Opportunity knocks in Yokohama as big names seek big points to get 2023 triathlon seasons firing
It is back to Japan that the World Triathlon Championship Series heads on Saturday, when the familiar surrounds of WTCS Yokohama provide the second stop of the year a full two months since a memorable Abu Dhabi season opener.
There was much to take away from that first race of 2023 in the UAE. Alex Yee was back on top form, Vasco Vilaça and Manoel Messias joining him on the podium, but there was as much intrigue lower down the leaderboard as a combination of bad luck and early-season cobwebs conspired to leave the likes of Hayden Wilde, Jelle Geens and Gustav Iden languishing well out of contention.
Add in the return to the blue carpet of Kristian Blummenfelt, Marten Van Riel and Morgan Pearson to name just three who get their first action this weekend, and WTCS Yokohama is set to deliver fireworks once more. Full coverage on TriathlonLive.tv from 1pm on Saturday 13 May.
Vasco Vilaça wears the number one
Like Sophie Coldwell in the women’s race, Portugal’s Vasco Vilaça wears the WTCS number one for the first time thanks to a sparkling Abu Dhabi display, finishing second just off Alex Yee who sits out the first Olympic-distance action of the year.
Even with injury keeping Vincent Luis away, the French squad looks strong with 2022 World Champion Leo Bergere and Dorian Coninx leading the line, Tom Richard also a WTCS top-10 regular in recent outings and looking for a breakthrough moment after landing on his first World Cup podium in Arzachena last year.
Coninx was out of the water first with Luis in Abu Dhabi, Bergere uncharacteristically far back into T1 before both clocked sub-15minute 5km runs in the heat. Les bleus won’t be holding anything back.
The Riel deal returns
The returns to blue-carpet action of Kristian Blummenfelt and Marten Van Riel are sure to impact the race, Blummenfelt eyeing a second world title as he builds towards his Olympic defence. Sickness forced him out of the season opener, silver in the PTO European Open showed his form is back very close to where he would want it to be.
For Belgium’s Van Riel, the frustrations of an injury-plagued 2022 will hopefully be behind him at last. A freak ankle injury sustained in WTCS Leeds ‘22 proved more serious than first thought, the lack of run time since transferring to more in the saddle, something the rest of the field won’t be eager to see the fruits of.
Another Belgian had a tough time in March making up ground from the swim, and it is a rare occasion indeed that you find the likes of Geens, Wilde and Iden collectively finishing higher than 30th in the field. That will only leave them more fired up and eager to make amends in this first Olympic-distance test of 2023, with vital ranking points to be found in the hunt for this year’s title and, for Iden especially, Paris 2024 qualification points.
Pearson has a point to prove
Morgan Pearson is another who will be itching to see where his form is after brilliance at the end of injury-affected 2022 then saw more delay and frustration through illness ahead of Abu Dhabi. Clocking 29m15s for his impressive 10km burst in the Championship Finals put a difficult year to bed in the finest fashion, though, and the American could blow Yokohama apart here again just as he did in 2021, when bronze also earned him a place as the first US male on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic start line.
Roberto Sanchez and Antonio Serrat provide the Spanish threat, both with the potential to run their way into the medals, while Henri Schoeman arrives off the back of his Arena Games Triathlon world title and ready to build into another Olympic campaign after finally putting successive injuries behind him.
Japan’s top-ranked men Kenji Nener and Takumi Hojo have yet to score a top 10 on the course, Makoto Odakura the most consistent of the home athletes in recent outings most notably 12 months ago when he uncorked a vintage run to 9th place.
Can Tyler Mislawchuk make it back onto the WTCS podium at the start of 2023? His confidence took a bit of a battering after successive races and comebacks were beset by bad luck, but redemption may just await on the streets of Yokohama for this Canadian kicker.
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