Sunderland and the north-east of England will make a World Triathlon Championship Series debut on Saturday afternoon, when the 14th successive British leg of top-tier triathlon moves a two-hour drive north of its traditional home of Leeds, 450km north of London, ready to start a new chapter in the country’s racing history.
Roker Beach is the centre of the action, where the crowds will miss a close-up of the injured Georgia Taylor-Brown, but will have Olivia Mathias to get behind as the sole Brit in the women’s race up against a powerful-looking French line up spearheaded by WTCS Hamburg winner Cassandre Beaugrand and a resurgent German team arriving off the back of a celebratory WTCS Hamburg.
As the chase for the men’s 2023 title continues to heat up, Sunderland will see a straight shootout between New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde and Portugal’s Vasco Vilaca for who is standing on top of the rankings on Saturday evening with the Paris Test Event and Championship Series still to come, defending champion Leo Bergere also returning for the first time since Cagliari in May.
The course begins with an anti-clockwise 750m swim in the choppy, chilly North Sea framed by Sunderland Harbour, the athletes will then head out onto a technical, five-lap 21.3km bike, each circuit with one steady climb, three quicker straights, a switchback and dead turns, before wrapping up with a 2-lap 5km run for the medals.
You can watch all the action on TriathlonLive.tv – men’s start 2pm, women 3.35pm BST, Saturday 29 July.
Cassandre Beaugrand leads a trio of French talent, fresh from her outstanding WTCS Hamburg victory and looking to build into August’s huge Paris Test Event with another win that would catapult her into second place in the rankings behind the absent Beth Potter. From swim to bike to run, the 26-year-old was again immaculate in Germany, and as a nearby Loughborough resident these days, the ease of a ‘home’ race should only add one more to the list of reasons that a successive Series gold could be hers.
Teammates Emma Lombardi and Leonie Periault return to the blue carpet, Lombardi a top-10 regular in recent Series outings including two silvers in Cagliari, more recently putting in the hours in the Font Romeu mountains and hungry to put those kilometres into race action. Periault’s road back from injury last year has gone well, bad luck in Cagliari notwithstanding, a silver in Montreal a month ago just another signal of her potential for a huge Paris 2024 campaign.
Nicole Van Der Kaay was another to impress in Hamburg, sixth in the individual race, silver with Team New Zealand in the mixed relay, and this weekend would be the perfect moment to score a first Series podium since 2021.
German athletes were collectively on fire on home turf, with Annika Koch and Marlene Gomez-Goggel putting together career-best displays and Lena Meissner again impressing. World Cup winners in Arzachena and Huatulco last year, Goggel and Koch finished fifth and fourth respectively a fortnight ago, the kind of tough, all-in finishes that will steel their confidence for another new challenge and medal hunt in Sunderland.
Expect Zsanett Bragmayer (HUN), Bianca Seregni (ITA) and Vittoria Lopes (BRA) to be leading through the water, the returning Maya Kingma likely to be right there too as she also explores her return to full race fitness and pushing her limits with just two Series starts to her name so far in 2023.
The USA’s great Gwen Jorgensen could rip through this 5km run and establish herself back among the best this weekend, at the other end of the experience spectrum but with a no less dangerous kick is Sweden’s Tiszaujvaros World Cup winner Tilda Mansson. Swiss pair Cathia Schar and Julie Derron look destined for an imminent Series podium, and Belgium’s Jolien Vermeylen has shown superb consistency in 2023 and is ready for a Series breakthrough after 9th place in Hamburg.
Fans will be looking for another hit of the kind of high-octane action that they were treated to at WTCS Hamburg a fortnight ago, while the athletes will be grateful the challenge is a more straightforward sprint-distance thrash out than that intense two-day blast in Germany.
It was Hayden Wilde’s tactical masterclass that won the day in Germany and put him in touch with Series leader Vasco Vilaca, the final super-sprint coming down to a brilliant T2 that bought the kiwi the slither of daylight he needed over his rivals, taking full advantage to seal a second win of the year.
It should be another fascinating finale in Sunderland, with those still around him onto the run knowing that Wilde will be the man to try and hang on to over the first lap, while he will of course be looking to shake them off as quickly as possible. Current number one Vilaca hasn’t missed a race this year and continues to build and finesse his challenge for the title. Out-pacing Alex Yee down the chute in Hamburg will have given the 23-year-old a boost even if he couldn’t quite reach Wilde, and there is never any shortage of confidence or bravery from the Portuguese star, while Yee sits out the race ahead of next month’s Paris Test Event.
The 2022 World Champion Leo Bergere is back on the start line and keen to see how a solid two month training block and time at the altitude of Font Romeu has sharpened his challenge. With Pierre Le Corre by his side, the pair worked so successfully in Abu Dhabi in November to push the bike pace, and will know that could again be their best chance at keeping the likes of Wilde at bay.
European Games champion Vetle Bergsvik Thorn again looked sharp before his unfortunate DSQ in Hamburg and he will be fired up for redemption after that frustrating finish a fortnight ago as the sole Norwegian on the men’s side.
There is dangerous run form and speed deep into the start list, though. Jawad Abdelmoula has yet to recapture his form of 2022 but remains a threat, Manoel Messias has already run his way to the podium twice in impressive fashion in 2023, Antonio Serrat Seoane (ESP) and Tim Hellwig (GER) will want to top up their first tastes of podium successes last year.
Can Jonas Schomburg (GER) make one of his signature power moves out of T2 stick for a first Series medal? Will Kenji Nener (JPN) convert his top-10 consistency to a podium spot? What will it take for Richard Murray (RSA) or Mario Mola (ESP) to roll back the years and find what would be a famous finish in Sunderland? Tune in to TriathlonLive.tv from 2pm BST Sunday to find out!