Photos courtesy World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
James Corbett has survived his first taste of World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) racing and it has him hungry for more chances at the sport’s short-course top table.

The Cambridge 20-year-old finished an eye-opening 44th in his WTCS debut in Cagliari early Sunday (NZT) behind compatriot Tayler Reid in 35th as Brit Alex Yee battled cramping to win and keep his world title chances alive.

Earlier, Taupo 26-year-old Nicole van der Kaay was 33rd in the women’s Olympic distance race scorched by Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR).

Like van der Kaay, Corbett struggled in the swim which proved much choppier for the men as the afternoon wind whipped up over the Mediterranean in the picturesque Sardinian corner of Italy. It left the Singapore-born Kiwi 1min 17s down on Hungarian swim leader Mark Devay and forced him to play catch-up/hold-on thereafter.

Corbett eventually clocked splits of 19:41, 54:47 and 34:23 for the 1500m swim, 38km bike and 10km run to finish in 1:49:47 – just shy of 9mins 30sec down on Yee. For context, Taylor-Brown won the women’s race in 1:47:42 but Reid’s 1:43:40 was also 3mins 21s behind Yee.

Still, Corbett wasn’t last – Dane Emil Holm in 45th brought up the rear – and can take great solace in the fact 10 others recorded DNFs.

“After a really disappointing swim for me, chasing all day made for a long, tough day but I’m stocked all the same,” Corbett told Triathlon.kiwi

“The swim was super choppy so was hard to stay on the feet. Probably gassed myself a bit too hard in the beginning trying to close gaps. The ride was super technical and surgy but the pack was working super well to stay in the race. The run was hard; had really bad stomach cramps like most of the field probably from the chop, but was able to click along and got to the finish as fast I could on this day.”

Corbett will now return home to Cambridge invigorated for the WTCS Grand Finale in Abu Dhabi next month where he’ll line up in the U-23 race.

“I’m stocked to have rubbed shoulders with the big boys. I feel like I’ve still got a long way to go but I know what I do in my training and I’m confident I have the performance and numbers to get there…it just needs to click in a race.

“Today gives me a bit of confidence. I think with a better swim, I would have had a much better race.”

Corbett paid tribute to Reid and van der Kaay who took the youngster under their collective wing in the lead-up to Cagliari.

“I was so nervous. It’s a weird feeling that was a little [about] the people here but Tayler and Nicole were both legends, they’re super chill which rubbed off on me during the week. They gave me some big tips and where both confident I was going to have a good swim so were a bit shocked.

“I’m super hungry now. I really want to put together the race I know I am capable of.”

Yee held on to beat fellow Brit Jonathan Brownlee by seven seconds with Brazilian Manoel Messias taking bronze a further three seconds adrift.

Reid was out of the water seventh, just 10sec down, but the pace was hot as he recorded splits of 18:34, 51:31, 32:39 for the swim, bike, run. His 10km was 3:21 slower than Yee’s best-of-day 29:18.

Van der Kaay was fourth to last out of the water in 20:35 but fought gamely to remain in the race after American Taylor Knibb pulled huge shifts on the front of the bike to lead a group of 11 way up the road. The Kiwi eventually finished in 1:54:32 after 58:06 and 34:48 bike and swim splits.

She finished 6mins 50s behind Taylor-Brown who snared her third WTCS win of the season and fifth of all time by out-kicking impressive French rookie Emma Lombardi into second. Knibb had rewarded for her efforts on the bike with bronze ahead of countrywoman Taylor Spivey but the championship is now Taylor-Brown’s to lose. The reigning Olympic and Commonwealth Games silver medallist is now unlikely to race WTCS Bermuda (Nov 5-6), setting up a mouth-watering Abu Dhabi showdown with Tokyo Olympic champion Flora Duffy.

Likewise, Yee has climbed five places up to fourth in the men’s standings led by Kiwi No.1 Hayden Wilde. Wilde is by-passing Cagliari and Bermuda to focus on the Oct.29 Super League Triathlon Grand Final in Neom, Saudia Arabia and the Abu Dhabi WTCS decider (Nov. 24-26) which is shaping up as another ding-dong Wilde v Yee battle.

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