Photos: World Triathlon

By Kent Gray/
Another near thing for Hayden Wilde, a compelling selection period sign-off from Tayler Reid and room for improvement from Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe.

The final race of the two-year Paris Olympic Games selection cycle produced a wave of differing emotions for the Kiwis overnight.

In an almost carbon-copy of 12 months ago, Wilde remained upbeat despite being pipped by his great British rival Alex Yee (1:39:44) for the gold medal at WTCS Cagliari. There was a mere two seconds in it while soon afterwards, Reid (1:42:24) claimed a creditable 15th in Sardinia to cap an exhausting block of racing trying to present his case for the second Kiwi male slot for Paris.

Van der Kaay and Thorpe, meanwhile, had to settle for 27th and 32nd respectively in the earlier women’s race after again leaving themselves an awful lot of work to do out of the water.

The highlight, predictably, was another epic chapter in the increasingly mouth-watering Wilde-Yee mêlée. Yee ultimately got the job done in Italy with a lethal kick 300m from home but Wilde was pleased with his day, marked by a much improved swim.

The Andorra-based 26-year-old was 22nd out of the choppy Mediterranean Sea, just 14sec down and importantly only a second adrift of Yee.

Wilde attacked on lap three of the 10 lap bike but with Brit Sam Dickinson on his wheel, the Kiwi No.1 wasn’t going to get any help to make a decisive break on Yee. An under-the-weather Leo Bergere was momentarily a willing conspirator but with the Frenchman below his best physically, this was always going to come down to a foot race between Wilde and Yee.  

In the end, Yee’s 29:12 10km split was only a second faster than Wilde while Hungarian Csongor Lehmann bravely held on for the bronze medal.

A great prelude to Paris, Hayden, but surely, you’re getting frustrated by being pipped by Alex in yet another great battle, interviewer Trevor Harris mused?

“Oh, no. It’s a great time. Like, I think when I talked to you a couple of days ago, I said I didn’t really care where I came, but it was all about the swim and, hey, I came out in the front pack today and that was fantastic, so really happy about that,” Wilde said.

“And I was closer this time [Yee won by five seconds in 2023]. So, yeah, getting closer and closer, which is really, like, positive, and I know what I need to work on now for the next race.”

Roll on the individual men’s race at the XXXIII Olympiad on July 30 where the tactics will be fascinating. A breakaway on the bike could be Wilde’s trump card even if it didn’t work in Cagliari.

“It didn’t really work out when you got Alex’s domestique with you, and he was like, I can’t pull. And I was like, I know you’re a strong rider, Sam, but hey, that’s what he has to do.

“[Still] I saw a couple of top contenders at the back, and I really, pushed on, and we dropped a couple of the top contenders, and, yeah, it was just a good old run battle like last time.

“It’s a great tune up for the for Paris and, hey, looking, looking forward to it.”

Yee shared Wilde’s enthusiasm.

“I hope you guys are enjoying what we’re putting on because, well, it’s everything I have, and I hope I speak for Hayden, it probably is everything he has, and we’re just trying to make racing as exciting as possible,” Yee said.

“So, yeah, I hope it carries on for the rest of the year.

Did you plan to attack 300-400 metres from the line?

“No. I just think we were running so fast that, I mean, each of us were making, like, little moves here and there, and we’re just run both running so strong that, I mean, I don’t know what the run split is, but it would have been fairly quick up until definitely the 3rd lap.

“So, I mean, yeah, I’m pleased to just be, you know, back racing, to put Pontevedra [last year’s WTCS finale] to bed. To end the year like that was a bit of a disappointment. And, yeah, I’m just pleased to show that I’m a triathlete again.”

Tayler Reid has given the independent Tri NZ selection panel pause for thought with his 15th place in one of, if not the, strongest fields of the year thus far.

The Gisborne 27-year-old featured early in the swim, eventually exiting the water in 12th just 8secs adrift. He was also ever-present in the 40km bike and covered the 10km in 31:48. That was the 32nd best run split of the day.

It all conspired to elevate Reid three spots up to 33rd in the final World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Rankings. Fellow Kiwi Dylan McCullough, who recorded a DNF in Yokohama a fortnight ago and withdrew from Cagliari as a precaution due to a stress fracture, fell eight places to 38th in the final standings.

For a brief period late in the qualification window, it looked as though New Zealand might secure three male slots for Paris with Wilde, Reid and McCullough all in the top 30 of the individual rankings. As it transpires, the decision on which of Reid or McCullough now joins Wilde on the individual men’s race start line in Paris will come down to the discretion of the selectors. That decision will be ratified and announced by the NZOC in mid-June.

It will be a call either way, especially when the Mixed Relay on August 5 in Paris, over shorter distances, is factored in.

Reid has the advantage of being a Tokyo Olympian, results like his 11th at the World Triathlon Sprint Championships in Hamburg last July and a string of gritty results in the past six weeks in pursuit of the top-30, his Cagliari performance perhaps the best of them.

McCullough shapes as an equally worthy contender, a maiden World Cup medal in Miyazaki last October and his solo breakaway Oceania Sprint Championship victory in Devonport compelling calling cards.

Cassandre Beaugrand (1:47:25) won her first elite standard distance title in the earlier women’s race in Cagliari, a timely confidence boost two months out from the Olympic Games.

The Frenchwoman kicked late to edge German Lisa Tertsch by three seconds with Scot Beth Potter third ahead of another French medal contender for Paris, Emma Lombardi. Jeanne Lehair (LUX) and Georgia Taylor-Brown has also been part of a compelling six-strong breakaway on the run and will undoubtedly be among the pre-Paris medal conversation.

For Kiwis Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe, there was again just too much to do after they recorded times of 19:49 and 19:50 respectively for the 1500m swim. It meant they exited the Mediterranean nearly a minute behind Dutchwoman Maya Kingma and we left foundering in an uncooperative pack chasing on the bike behind a runaway group of 26.

The Kiwis started the run more than 3mins 30sec adrift. Van der Kaay ran a 34min flat 10km to make up a significant number of places while Thorpe ran a 34:46, close to her PB of 34:28 en route to 22nd at WTCS Yokohama a fortnight ago.

For comparison, Beaugrand and Tertsch ran 33:09 and 33:08 respectively. But the real difference was in the swim, an area the Kiwi duo will undoubtedly focus on in the countdown to Paris.

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