Zafares back on top in Montreal, with Taylor-Brown and Learmonth on podium
Victory in Montreal gave Katies Zafares her fourth victory in five races of the 2019 World Triathlon Series and wreaked swift revenge on runner-up Georgia Taylor-Brown who had defeated her in Leeds last time out.
The consistent Jess Learmonth also fought off a strong challenge from Italian Alice Betto to cling on for her fourth consecutive podium, while third Brit, Jodie Stimpson – in her second WTS race back after injury – was 13th.
“I think I’m at my best having to run with Georgia, and as soon as we got on the bike, I was telling myself to be ready,” Zafares said, having only carved out her 11sec winning margin in the closing metres of the 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run.
Taylor-Brown moved up to third in the overall series and retained her chance of being in contention come the Grand Final in Lausanne should Zafares slip up.
“I just didn’t have the legs today and Katie was incredible,” the 25-year-old said. “I think I’m getting into this triathlon thing now and each race is getting better.”
A further 23sec behind was Learmonth who admitted to “a bit of a struggle” as she searches for her maiden WTS triumph.
Learmonth, Taylor-Brown and Stimpson were the only British representatives, with the most notable absentee being Vicky Holland. The Olympic bronze medallist from Rio 2016 won in Montreal last year as she hit a run of form that would land her the world title.
But after failing to make a podium this season, her decision to stay away looked a concession that she won’t catch Zafares at the top of WTS leaderboard and that the Tokyo 2020 test event in August will now become her sole focus – with a top three place guaranteeing her a third Olympic shot.
The race started with a non-wetsuit swim and Brazil’s Victoria Lopes, who had finished eighth in Leeds, led Learmonth out of the water, with Zafares in close attendance and Taylor-Brown emerging in 10th.
A quick transition led to a quartet of Lopes, Learmonth, Zafares and Holland’s May Kingma opening an immediate gap with Taylor-Brown, Italy’s Alice Betto and USA’s Taylor Knibb forming a second group.
The chasing trio managed to close the gap midway through a flat and twisting bike leg as they built a 30sec advantage over the field, where Stimpson was often the lone driving force.
By the time the leaders reached T2, Lopes had been jettisoned and the podium chances rested with the front six as the gap to the rest widened to 63sec.
In a repeat of the Leeds clash three weeks earlier, Zafares and Taylor-Brown took charge, shoulder-to-shoulder on the run, with Learmonth establishing herself in third.
There was never more than a metre or so between the front two as they entered the final mile before Zafares struck decisively for home with just over 400m to go.
“I went early and ran as fast as I could,” Zafares said. “The only time I looked back to see where she was, was when I got to the finish.”