columbia threadneedle world triathlon leeds 2016Back
We still remember the rush of the Tour de France Grand Départ in Leeds. First, the hush of the streets in the morning, where we wandered and wondered where everybody was; then the exhilarating crush when we found everyone, bar none, crammed along the starting stretch of The Headrow and beyond, beyond the city to the suburbs, to the Dales. By the time the peloton was careening through the picturesque villages and towns of North Yorkshire, we were sitting on Briggate, with thousands of people in the sunshine, enjoying a picnic and the pictures on the big video screen.
While the countryside vistas gave Le Tour memorable scenery, perfect for TV, it was the compact centre of Leeds that brought elite sporting talent close enough to touch; a brush with athletic power that the city will experience again this summer with the visit of the Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon on June 12th, part of a big weekend of triathlon activities in Leeds.
This time, instead of making for the countryside, the athletes will be racing to be first into the heart of the city. More than a hundred elite competitors, men and women operating where the peak of physical fitness meets athletic versatility, will dive together into the scenic waters of Roundhay Park’s Waterloo Lake; their condition, skill and effort will then be tested over a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle course winding into the city centre, which they will circuit seven times by bike, before running 10km on four tight laps of a technically challenging city centre route and crossing the finish line in front of the iconic Civic Hall and the grandstand at Millennium Square.
The elite women’s race will start in Roundhay Park at 1pm and the elite men’s at 3.45pm; the women will cross the city centre finish line around 3.15pm, the men at 5.30pm.
In triathlon, as in all races, it’s the finish that counts. Full distance ITU World Triathlon Series races typically take around two hours, but can come down to seconds; like last May, when Leeds and Great Britain’s Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee and his biggest rival, world triathlon champion Javier Gomez of Spain, took the final turn of the World Triathlon Series Yokohama together, and fought out a sprint finish so close that at the end of a 51.55km test of swimming, cycling and running, Gomez beat Brownlee by just two seconds.
This year’s ITU World Triathlon Series began in Abu Dhabi, where after avoiding a crash in the cycle section Britain’s Jodie Stimpson took gold. There was glory for Britain’s women in the Gold Coast and Cape Town events too; Helen Jenkins took gold in Australia, while Leeds based Non Stanford — who will be racing in at the Olympics in Rio this summer — was the winner in South Africa, closely followed by Stimpson, just seven seconds behind. Leeds based Vicky Holland, who is expected to be racing in Leeds, was also near the front in sixth place, only twenty-six seconds from gold.
The hometown crowds in Leeds will be hoping for just as much excitement, with Alistair and his younger brother, the Olympic bronze medallist Jonny, also in the mix, as they take part in their final ITU World Triathlon Series event in the UK before making their final preparations before heading to Brazil. Jonny has been in good form in his two ITU World Triathlon Series races so far, finishing third in the Gold Coast and then second in Cape Town, five seconds behind Fernando Alarza of Spain.
The course has been designed to bring the crowds as close to the competitors as possible, and the Brownlee brothers are prepared for the unique atmosphere the city will create.
“The thing that is going to make the Triathlon Leeds is the big crowds at the side of the road,” says Ali. “Hugging the entire course, with massive crowds, so the athletes will have fantastic support.”
“Leeds is going to get everything behind this,” says Jonny. “Leeds will be the triathlon city for that weekend.”
Before the weekend comes, Leeds will be getting ready for its new life as a triathlon city with three life-size triathlete statues — made of Lego — on their way to The Light, Trinity Leeds and Victoria Quarter courtesy of main event partner JLL; and swimming caps have been popping up around the city in shops and squares and places you might not expect them.
The Columbia Threadneedle Rankings Leader Trophy, awarded to the leading male and female elite athlete after each event in the series, is now in the city, where it is being displayed at the Civic Hall as well as touring events and activities at schools, universities and community groups in Leeds in the build up to the race weekend.
On the day, the Millennium Square grandstand will be complemented by viewing points at Briggate and Victoria Gardens, with street entertainment, big screens carrying live BBC coverage of the race, and great views of multiple passes of the cycling and running stages. In Roundhay Park there will be a big screen and entertainment so the crowds gathered to watch the starts can see the races through to their exciting finish, while streets along the route will be lined with crowds for the cycling stages through Moortown, Meanwood, Weetwood, Headingley and Woodhouse.
After the worldwide success of the Tour de France Grand Départ, Antonio Arimany, director general of the International Triathlon Union has described the triathlon weekend as another chance for Leeds to make its mark on the international sporting circuit, that could be just the start of the story.
“This is the first year and we want to start building from this year to the future,” Antonio said. “We always like to have a long-term partnership with the cities and have an event sustainable for many years.”
Jack Buckner, chief executive of race co-organisers British Triathlon, added, “We are hopeful that the feeling and atmosphere will be really special and in some ways it’s going to be more intimate than the Tour de France — it will be woven into the city.”
Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds 2016
11th–12th June 2016
Twitter @WorldTriLeeds @LeedsTriathlon