Vincent Luis will look to see off his training partners to collect his first ITU world title in Lausanne on Saturday.
The French triathlete decided to skip the Tokyo Olympic test event a fortnight ago to prepare thoroughly and requires no worse than a fifth place finish to lift the trophy.
The omens are good for Luis. The 30-year-old has excelled in previous Grand Final competitions, winning in 2017 in Rotterdam and last year in Gold Coast. And in six WTS races in 2019, only once has he finished outside the top five, and that was a sixth place finish in Leeds.
His closest rival is training partner under Joel Filliol and three-time and defending champion, Mario Mola of Spain. Mola also opted to sit out the contest in Tokyo, but after winning the opening race of the season in Abu Dhabi struggled for form before runners-up spots in Edmonton and Montreal reignited his hopes.
In the most unpredictable year of WTS men’s racing to date, no fewer than 15 triathletes have made the podium and six start in Lausanne with at least a mathematical chance of lifting the crown.
For the evergreen Javier Gomez to win a record-breaking sixth title it would require victory for the London 2012 silver medallist and Luis slipping to eighth and Mola to third or below.
It would take an even more unlikely finishing scenario – or more likely a huge bike pile-up – for Spain’s Fernando Alarza, Australia’s Jake Birtwhistle or Belgium’s Marten van Riel to be in with a chance.
For a third straight year, no Brit is in contention, showing that is has not been a vintage season for the home contingent and the Brownlee-led charge of the past decade looks to have finally relented.
It has been a breakthrough year for Alex Yee, though, who can boast a second in Abu Dhabi and fifth place in Yokohama to go with a World Cup in win in Cape Town in February. Yee’s running calibre was underlined not only by his WTS form but a personal best 13:29 clocking over 5,000m in the London Anniversary Games in July. If the Londoner can continue to turn his potential into results then Olympic year promises to be even more fruitful.
Yee lines up with Jonathan Brownlee as the only two Brits in the 68-strong field. Brownlee looked back to form after winning in Edmonton – his first WTS triumph since Stockholm 2017, but will not have been content with a fifth place in the Tokyo test event given the absence of Luis, Mola, Gomez and Alarza.
Brownlee has a chequered history in the season-ending Grand Final and has never won it. It was the scene of his near collapse in Cozumel in 2016 and he was out-sprinted by the slimmest of margins by Javier Gomez in 2013. Both times the title was his for the taking. On the one occasion he was crowned champion, in 2012, Gomez also beat him in the finale in Auckland.
Lausanne is a challenging course that should suit him, though. He split the two Norwegians, Gustav Iden and Kristian Blummenfelt to finish runner-up in a World Cup race in the Swiss town last year and did win a now-discontinued ITU sprint world title there in both 2010 and 2011 – on the first occasion getting the better of Tim Don and then seeing off both Gomez and his brother Alistair for gold.
Ben Dijkstra, James Teagle and Harry Leleu are the Brits in contention for the Under-23 race that takes place on Friday. There’s an Antipodean feel to the favourites, with Australia’s Matt Hauser and Brandon Copeland, and New Zealand’s defending champion Tayler Reid all in contention. Dijkstra is the best ranked of the GB triathletes and teamed up with Yee, Sophie Coldwell and Georgia Taylor-Brown as part of a winning quartet in the World Triathlon mixed relay series in Nottingham in June in a race that was turned into a duathlon.