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23 Apr 2022
4 min read
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French star Cassandre Beaugrand utterly dominated the Arena Games Triathlon powered by Zwift in front of a packed stadium at London’s Aquatics Centre.
The 24-year-old smashed a field of Olympic Games gold medallists, home favourites and Super League Triathlon powerhouses to take her debut Arena Games title and set up an almighty battle with Beth Potter for World Championship glory in Singapore in a fortnight’s time.
It was Potter who delivered an Arena Games masterclass in Munich a fortnight ago and, after a convincing performance in the morning heats, the smart money said the Scottish star would do so again on British soil in London. Beaugrand clearly had other ideas, dominating eight of the nine legs over the three mini triathlons to produce a performance that will surely enter the Super League Triathlon history books.
With a fresh partnership with World Triathlon, the morning saw athletes qualify for the final race via a heat that consisted of two swim/bike/run stages. In London, 10 racers would make it to the final, amongst them the returning Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor-Brown, two Super League heavyweights making their 2022 debuts.
Like Munich a fortnight ago, Stage 1 would host a 200m pool swim, a 4km turbo trainer bike and 1km treadmill run, before Stage 2 reversed that order with a 1km run giving way to a 4km bike and 200m swim. The classic tri format of a 200m swim, a 4km bike and 1km run would return in Stage 3 to decide the overall winner. Olympic Games qualification points also on the line, while the event was part of the inaugural esports Triathlon World Championship.
New for London, however, would be a new non-drafting format on the bike leg, a return to elite short-course triathlon’s pre-Olympic Games roots. How much would this change the dynamic of the racing?
All eyes on the returning Jess Learmonth, the famed tri swimmer, multiple-Super League Triathlon winner and Tokyo Games gold medallist (Mixed Relay), in Stage 1’s 200m swim. Yet Cassandre Beaugrand (Fra) was first out of the water in a storming 200m time of 2:12mins.
Beaugrand hit the front of the bike but had the Brit trio of Learmonth, Potter and Taylor-Brown in hot pursuit. The intense pace already saw Petra Kurikova and Anabel Knoll (Ger) fall out of the reckoning, some 20secs in arrears by the 2km mark. Beaugrand and Taylor-Brown were the next casualties of Learmonth’s speed, 7secs back with 1km to the Stage 1 finish. Learmonth was 2secs ahead of Potter at T2 but a poor transition caused by running shoe issues from Learmonth saw Potter onto the treadmill first.
Stage 1’s 1km run leg witnessed Potter power into the lead with an 18km/h pace, but Arena Games debutant Beaugrand was in her shadow, achieving the rare feat of chasing down Potter on a triathlon run leg. Beaugrand, hitting 19km/h pace, made the pass with 300m to go and Learmonth was some 15secs back. Beaugrand would finish 3.4secs ahead of Potter, 17secs ahead of Learmonth and 24secs of Taylor-Brown. Her time of 2:56mins for the 1km was a then Arena Games women’s record, and on an 18% treadmill gradient no less.
Stage 2 of the Arena Games London saw the classic triathlon order reversed, with a 1km run giving way to a 4km bike and 200m swim. The mass start of the 1km run saw Beaugrand again storm to the front, her elegant stride belying a 21km/hr pace to leave Potter 14secs behind at the end of Stage 2’s run, a far cry from Potter’s utterly dominant performance in Munich a fortnight ago.
Beaugrand’s 2:45min kilometre pace was one of the fastest in overall Arena Games history, not just in the women’s races but including the men. Onto the 4km bike and Beaugrand maintained her advantage over the chasers, the pained facial expressions on the Tacx turbo trainers highlighting the high octane racing. The French athlete was into the water over 10secs ahead of Potter and maintained that advantage over the 200m swim, touching the final wall 14secs ahead of the Scot.
Stage 3 witnessed a Pursuit-style beginning, with Beaugrand having a head start of 17secs over Potter, 19secs over Learmonth and 22secs ahead of Taylor-Brown before the 200m swim, 4km bike and 1km run seen in Stage 1.
Beaugrand was out of the water in 2:16mins before another seamless swim-to-bike transition, extending her advantage to 21secs ahead of Potter. Some 33secs back was Learmonth, who ideally needed to reel in Potter for a shout at the Arena Games Triathlon World Championship title in Singapore in two weeks.
After the 4km bike, the true battle was for the remaining podium spots between Potter and Learmonth as Beaugrand was surely too far up the virtual track to be reeled in. And the French triathlete continued to extend her advantage, looking effortless as she moved 30secs ahead of the storied field to cross the virtual finish line with a 32sec cushion over Potter for her first Arena Games win.
Learmonth took third behind Potter, while Taylor-Brown was fourth over a minute back and another French athlete, Audrey Merle, rounded out the top five. The stage is set for fireworks between Beaugrand and Potter in Singapore on Saturday 7 May.
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