Triathlon Australia: March 5, 2017: Australian triathlon young guns Marcel Walkington and Matt Baker stepped up to the plate with solid first up showings in the opening round of the World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi overnight.
It was a race where the young Victorians mixed it with some of the biggest names in ITU racing and one that they will long remember – especially Baker, who crossed the line 14th – one behind 13th placed Walkington – only to be told by officials he had been disqualified during the swim.
Baker said later he had made an honest mistake running up the ramp after lap one of the swim and missed a turning cone and subsequently the timing mat.
“The swim exit was ever so slightly different to the women's race so I thought minor changes were not to the course and simply thought it was minor improvements to the exit,” a shattered Baker said after the race.
“I didn't know I had done it until after the race. I am an ethical athlete and would never purposefully head off course.
“I admit I did the wrong thing and I paid the ultimate price - disqualified from my first WTS was a bitter pill to swallow especially considering how well I performed.
"The more time that passes the more I settle down and realise that it's not the end of the world.
“All in all it was a great debut, I'm proud and happy with my performance and I'm looking toward getting another decent WTS result behind me."
The Danielle Stefano-coached duo who have worked together in the lead up to their debuts, certainly stood up and were counted, rubbing shoulders with the likes of eventual winner, five-time WTS champion and Olympic silver medallist Javier Gomez and fellow Spaniards, defending WTS champion Mario Mola and the man with the fastest 10-km run split (31.03) of the day, Fernando Alarza.
Walkington admitted it was tougher than he expected, especially in the swim.
“The swim was the most physical I've ever had which was different to what I expected,” said Walkington.
“I just tried to hang on in the bike so I was reasonably ready for the run (and overall) I was very happy with my race and (I’m now) looking forward to my next one."
It was Gomez who returned to competition for his 13th career WTS win after nearly a year away from the Series and he celebrated his 50th WTS race with a memorable victory.
“It is great to come back this way. I still had a few mistakes in the race, I did not swim very well and had a bad T2. But I knew that is was going to be a very tough run, and with Tom Bishop (GBR) it was very technical. On the third lap we slowed down a lot, just trying to save energy for the last lap and I made my move with about three kilometres to go and I won, so it worked well. So, I am very happy to be back this way.”
The win also earned Gomez his 37th WTS podium with a career record equaling 13 wins, 17 seconds and seven third place finishes.
Bishop claimed the silver medal, his first WTS medal of his career and the bronze went to France’s Vincent Luis who made a comeback appearance today after not having raced the WTS circuit for nearly 15 months.
They were all part of a 10-man lead group that developed on the bike, driven by Gomez, who eventually drew away knowing the likes of Mola, Alarza and South African Richard Murray were in a chase pack, that eventually came through T2 over a minute down.
The Australian boys were caught in between the leaders and the Mola, Alarza, Murray Joao Pereira group and Baker admitted he wasn't sure who was where so he just went hard to the closest pack and rolled with them.
“Eventually Marcel and I realised we weren't making ground on the lead pack so we pulled up and waited for Mola (and co) to catch us,”Baker said.
“Once that happened I straight away began rolling turns and putting the hammer down. It was a bit of cat and mouse to begin with but we eventually lost time to the lead group.
“With Gomez leading the charge up front, closing the gap was always going to be a tough ask. Onto the run I felt quite good, I had a slight tightness in my stomach but I tried to put it out of my head. It worsened over the first 5km and I eventually put it down to taking on water. I canned that and began picking it up relatively quickly and, subsequently, picking off an athlete as well.”
Stefano said she was proud of her boys.
"I was really happy with how both the boys raced today. It was Disappointing for Matt to get disqualified (after coming 14th on debut) but we came here to learn and unfortunately he's learnt the hard way,”Stefano said.
“Marcel did a really good job. He put together a solid race and stayed composed off the bike. He stuck to the process and it paid off for him. (Of course) they still have things to work on but I’m really happy with their progression."
Issued on behalf of Triathlon Australia by
Ian Hanson| Media Manager
Ian Hanson| Media Manager Triathlon Australia Managing Director
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