Sunday 10th of June started grey and overcast in Leeds, forcing organisers to cut the age-group swim to 750m due low visibility in Roundhay Park. But as the clocked ticked round to 1:06pm – the women’s start time – it was clear blue skies and air temps of 26°C.
With Series leader Flora Duffy (BER) a DNS due to a foot injury, number.1 status passed to Katie Zaferes (USA), who had celebrated becoming World Relays Champs with Team USA just three days earlier.
For Team GB, race morning brought with it the disappointing news that Non Stanford, who had helped Team GB to Relays silver, had had to pull out due to sickness. But with a five-strong showing for GB’s ladies, hopes were still high for a podium finish.
The day started strong with Leeds’ lass Jess Learmonth first out of the 1.5km swim and first into T1. But in her wake, came the forboding US trio of Zaferes, Summer Cook and Taylor Spivey. But she wasn’t alone for long as teammate Vicky Holland ran in for fifth.
Frustratingly, Holland just missed the lead quartet as they shot out of Roundhay and hit started their assault of Leeds’ streets. Cook couldn’t stick with the pace though, and soon fell back into the vast chase group, which was 30+ athletes by the end of lap one of seven on the 40km course.
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Over the next six laps, a lead that had started at 50secs plus, was gradually chipped away until it was less than 10ecs at the end of lap 6. Lap six also saw the demise of GB’s Jodie Stimpson and Ashleigh Gentle (AUS), the former due to a puncture, the latter unknown at time of print.
Halfway through the final lap, one large group had formed at the front, obliterating the work the leading trio had put in since leaving T1. In a complete mix in T2, it was GB’s Sophie Coldwell and Georgia Taylor-Brown who capitalised on the scrum, pulling ahead on the first lap of four over the 10km run. Zaferes looked like she was going to make a move on the two Brits, but instead started going backwards as Coldwell pulled out a comfortable lead by the end of lap two.
With 6km to go, it was Coldwell, Holland and Traylor-Brown who had command of the British race. But it was experience that ruled the day, as the Rio bronze medallist took the lead with 5km to go. Taylor-Brown, meanwhile, moved into second and Coldwell third… until Zaferes swept into view for that final podium spot.
And so it was that Holland took her first WTS race in three years, becoming the first British woman to take the tape at the home race. In a career best, Taylor-Brown ran through for second, Zaferes third to take the Series lead.
“I battled and battled to stay with that lead group on the swim,” said Holland at the finish, “which put me in no man’s land at the start of the bike, and I was in lactic debt! Then the British girls were all so strong on the bike, and made my life really really hard all day long!
“It was only that very final bit of the run, on the hill, where I thought ‘okay, you’ve got this now, you’re going to win this.’
“To win in Leeds, it couldn’t have happened in a better place for me. Absolutely unbelievable, amazing day.”
“I wasn’t expecting a great deal, to be honest,” said Taylor-Brown post-race. “I just wanted to enjoy it!
“On the bike, when we made a big group I just thought ‘I really don’t want this many people’. But I was really happy that we managed to get the group a bit smaller by T2. And then even on the run, when I was second behind Sophie [Coldwell] I thought ‘what have I done? Why am in second? This is not going to end well.’ And I felt like I was shuffling. But I managed to hang on somehow, but I don’t think anyone ran fast today. It was just survival out there.
“Running in for second and seeing Vicky with open arms, it definitely gave me goosebumps all over my body, it’s an amazing feeling and I definitely want it again.”
Learmonth, who finished eighth at the line after spending most of the day up front, was as honest and self-deprecating as ever: “Yeah it was pretty horrendous. I was absolutely screwed after T2, this course doesn’t let up. To see your lead whittle down is just really depressing, knowing that everyone is going to be fresher than you. I could hardly get my bike in! but I’m still happy, I loved it! It could have just have been better!”