Gentle wins Grand Final gold & Birtwhistle secures overall series bronze
17 September 2018
TRIATHLON: Ashleigh Gentle threw caution to the wind and the waves to win her first ever sprint finish in front of a “Thunderstruck” home crowd in the World Triathlon Series Grand Final on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Olympian celebrated over a decade on the national team with a heart-stopping sprint finish to the legendary sounds of the ACDC rock classic which thundered through the loud speakers as she crossed the line.
It heralded in her finest hour and a spine chilling sprint finish over Great Britain’s newly crowned WTS champion, Vicky Holland.
Although the world title was out of Gentle’s reach before the race and developed into a showdown between American Katie Zaferes and Holland, the Grand Final was there to be won.
After an enthralling 1 hour and 52 minutes the Grand Final race came down to a 200m sprint between Gentle (overcoming a bloodied foot from a burst blister) and Holland, the gritty Brit who kept coming and coming.
After looking over her shoulder no less than four times in the straight, Gentle celebrated like never before when she grabbed the banner and Holland did likewise, knowing she had won the duke out with Zaferes to win her first ever world crown.
“It is without doubt the best performance of my career and I still can’t believe I actually outsprinted Vicky Holland, it is something I will remember for a long time,” Gentle said.
“I tried to be really aggressive and really smart – knowing Katie and Vicky were duking out for a world title. I had never really had to prove myself in a sprint finish before so it was actually the best sprint of my racing career.
“And while I did suffer a painful blister which left my foot bloodied it actually distracted me from the pain in the rest of my body and something you can overcome with a potential Grand Final victory.”
Unlike so many of her WTS races throughout the season, Gentle put herself in the race from the outset, exiting the choppy 1.5km swim just 27 seconds behind the leaders – and in striking distance of victory - a scary thought for her opponents, who know just how good she is on the bike, let alone her lethal run leg.
The day then unfolded perfectly and fell into Gentle’s lap as she also constructed the smartest race of her life.
“From the swim, I had to fight for my position the whole time; it felt like it was a six foot swell out there in the Broadwater; it was very choppy and I guess people thought that’s not a place where I would swim well but I did,” Gentle said.
“I had to get myself back in contention; I was really happy I could stay safe on the bike too; I don’t know what it looked like on the screens but it was really windy out there. There were corners where we were all fighting for position; it was a huge pack and if you dropped back outside the top ten it was really dangerous.
“I definitely had plenty of Aussie suits around me on the bike, particuarly Emma Jeffcoat who did a great job and put in a massive surge on the bike to bring the chase pack up to give me a chance to produce the run I knew I was capable of.”
Gentle’s training partners under coach Jamie Turner, Natalie Van Coevorden and Charlotte McShane finished 17th and 19th respectively followed by Jeffcoat (31st) and Backhouse (50th).
Jeffcoat played a major part in ensuring Gentle had a safe journey in a massive pack of 30 riders and Van Coevorden and McShane were always in the thick of the action.
But in the end it was Gentle’s day – a day she won’t forget in a hurry – even though it may take a while to sink in.
In the men's race on Sunday, Australia’s Jake Birtwhistle became only the second Australian in eight years to break onto the World Triathlon Series podium, wrapping up a hard fought bronze medal in choppy and blustery conditions on the Gold Coast.
The 24-year-old Tasmanian has emulated the feat of 2008 Olympian and Under 23 world champion Brad Kahlefeldt who was third in the first Series in 2010.
Birtwhistle went into Sunday’s ITU Grand Final in second place overall after his best ever season, finishing in seventh place, enough to claim third place overall, and admitting he “didn’t quite have the legs on the run” to go on with the job.
“That was a little bit disappointing but I guess coming into today the number one goal was to remain on that podium for the Series and I kept fighting for every position I could, and thankfully I was able to manage that,” said Birtwhistle, the Commonwealth Games silver medallist.
And fighting for every position was on the money, with Birtwhistle running away from former World Champion and two-time Olympic medallist Jonathan Brownlee in the straight to claim third place by just 92 points from South African Richard Murray, who was third today.
The Grand Final honours were divided between the three Joel Filliol coached training partners – Mario Mola, who won his third straight WTS – equaling legendary fellow Spanish countryman Javier Gomez – after finishing second today behind Frenchman Vincent Luis who leap-frogged Birtwhistle for second in the Series.
In the end it was Mola on 6081 who won the day from Luis (5060) and Birtwhistle (4884), with Murray breathing down the Australian’s neck on 4792.
Australia’s Rio Olympian Aaron Royle finished in 22nd place, wrapping up a top 20 world ranking finishing in 17th overall followed by Commonwealth Games young gun Luke Willian (20th and 25th overall) and Royle’s Rio team mate Ryan Fisher (27th for 55th overall) after working, as he so often does to pull the chase group through and maintain position on the bike.
See full results from the ITU Grand Final HERE.