From Roundhay to Rio – Brownlees out to lay down marker in Olympic quest

Jonny, left, and Alistair Brownlee pictured during training at Otley Sailing Club (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Jonny, left, and Alistair Brownlee pictured during training at Otley Sailing Club (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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Alistair Brownlee was at the Royal Armouries yesterday morning, jousting with figures in suits of armour in his final act of promotion for this weekend’s Columbia Threadneedle World Series Triathlon event in Leeds.

Three days earlier, he and brother Jonny had been the most sought-after speakers at the Team GB announcement of the six triathletes chosen to represent their country in Rio later this summer.

The blue jetty from which the womens and mens races will begin in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on Saturday afternoon.

The blue jetty from which the womens and mens races will begin in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on Saturday afternoon.

Indeed, the brothers have been in high demand in recent times as the build-up to Leeds’s staging of a prestigious leg of the world series has gathered pace.

Ever obliging, the commitment of these two fine ambassadors for their dicipline – and for Yorkshire sport – has never wavered.

However, they will be as hungry as anyone to get the pageantry out of the way and get down to the serious business of racing come the dive off the jetty in Roundhay Park tomorrow afternoon.

For as important as this weekend’s festivities are in the city’s increasing alliance with triathlon, the race itself is equally crucial for the Brownlees.

This is the penultimate chance for them to lay down a marker for the summer’s main event along Copacabana Beach.

Alistair may be the Olympic champion, a two time-world champion, the Commonwelath Games gold medallist and a European title-holder on numerous occasions, but he comes into his home event in need of a win at the top level.

His last came nine legs ago in London, though he has not raced every event since.

Jonny’s last win came two months earlier in Australia, some 11 events ago, emphasising the need for both to use the power of the home crowd to push them over the line.

Javier Gomez, their old nemesis and the man to split them on the London 2012 podium, is in town for his first race of the season, but there is no Mario Mola, another Spaniard, who leads the 2016 rankings.

The tectonic plates in triathlon have shifted since Alistair and Jonny were Olympic and world champions four years ago.

But a soundbite from Alistair in one of his numerous obligations this week, simultaneously summed up his mentality and fired a warning shot across the bow of pretenders to the throne.

“I’ll be finding every possible way to win,” said the 28-year-old of his mindset in Rio this summer, which echoes true every time he looks into the open water at the start of a triathlon.

“Over the last few years I’ve won races without being near my best and I’m really proud of those wins.”

What adds further spice to this weekend’s men’s race is that it is the first time in more than two years that both Alistair and Jonny have lined up against one another in a race of such standing.

And Jonny, 26, is still looking for a first win over his brother, though both have acknowledged in recent times that the gap is closing.

“At London 2012 it was very much a case me being the younger brother and he had all the pressure on his shoulders,” said Jonny.

“This time, I’m ready to be ruthless in the finishing straight – and you have to be ruthless to beat Alistair.”

The women’s race – which follows the same course of a 1,5km swim in Roundhay Park, a 41.5km cycle into the city centre and a 10km run finishing in Millennium Square – is headlined by the USA’s two-time defending world champion Gwen Jorgensen.

Jodie Stimpson, overlooked for selection by Team GB for Rio, can look to prove a point when she heads a five-strong home challenge in the women’s race.

Stimpson is currently second in the rankings, behind Bermudan Flora Duffy.

British women have won three of the four world series races this year.