With Gwen Jorgensen announcing her retirement from triathlon, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at what 2018 has in store for us, and what names we expect to be dominating the headlines of ITU racing. Although the usual suspects generally took charge in 2017, there were some new names up on the podium, and it is clear the dynamic of racing is changing season on season. The way races play out is typically characterised by individuals in the sport who are talented, or bold enough to dictate what happens and control the race in their favour.
In previous years we have seen the Brownlee brothers revolutionise the men's sport. Triathlon turned from typically a run race into an aggressive showdown across all three disciplines. You could no longer get away with spinning around at the back of the pack. Many races were dictated by swim-bike breakaways, and the pair could still run sub 30 minutes off the bike due to their exceptional threshold and pain tolerance. It was only athletes the likes of Javier Gomez that could challenge them. The WTS circuit became a real test of the triathlete, those who adapted to this new era benefited and others were left behind picking up the scraps.
The women's field has perhaps seen the most significant change in the last season or two. For a few years the scene was tyrannised by Gwen Jorgensen, and though many tried to dethrone her by pushing the swim and bike, she tackled her weaknesses head on and made swimming a strength and learnt to ride smart. For two years if you wanted to beat Gwen you usually needed at least one minute on her going onto the run. Her running was immense. There were perhaps only a handful of athletes that could challenge her, Helen Jenkins, Non Stanford, Vicky Holland and Katie Zaferes. With Gwen taking time out of the sport to give birth to her first child Stanley, it opened the door, and here steps in Flora Duffy. The Bermudan has arguably changed women's triathlon to a greater extent than Gwen, not only is she now one of the fastest swimmers, but she is also one of the best bikers in terms of power, but more crucially her technical ability even surpasses some professional cyclists. She commands the race from the start and her abilities on the bike can only be matched by Jenkins. Women's racing has undoubtedly got a lot more aggressive and tactical.
2017 gave us great insight into what we should expect moving into 2018. We had some young guns taking on the older more established names. HUUB's Tom Bishop achieved his first WTS podium, narrowly missing out on the top spot to five-time World Champion Javier Gomez and the French federation again proving their ability to churn out talented youngsters in the likes of Raphael Montoya. The Brownlee's gave us a mixed year of racing, Jonny suffered bad luck all year round. However, he was still able to smash the field with brother Alistair when the WTS turned up to Leeds. Although Gomez's attention was often sidetracked by non-drafting racing, the ever consistent multiple World Champion still mixed it up on the podium numerous times and showed us he is a force to be reckoned with, potentially even until Tokyo 2020. The end of the year saw the emergence of Kristian Blummenfelt as a real contender for the World Championship in years to come, he turned a surprising podium of 2016 into a flow of podium results in 2017 and he finished the ITU season with a terrifying display at the Super League. Vincent Luis had the last say in Rotterdam when he sprinted away for the win. It seems a good thing for the triathlon world that Luis was not accepted onto funding by the Federation Francaise d'Athletisme. With the Commonwealth games coming up and Tokyo one year closer, 2018 is set to be a competitive season with many new and old names sure to feature.
Next season looks a lot more straightforward for the women… Who is going to capitalise on the swim-bike breakaway? We are set to see the return off HUUB's Helen Jenkins who is known for her biking abilities, in fact, she is a great all-round athlete and potentially possesses the biggest threat to Flora. Helen is a past World Champion, so clearly knows how to race. She has also clocked many sub 34 minute 10k splits off the bike, potentially a pace that Duffy will struggle with. Hopefully, 2018 will also see a more consistent Non Stanford and a return to racing for Vicky Holland, these two will certainly mix things up, even if it is just a run race against Australia's Ashleigh Gentle. However, one thing that is for sure is that Rio 2016's bronze medalist and fourth-placed finisher will undoubtedly be looking to be battling for the top step of the podium. Last year also saw the emergence of two other British females; Jessica Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell, Jess finished the year with two podiums from two and the Young Coldwell was the only athlete able to ride with Flora on a wet and technical Yokohama bike course, Sophie eventually finished an impressive fourth. Even without Gwen Jorgensen, USA are well represented and we have been accustomed to many all American podiums on the WTS circuit, 2018 could be the biggest battle between the two nations since the war of independence! Three other names to consider are Ashleigh Gentle, Andrea Hewitt and Nicola Spirig, who among them boast numerous WTS podiums, World Titles and Olympic medals.
Top five to watch:
Men - Jonny Brownlee, Kristian Blummenfelt, Tom Bishop, Mario Mola, Javier Gomez
Women - Helen Jenkins, Flora Duffy, Vicky Holland, Katie Zaferes, Jessica Learmonth