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“I woke up this morning and saw the weather and knew it would be a hard day of triathlon,” Jonathan Brownlee says. “That’s what it was.”
From the start of the race, it looked like the younger Brownlee brother had set himself up for success. He came in as the points leader, only needing a podium spot to secure his world title, which his brother Alistair won in 2011.
Staying on the feet of Richard Varga, a fellow Brit and training partner, Brownlee put in a sizeable chunk ahead of the field on the swim, including one of his biggest threats, Spaniard Javier Gomez. The British pair swam under 17 minutes; the massive chase pack followed 36 seconds behind.
“I was surprised out of the water,” Gomez says. “I could see the leaders but I didn’t know that Jonathan and Richard were so far away. When they said he was 30 seconds ahead—that’s really dangerous.”
Brownlee and Varga led by themselves for the majority of three laps on the bike (of eight), but the first chase pack of about 20 was cutting about five seconds per lap. In spring-in-Auckland fashion, the weather would go from raining to pleasant to pouring as the race progressed. The wetness added a layer of difficulty to the game, given the tight corners and steep climbs followed by equally steep descents, but the Brownlee brothers are known to thrive in rainy weather.
“The conditions, the course, the rain … I knew it would be difficult to be a world champion,” Gomez says. “Jonathan is good as well in these type of conditions. On a course like this, he likes that.”
After three laps, the gap decreased to 19 seconds. Gomez and New Zealand’s Bevan Docherty, who helped design the tough course, put in hard efforts to reel in the leaders.
By the start of the fourth lap, the chase pack caught the duo and formed a lead group of 15. Gomez tried to make a break off the front, but Brownlee wouldn’t have it and stuck by his side. In order for Gomez to take the overall title, he would need to knock Brownlee off the podium—no easy task.
New Zealand’s Kris Gemmell pulled away during lap six and powered up the course’s three big hills to get away from the group, milking the crowd through the grandstands during the last ITU event of his career. It appeared that Docherty was working to slow down the chase pack to help his teammate. “Bevan’s a great guy and he was very tactically good on the bike,” Brownlee says. “He sped up and slowed down so the chase never got going.” Gomez says the fought hard today to have a good race. “Both Kris were kind of my heroes when I started, they were at the top of some of the best races in the world,” he says.
The crowd went wild as Gemmell flew into T2 all by himself, with almost a minute buffer to start the run.
Brownlee, Gomez and Swiss Sven Riederer led the men onto the run course, with Gemmell in sights. Around a corner, Gemmell slipped on the wet roads and fell down in the first lap, reminiscent of Alistair Brownlee’s fall last year. By the end of the first lap, the trio left Gemmell in the dust. “I knew that with a minute we would catch him. I didn’t think we catch him so quickly actually,” Brownlee says.
By the 6K mark, Riederer had fallen off pace and Gomez took the front to set the pace, a bit of déjà vu from the Olympics where Gomez outran Brownlee to take silver.
Behind them was a fight for the bronze world title position. Alexander Bryukhankov, who was rated third in the ITU rankings, dropped out due to a mechanical during the bike, leaving an open spot for the third place on the world championship podium. German Steffen Justus and Russian Dmitry Polyanskiy held on, and it looked like South African Richard Murray might fight his way through the field, at times running faster than the leaders.
Gomez and Brownlee continued to battle it out, with frequent surges and responses and position changes. Every time one of them would appear in control, the other would be right on his shoulder.
“I tried the second lap, and the third lap, the beginning of the fourth lap,” Gomez says of trying to shake Brownlee. “The hardest was the third lap when Sven Rieder was dropped and I was pushing hard, and I thought, ‘It’s going to be hard to beat him today.’ I tried a bit again on the fourth lap and then I decided to wait and stay behind and try to get him on the sprint.”
With 1K to go, the pair appeared to already be sprinting to the finish, both not letting the other one go. “I definitely had something left for the last lap and waited for my moment and with about 100 meters left I went as fast as I can,” Gomez says.
His timing paid off, as he narrowly pushed ahead of Brownlee in the finish chute, bringing the crowd to their feet in an exciting, nail-biting finish.
Gomez won the race in 2:00:29, Brownlee took second in 2:00:31, and Rieder held his place for third in 2:01:18.
In the overall series rankings, however, Brownlee took the crown from his brother, Gomez claimed silver and Polyanskiy earned bronze.
When asked if he was happy to be out of his brother’s shadow, Brownlee said, “It’s nice not to have him here and race with other people. It’s been a tough, tough weekend and without Alistair here the pressure is more on me. People here would say ‘good luck, talk me through how you’re going to win.’ It’s been hard, and a lot of pressure.”
“It’s been a great year, which is more important than anything,” he says. “At the start of the year, if someone would’ve said that Alistair would be an Olympic goal medalist and I’d be an Olympic bronze medalist and world champion, I would’ve definitely taken that.”
2012 ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand – Oct. 22, 2012
1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run
1. Javier Gomez (ESP) 2:00:30
2. Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) + 00:01
3. Sven Riederer (SUI) + 00:48
4. Steffen Justus (GER) + 01:10
5. Gregor Buchholz (GER) + 01:15
6. Kyle Jones (CAN) + 01:18
7. Dmitry Polyanskiy (RUS) + 01:20
8. Ivan Rana (ESP) + 01:25
9. Richard Murray (RSA) + 01:30
10. David McNamee (GBR) + 01:37