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Even The Pros Miscount Laps Sometimes

We break down the bike crashes, finish chute wipeouts, and other chaos at last weekend’s WTCS Leeds—along with six other big pro snafus throughout tri history.

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Miscounting laps, cycling full pelt through T2, bodies flailing at the finish chute and bikes flying everywhere! It was all going off at Leeds World Triathlon Championship Series races last weekend, showing that amateurs don’t have a monopoly on spectacular faux pas when it comes to triathlon.

We should start with Vincent Luis’ Top Gun: Maverick-themed “permission for a fly-by, sir” at the end of the bike leg.

While teammate Leo Bergere was busying himself slipping out of his bike shoes ready for the dismount, the French two-time world champion and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Mixed Relay bronze medalist simply didn’t realize it was time to stop pedaling.

He powered on, over the line, and would probably be still going now if it wasn’t for the barriers—repositioned to funnel athletes onto the 5K run course—that brought him to an abrupt halt.

In Luis’ defense…actually, no, we’ve got nothing. These racers are used to multiple laps and this was only a sprint race. He only had to count un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq.

At least the mixed team relay world champion could top the “speediest transition leaderboard” that is now part of World Triathlon’s coverage for this season.

While a blistering four-second transition is rapid by any standards, it’s just a shame he had to return to put on his run shoes, and then serve a 10-second penalty—one of at least a half-dozen handed out over a crazy weekend. But definitely the most clear-cut.

“I just wanted to spice it up a little bit,” was his cheerful response. And after all that he still came 10th.

Vince’s exploits were far from the only drama.

Earlier in the bike leg, Jonny Brownlee and Alex Yee—who just about the entire home crowd had come to see—ended up in a heap on the floor, broken elbow (Brownlee) and road rash (both) after an almighty bike crash.

(Photo: Tommy Zaferes/World Triathlon)

Thankfully for the culprit (and the eyes of the squeamish) none of it was caught on the live broadcast, although some mobile phone footage has since emerged where it’s hard to see exactly what went down.

We can make out a blue bicycle frame cartwheeling over the heads of scattered bodies where all that is missing is ET in his basket (thanks @TriTom on Twitter). Our unknown camera operator also proves amateur status by dropping an F-bomb.

Thankfully the injuries weren’t worse. “I’m not a keyboard warrior but let’s just look after each other please,” Yee said on social media. “Well done to everyone this weekend. This racing is no joke.”

Finally, and just when it looked like it had all settled down, a sprint finish between the Belgians for eighth place sent Marten van Riel…uhm…reeling into the advertising gantry before limping in for 12th. “Sent it a little too hard in the final (downhill) sprint yesterday” was his candid summation.

Of course, when stuff like this happens, it gets us thinking about the other crazy stuff that has occurred throughout the years. And there’s a lot. So, while you’ll no doubt have your own favorites, here are our top six.

Jake the mistake

(Photo: Wagner Araujo/World Triathlon)

Perhaps we need a collective noun for “triathletes who miscount laps”—a “confusion of triathletes” maybe—because it seems to happen more than we give credit for. A particularly tough one was Jake Birtwhistle in Edmonton in 2017. The Aussie looked set to challenge for his first World Series win as he bolted for the finish line, only to find out he still had another lap to go. Having already gone all-in for one blue carpet sprint, the final lap must have been one of the most painful in short-course racing history. Plus, he first had to hurdle a barrier to get back on course.

Kiuru from the crowd

Finland’s Pauli Kiuru and USA’s Ken Glah were going neck and neck in a sprint finish in Ironman New Zealand in 1990. Nothing too unusual there you might say, although it’s the oddest sprint finish you’ll ever see because the Finn goes off-course, runs through the spectators and then hops back in to outsprint Glah by less than a second—unofficially measured as the length of Glah’s rather fetching ponytail. There’s a suspicion that it might have been a DQ these days. But back then? Nah. Anything goes.

Hat’s off. Or not

A wet and windy duathlon (then called a biathlon) in the middle of the UK in November with temperatures at 36 degrees F already sounds like a race to avoid. And for the onlooking Mark Allen and Julie Moss, who had travelled to Shropshire to share their sporting knowledge ahead of the race, it must have seemed a far cry from life in sunny SoCal. But the hardy souls that embarked on a 4-mile run, 21-mile bike leg, followed by a 4-mile run, at least found one way to keep their heads warm. Several of the entrants had fingers so numb they were unable to undo the clasp on their helmet straps—and just kept their helmets on for the run.

Dubious in Dubai

The inaugural Challenge Dubai race in 2015 was race one in the 2015 Middle East Triple Crown Series with a potential $1M on the line for winning all three, and a chunky $300,000 prize purse on offer here. A lot of eyes were watching, so it wasn’t great when five male athletes unintentionally cut the course midway through the 56-mile bike leg, with one of them, Kiwi Terenzo Bozzone, topping the podium to a lot of quizzical stares. By the time of the evening awards ceremony they’d kinda gotten to the bottom of it, and handed out seemingly arbitrary time penalties that meant Bozzone still took the win by a few seconds and no finish-line pictures were ruined.

GTB DSQ’d and reinstated

It’s all been men so far—which probably tells us quite a lot. But to balance the scales slightly, let’s throwback to last season’s Super League Triathlon race in Jersey. A back-and-forth between Olympic gold medal winners Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jess Learmonth got more than a little confusing with a reversed DQ of Taylor-Brown. The British star mistakenly thought she had been awarded a Short Chute (a bonus where you are legally allowed to cut a chunk off the course) and took it on the final run, only to be told that she didn’t have a short chute at all. She made up the extra distance and ran in for second and an initial disqualification, which was then overturned on appeal. Super League lived up to its athlete-centric ethos by saying the technical committee would “meet again to ensure the rules are clarified for future races.”

Spanish sportsmanship

Let’s finish on an upbeat note: Not every error is punished in triathlon, and sometimes the spirit of this great sport comes to the fore. No more so than in September 2020 in the Santander Triathlon where British athlete James Teagle was set for a podium finish before taking a wrong turn with meters to go. Home hope Diego Méntrida overtook him, but even in the heat of battle was quick-witted enough to understand the situation and generously stood aside to let Teagle take third place. “He deserved it,” Méntrida said. The organizers thought Méntrida deserved it too, and gave him matching prize money to go with his worldwide viral acclaim.

(Author’s Note: Thanks to tri aficionado Ross Muir for help with some trips down memory lane)

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