In a quite remarkable performance in how to risk it all and race from the front, Rodrigo Gonzalez (MEX) won gold at the 2016 ITU Chengdu World Cup today, in the process earning a career first podium at World Cup level and improving his chances of a start at the Rio Olympic Games.
The Mexican was sporting the biggest smile in China as he crossed the line 27 seconds ahead of Rostyslav Pevtsov (AZE) with Marten Van Riel (BEL) a further four seconds back in the bronze medal position after the two had outsprinted a large chase pack in the final metres.
Van Riel led the non-wetsuit swim (water temperature 20.8 degrees Celsius) at a pace that clearly was taking a toll as the field strung out behind him and Zheng Xu (CHN), Vladimir Turbayevskiy (RUS), Ji Hwan Kim (KOR) and Luke Willian (AUS) as they exited the water and made the long run to transition.
Initially a small group of eight riders broke away but they were quickly reeled in by the large main group, only for Gonzalez and Kohei Tsubaki (JPN) to counter attack on lap two and edge away. The two worked superbly together to establish a lead of 1:13 out of T2.
It was Gonzalez who showed real intent as he flashed through and out of transition to quickly take control of the race, leaving Tsubaki to do his best to hold on to the flying Mexican, an effort that would quickly be in vain as a large chase group closed on the Japanese athlete, but could make little impression on the flying Mexican.
Gonzalez was positively beaming at the finish as he contemplated his achievement, surpassing his previous best of 4th place in Edmonton 2013.
“This is very important, a very happy moment for me in my life, I have been near the podium in past occasions, in Edmonton I was fourth but I was third for the whole race and only passed in the closing stages by Ivanov so I missed the podium that time.
“I knew it was a matter of time to get this podium and hopefully at the top, I am very happy especially now with the pressure of Olympic qualification, this result recovers third spot for my country and while I think it is a matter of keeping it for the next three races and racing smartly. Even if I don’t make it to the Olympics I am very happy for my country and I hope that this is the first of many more to come.
“I just took the risk today and with Tsubaki we rode so strongly and looked to establish a big lead and then on the run I was very comfortable and enjoyed the finish this time, I am so happy, I want to say thank you to all my supporters, here and back home in Mexico, I am so proud today.”
Pevtsov was delighted at another podium, backing up his fourth in Mooloolaba and bronze in New Plymouth World Cups already this year and repeating his silver medal performance in Chengdu last year.
“I am very happy today, another strong race and not the win, but I am happy again to be on the podium and my form continues to be good, I felt strong today and enjoy Chengdu, my favourite race now.”
Van Riel was equally thrilled at a career first World Cup podium and was full in his praise of Gonzalez and his approach to the race.
“They (Tsubaki and Gonzalez) made it, in our group nobody wanted to work and Rodrigo had a nice lead on the run but he was strong to keep it and congratulations to Rodrigo. For me now I think I am almost qualified for Rio, before this year it was difficult because I had a bad crash in Yokohama last year so I was in a bad place before the season, but now I am doing my best performances in my career, so yes, I think I can get there.”
Young Matthew Baker (AUS) finished in the unlucky fourth place in a mad cap dash to the line, with a large chase group of seven athletes battling for the minor placings and vital ranking points. Next home were Gonzalo Raul Tellechea (ARG), Luke Willian (AUS), Ron Darmon (ISR) and Thomas Springer (AUT), with just 11 seconds covering second to 8th place.
Conditions had proved perfect for racing, starting with a relatively cool 17 degrees Celsius and rising to 24 degrees by the end of the race distance. Conditions were calm and racing played out in front of the now typically huge crowds in Jintang, with thousands lining the course and the transition / finish line area.