Photos: World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/
Lost points in Paris. Lost property and a heart-breaking penalty in Pontevedra. The 2023 World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS), much like the 2022 edition, has cruelly eluded Hayden Wilde at the last gasp once more.

The Kiwi No.1 has finished second in the final standings to Frenchman Dorian Coninx who, like compatriot Léo Bergere in Abu Dhabi last November, swooped on Wilde’s misfortune to win Sunday’s season decider in Spain and sneak the world title in the process.

Handed a 15 second penalty after dropping and then accidentally drop-kicking his swim cap along the pontoon as he exited the swim, Wilde fought gallantly after opting to take his stop-go punishment on the first of the 10km run’s four laps. But the Whakatane 26-year-old could surge only as far as 10th and sat dejected on the blue carpet afterwards contemplating how it had all gone so wrong ­– especially given his great British rival Alex Yee, the series leader heading into Pontevedra, had been sensationally blown out of contention by a poor swim.

Perhaps even more keenly than 10 months ago when a untimely bout of Covid saw him battle to 6th at the Abu Dhabi finale and slip from 1st to 3rd overall in the final standings, Wilde will rue two critical moments that have cost him so dear in the final two races of this season.

There was the slow speed bike crash riding to the Olympic Test Event in July that ultimately saw him pull out on the run and depart the penultimate round of the WTCS in Paris pointless. After finishing just 126 points behind Coninx in the final wash-up, that calculation will hurt more than the hip injury ever did.

On Sunday, the difference between ecstasy and agony could be measured in mere millimetres. Had German Tim Hellwig not been out kicked in the final metres by Coninx, the title would have been Wilde’s by a whisker. And If only his swim cap had tumbled off the pontoon into the water and the penalty hadn’t of been administered.

“Yeah I had to make a split [second] decision…there was some fast guys in front of me,” Wilde said referencing the swim cap incident, Portugal’s Valco Vilaca and the dangerous French trio of Coninx, Bergere and Pierre Le Corre who had exited the water 35 seconds ahead of the Kiwi.

“I flicked my cap off and it was like, oh yeah, I thought it just went into the water but it didn’t, so that was my mistake. But I had Alex with me [out of the water] and I was like well, if I grabbed it, in reality I think I would have been in Alex’s group and been two minutes behind [off the bike], and if I left it, I would of made the [chasing] group which I did.”

As it turned out, Wilde couldn’t get the chasing peloton to work together to bridge the gap to the leading group of 24 which included Kiwi’s Dylan McCullough and Tayler Reid who went on to place 21st and 40th respectively. Wilde angrily gesticulated with the uncooperative posse as the lead and second groups criss-crossed on the final lap, knowing he was in a sticky spot with the penalty to serve.

“Yeah, I’m kind of gutted. I did most of that work on the bike and I was really trying to motivate the group. I just needed 20 seconds, that was all I needed…” Wilde said.

“I heard Kristian [Blummenfeld] was a little bit ill, he started helping at the end of the round and we had Jelle [Geens]…we had a good group and no one really wanted to work. I don’t know. The pace was hot and the boys at the front were working really hard. I tried everything I could and I ran as hard as I could.”

Wilde had slipped on the pontoon on the first lap of the swim and lost more precious seconds when he had to be called back into the penalty box. In sprint races, penalties for such infractions are 10 seconds but over the standard distance the penalty is 15 seconds. It felt like a life time for Wilde.

It was a horrible moment of Déjà vu after Wilde copped a T2 penalty at last year’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games, a controversial helmet clip call that ultimately cost him the chance to sprint with Yee for gold.

“I made the decisive move to take that penalty on the first lap, just to kind of shake off the legs and hopefully get into a rhythm and it was the right move,” he said.

Indeed, Wilde’s 29:57 effort was incredibly the fifth fastest 10km split. Without the 15 seconds added on, he’d have had the fastest time of the day by two seconds from Hellwig (29:44).

“I actually had a really good run out there, super positive after the hip in Paris so…the whole race itself was really good, pretty buggered now. I don’t normally spew after races but I did today.”

And 2nd overall, Hayden, a “small consolation” commentator Trevor Harris asked?

“Yeah, hey, one up above last year. Yeah, kudos to Dorian…if Tim [Hellwig] won I would have won [the world title] again so the same situation like Abu Dhabi, one podium [place] away.

“I tried to catch [9th placed Tyler] Mislawchuk but didn’t have enough in the tank.”

So close and yet so agonising again.

In the earlier U23 World Championship, Kiwi’s Saxon Morgan and Lachlan Haycock finished 15th (1:47:27) and 19th (1:48:09) respectively in the 60-strong field. The title was won by Germany’s Simon Henseleit (1:45:18) from Baptiste Passemard (FRA) and Mitch Kolkman (NED). 

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