After eight thrilling World Triathlon Series races and nine World Cup events, the ITU season comes to a close on Sunday in Guatape with the 10th and final World Cup of the year. But the season closer will be no easy feat with the Olympic distance course set at an altitude of 1925m and a two-kilometer bike climb that will test even the best.
There may be three disciplines in triathlon, but the winner in Guatape will most likely be the woman that can climb. As one of the most experienced athletes on the ITU circuit, Ainhoa Murua (ESP) lines up first. Although she has raced sporadically following the London Olympic Games, Murua is always someone to keep an eye on. The Spaniard is solid across all three triathlon legs, so look for this veteran to be at the top of the pack.
While Murua may be the most accomplished female on the start list, budding talent Yuka Sato (JPN) is young and eager to make a name for herself. She was the first triathlete to win a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 and has since steadily climbed the WTS rankings each year. She topped it off last year with a sixth-place finish in Auckland proving ascents are no problem for her. She’s an adept swimmer meaning if Sato gets out of transition first, she’ll be hard pressed to be hunted down on the hill.
Although Slovenian National Champion Mateja Simic has been sporting around the European and World Cup circuits for a number of years, she only recently stepped up to the World Triahtlon Series in 2012. With a stronger competition schedule under her belt these last two seasons, Simic has seen a jump in performance when returning back to her more familiar events. Simic failed to finish in Guatape in 2011, but don’t expect history to repeat itself this year.
Like Sato, Paola Diaz’ experience pales in comparison to that of Murua and Simic, but that hasn’t given the Mexican room for pause. Diaz is a strong force in World Cup races and finished third in Guatape last year. As a threat off the front and back end of a race, if she hangs on in the middle, she could make her way to consecutive podiums. Maria Czesnik (POL) also returns after collecting silver at the race in 2012. Czesnik was superior on the bike last year, clocking the second-fastest split of the day by four minutes. Her competition will want to keep her in sight on the four-lap bike course if they want a chance at a medal.
Reinaldo Colucci (BRA) surprised at the London Grand Final with a top 10 finish. After trailing significantly out of the water, he clocked the fastest bike split of the day and topped it off with nearly a sub-30 minute run. Although London is a flat course, his bike speed suggest he may just have the stamina it takes to climb four times on Sunday.
Colucci’s challenge will be keeping the lead swim pack in sight, which could be harder done than said with the likes of Sergio Sarmiento (MEX) in the mix. Sarmiento proved his worth with a second-place finish last year after beating out Puerto Rico’s Manuel Huerta in a battle down the finish chute. Huerta, who represented the US at the London Olympics before switching his nationality, is also back for a shot at shinier hardware after taking bronze last year.
Jarrod Shoemaker and Greg Billington will line up for the US on the men’s side. Although Shoemaker didn’t make it to the finish line in London, he did put up a fourth-place finish in Cozumel just weeks ago against an impressive lineup. Billington pumped out a top 10 finish in the men’s U23 Auckland Grand Final last year, suggesting he could be a threat on this hilly course.
After becoming Colombia’s first Olympic triathlete last year, Carlos Javier Quinchara Forero returns to Guatape with nothing but fond memories of the course. He clocked the fifth-fastest time at the World Cup in 2011, as well as won the Iberoamerican Championships there in 2010.