Mooloolaba, Australia – The opening leg of the women’s ITU Triathlon World Cup Series was won by 20 year old Kirsten Sweetland from Canada as she started 2009 with a bang, beating Olympic Games bronze medallist and local favourite Emma Moffatt to the gold in a time of 2:02:00. Under23 World Champion, Switzerland's Daniela Ryf, was third.
Having taken most of 2008 off due to injury, and failing to qualify for the Olympic Games, Sweetland raced ten World Cup events in 2007, and registered her first win with victory at Richards Bay in South Africa.
Today's result marks her third appearance on the podium.
“What a great way to come back, today just felt effortless,” said Sweetland. “I race best when it is a little light-hearted, without pressure and today I just felt like I was doing what I love, it is a great way to start the new season.”
Sweetland has based herself in Brisbane since October and the move has clearly paid off.
“That is the first 10km run for me in a long while. I followed my coach’
s instructions and started slowly and felt great in the second half. I was always comfortable.”
The swim venue in Mooloolaba changed from the coast to a local river because of large swells in the Pacific, but that didn't stop an exciting start to proceedings as a breakaway group of eight including Sweetland, Moffatt, Ryf and Oceania Champion Annabel Luxford, emerged from the water and established a healthy lead on the cycle.
Despite the best efforts of New Zealand national champion Debbie Tanner, and 2008 ITU World Cup Series runner-up, Felicity Abram from Australia, the chase pack could not work their way back to the leaders, and so the group of eight carried a 90 second advantage onto the run.
Moffatt and Sweetland accelerated away early with Ryf holding on to third place ahead of New Zealand's Nicky Samuels. Further back Abram ran strongly to catch the lead pack athletes with Tanner moving up to eighth.
Sweetland managed to drop Moffatt by the half way point on the run and continued to extend her advantage, crossing the line 55 seconds ahead of the local favourite. Ryf managed to hold off Samuels for third with the fast finishing Abram breaking into the top five.
“That hurt out there, especially on the second part of the run,” said Moffatt. “The hills and the wind were a real battle on what was a challenging course today. The swim felt like there was surf, and the bike was very windy, especially coming back into town and transition.”
It was however the best result for the Australian in her home World Cup, and a first podium.
“It is nice to finally get Mooloolaba out of the way in terms of a good result. I have had a reasonably short prep with just five weeks with my new coach (Craig Walton) so I feel good and am looking forward to the season ahead.”
Ryf was similarly pleased with her first up effort in 2009; the young Swiss finding her rhythm in the second half of the run.
“I am happy with that race, I was a bit rusty early on the run but happy with my finish. It was a good race, very active on the bike with everyone working hard. I am looking forward to the next four week training block and the first World Championship event.”
On the men’s side, Australia's Courtney Atkinson won his home in a time of 1:52:05 to kick start his 2009 season. Kris Gemmell from New Zealand ran strongly for second to prevent Brad Kahlefeldt making it a one-two for the Australians.
Atkinson used the river swim to his advantage as he formed a lead pack with young compatriots Joshua Amberger and James Seear. The three worked together well on the cycle, but Amberger dropped off the pace after 20km, leaving Seear to hang on to Atkinson's wheel in the windy conditions. Despite being whittled down to two, the pair were able to hold off the chase pack, exiting second transition with a 1:20 advantage as they started the 10km run.
Once onto his feet Atkinson was able to settle into a steady rhythm whilst Gemmell was the first to make his move from behind as he pulled away from Oceania Champ, Kahlefeldt, and French duo, David Hauss and Laurent Vidal.
Despite significantly reducing Atkinson's advantage Gemmell was unable to catch the Australian national champion before the finish line.
Seear's early efforts paid off as the Under23 athlete held on for tenth place and his best World Cup performance to date, making it five Aussies in the top ten.
"That is an awful way to race, effectively on your own for the entire journey, it was tough for sure. But it was also hugely satisfying to win in that manner, satisfying but tough," said Atkinson.
"I had no inkling that we would race like that today. Out of the swim I thought there was quite a big bunch, but early on the bike we had a gap and suddenly it turned into a minute so we went for it. To be honest at no time did I think it was the right thing to do but once committed we went for it. I knew Kris and Brad would take time out of me early [on the run] but I had it under control the whole way."
Gemmell ran superbly in his first standard distance race of the year and was delighted with his form and fulsome in his praise of Atkinson.
"I love the way the race was won today, to see Courtney win it like that is great and he deserves the win. I knew that I would run well today, but we just couldn't get anything going on the bike. I tried a few times to chase the leaders down but didn't get too much help and in the end that proved the difference," commented the Kiwi.
Pre-race favourite Kahlefeldt admitted he was underdone for such a tough race after recovering from hip surgery in the off season.
"I was better prepared last year and on such a tough course you can't come in underdone. Given that and the recovery from the surgery though, I am more than happy with third today," he said.
Mooloolaba ITU Triathlon World Cup
1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run
Elite Women - Unofficial Results
Gold - Kirsten Sweetland (CAN) 2:02:00
Silver - Emma Moffatt (AUS) 2:02:55
Bronze - Daniela Ryf (SUI) 2:03:03
4th - Nicky Samuels (NZL) 2:04:19
5th - Felicity Abram (AUS) 2:05:28
6th - Julian Petersen (USA) 2:05:33
7th - Annabel Luxford (AUS) 2:05:53
8th - Debbie Tanner (NZL) 2:06:24
9th - Liz Blatchford (GBR) 2:06:36
10th - Misato Takagi (JPN) 2:06:46
Click here for full results: http://www.triathlon.org/zpg/zevt-dtl-prtcpnts_v4.php?call=TVRFdw==&keep=sh&id=MTM3OQ==&sh=rs&rsid=3357
Audio clips of the medallist interviews are available in ITU's Online Media Centre: http://www.triathlon.org/media/mediacentre-index.php