Photos: World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/ in Sunderland
The frigid North Sea and a foreboding bike course will ensure Hayden Wilde’s bid to relieve Vasco Vilaca of the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) lead is no cinch in Sunderland early on Sunday (NZT).   

With the likes of Alex Yee and Matthew Hauser bypassing England’s industrial North-East, Wilde has been presented a golden opportunity to seize pole position in the world title fight with just the Olympic test event in Paris and World Triathlon Finals in Pontevedra to follow.

Current series leader Vilaca (Portugal) and Frenchman Léo Bergère appear the most likely candidates to prevent the Kiwi No.1 backing up his World Triathlon Sprint Championship heroics in Hamburg a fortnight ago although it could be the swim off Roker Beach and the tight, technical and undulating bike course on the cliff above that has the biggest say in the sprint race.

RELATED – Sunderland Till I Tri: A WTCS script strangely scarce of Brits but mercifully starring all the Team NZL bikes

Friday’s course familiarisations gave hint of the chilly chaos likely to ensue on Saturday (early Sunday NZT). The water temperature in Sunderland Harbour was a shriek-inducing 15 degrees Celsius and could make for some fumbling fingers in T1 and body temp issues thereafter. The 21.3km bike course, meanwhile, has punchy climbs, a switch back, a dead turn and fast flowing corners on a variety of uneven surfaces. Depending on which forecast you believe it may or may not rain, which could make the second leg even more treacherous. That was clearly a factor on Friday when World Triathlon decided to scrub a tight chicane in and out of transition for safety reasons.

“Yeah, pretty technical but mostly it’s pretty dangerous to be honest,” was Wilde’s frank assessment of the bike course.

“It’s really narrow which is …yeah there’s a lot of risk in that but we’ll see what happens. Just got to keep the wheels upright and get over the line before the run and hopefully you can get there all safe.”

The Whakatane 25-year-old, currently second in the world standings after his T2 masterclass in Hamburg to win the supersprint World title, was speaking after a couple of laps around the Sunderland Harbour buoys.

“Yeah, the old Norwegian Sea is a bit cold on this side,” Wilde said. “I don’t know whether to do a swim warm up or not, your face is going to be pretty cold anyway so I’ll see how it goes out there.”

What Wilde does acknowledge is the opportunity in front of him given the strange absence of the big British names.

An athlete’s best four results plus their performance in Pontevedra count in the world title race which means Wilde has the chance to officially discard his flat-tyre, season-opening 46th placing in Abu Dhabi and add a result to his 1st, 2nd and 1st placings in Yokohama, Cagliari and Hamburg.

“It’s the goal for tomorrow. I think no matter what the result, I’ll be getting some points to take over Abu Dhabi so, well see how it goes. Training went good after Hamburg, the body was pretty tired… had a bit of a cold but hopefully when the light goes green everything will tick over nicely.”

Tayler Reid, Dylan McCullough and Saxon Morgan also line up in the men’s race at 2pm local time (1am Sunday NZT). Nicole van der Kaay, Ainsley Thorpe and Brea Roderick then contest the women’s race at 3:35pm (2.35am Sunday NZT) with van der Kaay the third seed, partially due to the absence of Brits Beth Potter and Georgia Taylor-Brown (the latter out  injured).

The seven Kiwis will then be trimmed to four to tackle the Mixed Relay from 1:15pm local time (12.15am Monday NZT).

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