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How (what, and who) to watch (at) WTCS Cagliari

Can the Norwegian powerhouse duo of Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden return to the top of the short-course racing scene?

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

Olympic qualifying is in full swing, which brings the lion’s share of the world’s top draft-legal athletes to Cagliari, Italy, for the third stop on this year’s World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS). We previewed the women’s race earlier today (see the link below), so now it’s time to focus on what promises to be a dynamite men’s race. (Photo above – Alex Yee, WTCS Abu Dhabi champ.)

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The WTCS bike course in Cagliari has forsaken the steep climb that was a feature in the original World Cup event held here and now includes 10 flat, technical and fast 3.8 km loops. That leads most to anticipate we’ll see a big pack arrive at T2 together, making this a 10 km dash for the podium, but it’s easy to see a scenario where things are a bit more splintered. The two-lap, 1,500 m swim features a beach start and another run back in to the water after the first 750 m loop, which could turn out to be a game changer. Watching athletes try to figure out how to get down the beach and through the waves was almost entertaining during the practice swim today, but it could end up making for an interesting breakaway group forming during the first leg of the race.

Kristian Blummenfelt. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Lots of eyes on the Norwegians

Even their competitors have been talking about the ambitious schedule that Norway’s power duo – Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden – are planning for this year. One leg of that schedule will include competing at the Paris Test Event, then jumping on an overnight flight to Singapore to compete at the PTO Asian Open the next day. A week later they’ll be back in Europe racing at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Finland.

They’re mixing this long-distance racing with a mix of draft-legal racing, too, in order to ensure they’re back at the Olympics again next year – Blummenfelt will try to defend his gold medal, Iden will look to improve on his eighth in Tokyo. An Olympic-distance (1.5-km swim/ 38-km bike/ 10-km run) would normally be exactly what the Norwegians would looking for based on their long-course prowess, but this one will pose some challenges. Neither has been a front-pack swimmer in their races this year and, if some of the faster swimmers can negotiate their way through the waves better than others we could see some sizeable gaps long before people get on the bike.

Another Yee vs Wilde show?

The two most competitive men in the world of draft-legal racing over the last few years have been the two men who were behind Blummenfelt in Tokyo – Great Britain’s Alex Yee and New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde. Both are incredible runners, neither are typically the fastest swimmers. So they’ll likely be happy to see a huge group hit T2 together, then do their running thing to separate themselves from the rest. That will be a bit harder to do, though, if the rest of the field can make the bike a bit more challenging.

There are also a number of strong runners and former superstars in the field who could make things interesting. Portugal’s Vasco Villa will wear race #1, a sign of his impressive racing so far this year. Three-time world champion Mario Mola is back, apparently in better shape after a tough 2022 filled with injuries. (He just won the world duathlon title in Ibiza.) Then there is Jonathan Brownlee, a three-time Olympic medalist, who would like to put his name forward as a contender in Paris next year with a good result. And, somehow, defining world champion Leo Bergere is sneaking into the race without much fanfare. While he didn’t run faster than Yee or Wilde in Abu Dhabi last year, he’s excellent at holding a lead when he’s got one.

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The field is full of fast runners, though – it’s the nature of the beast when it comes to draft-legal racing. Whether anyone can shake things up before T2 will be the question of the day here in Cagliari. It should be fun to watch and see.

You can check out the start list here.

How to watch

You can watch the women’s WTCS Cagliari race live or on demand here. The race starts at 11 AM local time (5 AM EST)

You can watch the men’s WTCS Cagliari race live or on demand here. The race starts at 3:15 PM local time (9:15 EST).