Six elite triathletes and 24 age groupers will compete in the biggest race of the year this weekend in Edmonton, Canada.
Ranked 15th in the World Triathlon Series and 9th on the Olympic Points list, Lisburn's Aileen Reid is gunning for a big performance to end the season on a high. Reid has fond memories of the 2013 Grand Final when she stunned many and claimed the silver medal on the London Olympic course.
After a difficult start to the season where she scored 16th in Cape Town and 22nd in Yokohama, fitness and run speed started to return. There was a consistent spell of top quality results with 8th in London, 9th in Hamburg and 11th in Stockholm just last weekend.
Despite being outside the top 10, Aileen’s Stockholm performance might be the best indication yet as to what’s possible at the Grand Final. Over the Sprint Distance she missed the lead pack out of the swim by a mere 4 seconds but clocked the fastest run of the day beating off the likes of Commonwealth Games Champion Jodie Stimpson in the process.
With her run form clearly back to its best a top result is within reach if she can exit the second transition with the leaders.
In the Elite men’s race, Ireland has never been so well represented at the Grand Final with no less than 3 athletes on the start line. The top ranked of which is Cork man Bryan Keane sitting 35th in the Series.
Keane is a former professional cyclist, ran cross country for Ireland and swam competitively as a junior but these days he relishes the biggest stage in triathlon on the World Series circuit and his ultimate goal, Olympic qualification.
“The Grand Final is the biggest race of the year, there are double points on offer here for qualification so it’s very important to score big.”
The Edmonton course takes in a 1500 meter swim, 40 kilometre bike and 10 kilometre run but Keane doesn’t see anything to trouble him or any of the Irish athletes.
“It has some hills but nothing that will blow the bike packs apart. Sure weaker cyclists will be found out on the course but the hills are just not long enough to break solid cyclists. There are long straight sections that will make working in a group much more cohesive. It’s a really good bike course here and a little different to normal with two big 11km laps followed by four smaller laps.”
Conor Murphy, ranked 64th in the series had a superb World Series debut with a 22nd place finish in Auckland back in April but suffered some horrible luck with 42nd in Cape Town, a disastrous DNF in Yokohama and a back of the pack 59th in London. Since then Murphy’s fortunes have changed and he’s back at the business end of the field taking 17th in the European Championships and 12th at the Commonwealth Games.
With bumper points on offer, Murphy has a great opportunity to jump up the series rankings and get his Rio Olympic Qualification campaign onto a more steady footing.
Ben Shaw has opted to race the senior elite Grand Final as opposed to the U23 World Championships as he looks to build on his World Series and Olympic Qualification ranking. At 22, he is one of the youngest athletes in the field but is always one of the most visible. A formidable swim – biker, Shaw will be looking to animate the race from the start, getting away in a small group in order to go into the 10 kilometre run with an advantage.
Former competitive swimmer, Russell White made the switch to triathlon in 2010 and now finds himself at the U23 World Championships for the second year in a succession.
White, who hails from Banbridge finished 35th in the 2013 U23 World Championships but has stepped it up this season, racing on the senior elite circuit more regularly. White played a key role in Northern Ireland’s 6th place finish in the Commonwealth Games Mixed Relay in Glasgow and will be looking to beat his starting position of 24th this time around.
In the Men’s Junior Elite race Con Doherty will strike some degree of fear into the opposition. The Westport teenager scored 560 points in the leaving cert but with that out of the way has turned his attention to the Junior World Championships and ultimately surpassing his bronze medal in 2012.
Doherty is always a podium treat with impressive bike handling skills and run speed which has taken him to an All-Ireland Cross Country title earlier in the year. If he can post a solid swim and be in contention with the leaders out of the second transition he is one to watch.
Along with the six strong elite squad, Ireland will be represented by a squad of 24 age group athletes racing in age groups from the 16–17 years age category to the 65-69 years age category.
With a large Irish team in Edmonton for the weekends action Keane said the athletes really appreciate the support they get out on course.
“You always notice the Irish support. We have a knack for making noise, standing out and really getting behind our own.”