By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Hayden Wilde has roared back into World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) contention with a victory in Yokohama that proved form is temporary – and often tagged to rotten luck – but ultimately no match for the permanence of class.
The Whakatane 25-year-old consigned the disappointment of his two previous WTCS starts to history by channelling a bit of old-fashioned Kiwi “mongrel” to beat Aussie Matt Hauser and Portugal’s Vasco Vilaca to the top step of the podium in the Japanese port city on Saturday.
Oceania U23 sprint champion Dylan McCullough produced a career-best WTCS finish of 26th in the treacherous conditions to amplify his Paris Olympic Games credentials, finishing 1:10 ahead of the third Kiwi male, Tayler Reid, in 31st. Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe were unable to recover from tough swims en route to 27th and 43rd respectively in the earlier women’s race while Wellingtonian Maria Williams and guide Melissa Moon were 7th in the PTVI Para Series race.
Wilde’s victory was much more comfortable than the eventual four second buffer over Gold Coaster Hauser suggested, the Kiwi No.1 craftily easing off on the last lap of the 10km run (and lapping up the adulation on the blue carpet) with an eye to round three of the WTCS in Cagliari in a fortnight.
There Wilde will resume his battle with Great British rival Alex Yee who sat out Yokohama after winning the opening race of World Triathlon’s blue-riband series in Abu Dhabi on March 3, more easily than anticipated as it transpired given the puncture Wilde suffered.
Wilde’s eventual 46th place followed an even more frustrating 6th in the 2022 WTCS finale, also in the UAE capital, last November which saw him slip from first to third overall in last year’s world championship courtesy of an untimely bout of COVID-19.
The Abu Dhabi aberrations have only served to make Wilde even more determined to add the title of world champion to his Tokyo Olympic bronze, Birmingham Commonwealth Games silver and 2022 Super League gold medals.
Saturday’s victory certainly helps. The standard distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) win earned Wilde 1000 points and saw him leap-frog Yee into 5th place overall after the Brit snared 750 points for his sprint distance win in Abu Dhabi. Vilaca, second in Abu Dhabi and 3rd in Yokohama, now tops the WTCS standings with 1549 points from reigning champion Leo Berege (1240), fellow Frenchman Dorian Coninx (1341), Hauser (1124), Switzerland’s Adrien Briffod (1049) and Wilde (1022).
But the class of Wilde means Vilaca will not rest easy on his lead, nor will it have gone unnoticed by Yee.
Wilde gave hint of the encouraging form camouflaged by the flat tire in Abu Dhabi when he waltzed to victory at World Cup New Plymouth on March 26. He doubled down on Saturday with a complete performance that left the likes of reigning Olympic champion Kristian Blummenfelt scrambling, the Norwegian surging on the bike before fading on the run to finish 8th, 35s adrift of Wilde’s time of 1:42:13.
“I was really going for that one, I just wanted to do a bit better than Abu Dhabi,” Wilde said.
“Yeah, in Abu Dhabi unfortunately it was just a mechanical and I didn’t really get to show what I had out there and so today was really…I wanted to come out here and give it some.”
Wilde did that from the get-go with a swim, the weakest of his three disciplines, that saw him exit the water 21st just 15secs adrift and surprised even the man nicknamed the ‘Maltese Falcon’ himself. He then made up six positions with a super slick transition to lay the foundation for his bike-run prowess.
“Yeah, nah I couldn’t believe the swim eh, like…everyone was getting out and I’m like, I’m in the line, the single line, I’m normally on the mosh pit, but yeah it was fantastic,” Wilde said of his 17:26 split for the 1500m swim
“I just got out there and as we say in New Zealand, ‘get a dog in ya’, get some Mongrel in ya, and got into a really nice position so I was actually really stoked how that worked out and just got on the front and worked hard with Leo and Vasco so it was actually really nice.”
Wilde characteristically pushed the tempo on the bike, a decision made even simpler by the slippery roads and a late downpour. Blummenfelt, fresh from 2nd place at the PTO European Open in Ibiza last weekend, sent shockwaves through the peloton when he zoomed from 51st out of the water up to the pointy end the race by lap six of nine. It all seemed so improbable after his 17:54 swim and a terrible transition but Wilde, a close second to Yee in Yokohama last year, had a game plan and wasn’t going to let Big Blu upset it.
“Last year I was so close and this year I just wanted to get on the front, go for it, go for a good time and just get the tempo up high and yeah that’s how it happened,” said Wilde who kept pacing his 10km split of 29.30 with glances to his watch.
“I really wanted to go sub 29 and I was on pace quite nicely and was just keeping the pace up really high. On the last lap I was wanting to push a little bit more but I know in two weeks I’ve got to go to Cagliari against Alex [Yee] so um, I just wanted to ease it off a little bit because I didn’t want to be too cooked for two weeks’ time.
“It’s really nice to know I’ve got a little bit more in the tank and really, really happy with how the race was executed.”