The most unpredictable men’s World Triathlon Series yet continued in Montreal as the little-fancied Belgian Jelle Geens out-sprinted world champion and training partner Mario Mola to take his first WTS victory.
The 26-year-old became the fifth different winner in five WTS races in 2019 and increased the chances of the world title coming down to a straight shootout in the Grand Final in Lausanne.
Spaniard Mola was thankful to return to the podium after three disappointing races, and home favourite Tyler Mislawchuk was delighted with third for his first WTS medal.
The only British competitor was Tom Bishop, who finished 29th, as WTS leader Vincent Luis opted to sit out ahead of another sprint race in Hamburg next weekend, with the World Mixed Relay title on the line the following day.
The race was brought forward due to an impending electrical storm, and it proved a highly-charged contest, with the top 10 peppered with talent including South Africa’s Richard Murray in fourth, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt in fifth, Spain’s Javier Gomez in ninth and Leeds WTS winner, Australian Jake Birtwhistle, in 10th.
“It was the first winter in two or three years that I wasn’t injured, and I was very motivated,” Geens said. “At the Europeans but I was third and at Leeds I had one of the fastest runs but was coming from the second pack. Everything just clicked and came together today.”
Asked whether it was the greatest day in his triathlon career, he replied: “By far, by far.”
Mola, who has won the past three world titles was gracious in defeat after putting an end to an unprecedented poor run of results that has seen him finish 25th and 29th twice.
“I pushed from the beginning to the end, but I’m really happy for him,” Mola said. “He deserved a race like this. You always have doubts when you don’t perform at your best, but luckily the last couple of weeks have gone well and I put in a good performance today.
As for retaining his title. “It’s a very open world championship and I’ve got to focus on Hamburg and Edmonton and see what happens from there,” he added.
Mislawchuk, who proved his form by winning a second tier World Cup event in Mexico at the start of June, was almost as elated as the winner.
“It was crazy, on every corner there were Tyler chants,” he said. “I’m sure the other dudes were praying their name was Tyler. For no reason I just believed I could win, but I think the crazier part was at 2.5km [on the run] I thought I had the race won.
“My legs kind of came off in the last kilometre, but racing the best in the world that’s not a surprise. I’m over the moon and will have a beer tonight and celebrate.”
In stark difference to the women’s race earlier in the afternoon, the wind whipped up, the sky darkened, and the thunderclaps could be heard ringing over the city.
Commonwealth champion Schoeman was first to emerge from the 750m swim, before undoing his good work by mounting his bike too early and picking up a 10sec penalty.
A large pack came together during the 20km cycle with no-one looking likely to force a breakaway. It included Bishop before he was involved in an incident towards the latter stages that left him over 45sec down into T2 and out of contention.
Who was in contention was anyone’s guess, and Murray, Geens and Blummenfelt set the early pace on the 5km run before Mola, Mislawchuk and Gomez joined them.
With the latter having come second in the Ironman 70.3 European Championship less than a week earlier, it wasn’t surprising that he was the first to crack.
The others couldn’t be separated until they entered the final kilometre and although the heavens opened, it was Mola who was pouring on the pressure.
Geens refused to wilt and as the lead changed hands several times in the closing yards, he eventually burst away on the blue carpet for the narrowest of wins.