The third round of the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series touches down in Madrid, Spain this weekend, with the women set to race on Saturday and the men to follow on Sunday. This marks the eighth year in a row that Madrid has hosted an ITU event in Casa de Campo Park, on a course that serves up a 12-percent grade climb on each of the eight laps of the bike leg. The race will be the first opportunity for athletes to score points toward securing a spot for their country at the 2012 Olympic Triathlon in London.
The big story in the men’s contest is the potential showdown between reigning ITU World Champion Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain and 2008 ITU World Champ Javier Gomez of Spain. It will be Brownlee’s first race of 2010, after sitting out the first two races of the Series due to a femoral stress fracture. A healthy Brownlee will look to pick up on where he left off in 2009—a year in which he won five Series events, including the Grand Final. The 22-year-old Brit won handily on this course last year, finishing 48 seconds ahead of the runner-up. However Head Coach Joel Filliol is more reserved about his hope for the young star; “Alistair’s recovery and training have been based around a return to competition in Madrid and we’re pleased that this has gone according to plan. He lacks race fitness, and has had a gap in his training, but we’re excited about his return to competition.”
If Brownlee hopes to repeat in the spanish capital he’ll have to overcome a crowd that will be heavily slanted toward local-favourite Javier Gomez, who has a solid record in Madrid. Gomez has stood on the Madrid podium for four years running, including wins in 2006 and 2007. The Spaniard sat out the Series opener in Sydney due to a hip injury before finishing 12th at round two in Seoul on very little run training. Even before racing in Seoul Gomez made his intentions for this year clear: he wants to win on his home turf.
Noticeably absent from the men’s start list is current world number two Bevan Docherty of New Zealand, who is sitting out the Madrid event for the second year in a row. After winning in Sydney and finishing seventh in Seoul, Docherty will look to get in a solid training block before his start to the second half of his season.
Another to keep an eye on is Aussie Courtney Atkinson, who finished second to Germany’s Jan Frodeno in a blistering sprint finish in Seoul. Atkinson appears to enjoy the Madrid course as the Aussie finished as the runner-up to Brownlee here in 2009. He’ll be joined by teammate Brad Kahlefeldt, who currently sits fourth in the world rankings.
As is always the case, the other competitors will have their eyes on the tough German squad, headlined by Frodeno, the 2008 Olympic gold medallist and winner of this year’s championship race in Seoul. Rounding out the German team is Steffen Justus, who finished 5th in last year’s world rankings. Maik Petzold was a late withdrawal from the event.
Perhaps the group with the biggest bullseye on its back is the Russian team, led by current world number one Alexander Brukhankov. Countryman Dmitry Polyansky currently sits in third in the world rankings and will look to move up with Docherty taking a breather this week. A strong showing by this pair in Madrid could have Russia occupying the top two spots in the world heading into the fourth round of the Series in Hamburg next month.
Highlighting the women’s field in Madrid is current world number one Barbara Riveros Diaz from Chile. After kicking off the season with a win in Sydney and runner-up showing in Seoul, the 4-foot 11-inch Chilean has a 170-point advantage over reigning world champ Emma Moffatt in the world rankings. Moffatt will sit out this weekend’s race in Madrid in preparation for Hy-Vee, which gives Riveros Diaz an opportunity to pad her lead in Madrid.
Currently sitting third in the world rankings is Kiwi Andrea Hewitt, who has had a huge start to the 2010 campaign. She kicked off the year with a win at the Oceania Championships before posting a second-place finish in Sydney and fifth-place showing in Seoul.
Making her 2010 world championship debut is Portuguese superstar Vanessa Fernandes. The 24-year old has more world cup wins than any athlete in history of ITU, but after being plagued by injury for most of last season, questions remain about how fit Fernandes will be at the start line in Madrid. 2009 was the first time an athlete other than Fernandes won on this course and she will be looking to regain her spot on top of the podium again. During Fernandes’ absence from triathlon she competed in the world cross country championship, finishing 62nd and helping the Portuguese team to a fifth-place finish.
Others to keep an eye on include Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf, who pulled off the sprint win in Seoul. Ryf is known for her biking prowess and the tough bike course in Madrid should suit the rising Swiss star well. Sweden’s Lisa Norden, who has been solid in the first two races of this season, is a late withdrawal from the event.