Races › Championship
26 Sep 2021
5 min read
Championship ○ Malibu
Malibu'21 ○ season’21
Four weekends of unforgettable racing. Sprint finishes, dramatic battles, new stars born and established triathletes revitalised. The 2021 Super League Championship series has provided all the above and more, and that continued today in Malibu, California, with another instant classic finish.
That breath-taking finale saw Britain’s Alex Yee once again edge the victory by just 0.2 seconds over Belgium’s Marten Van Riel, a familiar sight to anyone still reeling from last weekend’s events at Super League Jersey when Yee beat his British teammate Jonny Brownlee in an unforgettable showdown.
Yee’s victory in Malibu today also ensured the British 23-year-old was the overall Super League Triathlon champion, with just 1.6 seconds separating Yee from his nearest challenger, New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde.
Super League Malibu was the debut visit to the triathlon powerhouse of the USA for Super League Triathlon, and the nation that created the sport in 1974 witnessed a race that will become a part of multisport history.
The entire Tokyo Olympic Games podium (Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, Yee and Wilde) plus the 70.3 World Champion Gustav Iden were all competing on the shores of Zuma Beach to decide how the series’ honours and $1.25m prize purse would be dispensed.
Despite being edged by his Brit compatriot Yee in that memorable sprint finish in Jersey a week ago, Jonny Brownlee began the race at the top of the championship leaderboard. And yet, with just four points separating the top four men in the Championship Series, all was to play for.
Following London’s Triple Mix, Munich’s Equaliser and Jersey’s Enduro, the Malibu event witnessed the Super League’s original Eliminator format come into play for an mighty athletic showcase of resilience, stamina and velocity.
That format would see a choppy swim in the Pacific Ocean of 300m before a 4km bike leg and 1.6km run, with each race performed three times with only a short break between the events for the athletes to reset their equipment and hope to rest their aching limbs.
The choppy Pacific Ocean awaited the triathletes and it was instant carnage, with triathlon’s famous washing machine effect in full evidence. A huge surge propelled the athletes back onto the famous Malibu sands, possibly more body surfing than triathlon swimming at times, and something that played havoc with the men’s positions.
And it was the Southern Hemisphere athletes who shone on swim one, with Aussies Matt Hauser and Aaron Royle the first into T1. Hauser scooped the Short Chute ahead of Royle, with France’s Vincent Luis 8secs back, and Brownlee and Yee both 20secs in arrears.
Despite the disruptive swim, twisting and technical 4km bike leg saw a large field form behind Vasco Vilaca, with the Portuguese first into transition (although Belgium’s Super League regular Marten Van Riel was the first athlete to exit T2).
Norway’s Olympic champ Kristian Blummenfelt instantly picked up his Olympic Games running form, storming to the front as the field disappeared in his rearview mirror. The Norwegian’s advantage would be 6secs over Royle and Yee at the finale of Race 1, with the Eliminator taking three athletes out of contention.
With the surf proving less disruptive than during Race 1, Kiwi Tayler Reid scooped more Antipodean swim success by being first out of the water ahead of short-course powerhouses Vincent Luis of France and Jonny Brownlee, whose battles had been one of the highs of the 2021 Super League series.
Once again, a sizeable pack would form on the bike led by Vilaca and the Portuguese would be the first to enter – and exit T2 – ahead of the chasing Blummenfelt and Brownlee, with many athletes keeping their powder dry for race three.
That said, Blummenfelt again was treating the final run like a sprint for Olympic gold, taking the Race 2 victory some 8secs ahead of Brownlee and the chasing field. A marker had been created by the Olympic champ, but would the rest of the field step up?
With none of the overall title contenders holding Short Chutes, the championship race was wide open going into the final race-within-a-race of the series. Tayler Reid, Marten Van Riel and Vincent Luis were soon leading the charge out of the water with Brownlee nearly 5secs back.
That man Vasco Vilaca was once again the bike star ahead of Blummenfelt and Van Riel. The stage was set for a titanic battle on the run, with Van Riel holding the Short Chute advantage in the contest for the Malibu stage win.
Onto the run and Wilde was leading at the bell ahead of Blummenfelt, with Brownlee needing to beat Wilde to take the series crown. Van Riel, the Super League Arena Games Rotterdam champion, played his Short Chute to lead with 400m to go. The chasers desperately attempted to return to the front, with Yee and Wilde now the only contenders for the overall title.
Yee was third with 100m to go and moved into second on the last turn of the day. The race win was now a battle between Van Riel and Yee, and it looked like Belgian success until Yee surged ahead at the line and dived for another breathless victory for athletes and spectators alike. The stage race, the championship and a giant cheque was all his, as was an unforgettable end to an unforgettable year for the British star.
Super League Triathlon © 2021