Leo Bergere made up considerable ground to clinch the Abu Dhabi World Triathlon Championship Finals and a maiden global title at the Yas Bay Waterfront on Saturday.
The Frenchman, 26, kept up the pace in the 1.5-kilometre swim leg and the 40km cycling section before dominating the 10-kilometre run to cross the finish line in 1 hour 44 minutes and 14 seconds.
American Morgan Pearson returned from injury to take second, four seconds behind the winner, and Belgian Jelle Geens was a further 20 seconds down in third.
Tokyo Olympics medallists Alex Yee (silver) of Britain, Kiwi Hayden Wilde (bronze) and Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt (gold) were expected to battle for the world title but finished fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively, in the race.
Yee and Wilde finished second and third overall after going into the Finals as the No 1 and No 2 ranked triathletes.
Bergere couldn’t believe he had become the world champion.
“I don’t know what to say because I didn’t do the math before the race. I just wanted to race all out and try for the victory today,” Bergere said.
“On the run, I was really focussed on what I was doing. I didn’t want to think about anything else other than my efforts. I told myself not to worry about the overall ranking during the race, but think about it when the race is over.
“I was chasing this win on the biggest platform for a long time. I knew I was capable of doing it. It all fell in line today in Abu Dhabi.”
Pearson felt silver in the World Finals was a nice way for him to come back.
“It’s been a long year since I didn’t race,” he said. “I was beginning to get better from early September.
“Today, I felt quite comfortable when I got into the run and for a while I was thinking of pushing for gold. It didn’t work out but if you don’t go for it you never get it. It was a good way to finish the race here in Abu Dhabi.”
Geens denied Yee a podium finish and the world championship title when he overtook the Briton in the last of the nine laps of the run for his first podium in the world championship.
“I really wanted that podium after finishing fourth, fourth and fifth this year,” the Belgian said.
“I’m sad for Alex that he didn’t win the title, but I really wanted that podium. I had an injury at the start of the year and couldn’t make it to the podiums. Now I got that, I can now take this motivation into the winter.”
Yee was glad that he could put up a show after a tough season in which he won three world championship races and secured a gold double (elite and mixed relay) at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“It was a combination of a long season,” he said of the opportunity lost. “I did everything I could but suffered a bit in the second half of the run but it was an amazing year for me.”
Wilde arrived in Abu Dhabi three weeks ahead as the No 1 ranked triathlete but that didn’t work out for the New Zealander.
“I need to go back and assess my race,” Wilde said. “It wasn’t enough on the day and I also started to suffer in my run on the final kilometre of the race. However, I can take a lot of positives from a good season.”