg, but Yee had another mission.
There’s nothing to call between the two, then, and while many would back Yee over the 10km, anything can happen over the 1.5km swim and 40km bike that could hurt the legs or blur the focus. Wilde will likely have something up his sleeve to upset the rhythm on the run and pile on the pressure, Yee will have been meticulous in his preparation to combat that. For sure, though, it’s going to be box office.
Vilaca standing by for fireworks
Fearless, fast and ready to enjoy his position as the underdog, Portugal’s Vasco Vilaca will have Bergere’s triumph last year as the model of what to follow in Pontevedra. Out-sprinting Yee in Hamburg and Dorian Coninx in Paris underlined just what he is capable of, three silvers and a bronze have put him within touching distance of the leaders. Bergere made up 357 points in Abu Dhabi last year, Vilaca lies 215 off the top this time. He won’t be short on belief.
Nor for that matter will Leo Bergere, who may not have had quite the world title-winning follow-up campaign he would have hoped for, but still has the air of a man who knows what good shape he is in and now also knows exactly what he is capable of doing in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a Championship Finals. It’s a bigger ask even than last year in terms of what is required for him to win the title and he will miss the presence of injured Vincent Luis driving things forward, but were Yee and Wilde to slip to 8th and 7th or lower and Vilaca 5th or lower, a seemingly unlikely second world title would be his.
Podium potential runs deep
The big issue for any of those with aspirations of taking the title in the best way possible is the speed of those lining up alongside them on Saturday afternoon. Not only the likes of French pair Pierre Le Corre and Dorian Coninx or Matthew Hauser, the Australian who hit his first Series podiums this year including gold at WTCS Montreal, but the resurgent Morgan Pearson, back from injury and right on course for a starring role for the US team at Paris 2024.
Kristian Blummenfelt will be looking to hurt some legs on the bike where possible and test his form against the fastest 10km runners on the circuit, and that includes the pace of Jelle Geens (BEL), Manoel Messias (BRA) and the top-ranked Spaniard Roberto Sanchez Mantecon.
Consider the combined big-race experience of Jonathan Brownlee, Henri Schoeman and Richard Murray and raw hunger of young talents Csongor Lehmann, Miguel Hidalgo and Tim Hellwig, and it all adds up to a mighty Pontevedra showdown and a Championship Finals for the ages.
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