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Gillian Backhouse and Wian Sullwald makes it two first time World Cup winners in Chengdu

Gillian Backhouse (AUS) crosses the line first with Wian Sullwald (RSA) at the 2014 Chengdu ITU World Cup to earn their first career World Cup victories [photo: | Delly Carr]

It was an Aussie win at the Chengdu ITU World Cup in China today, with Gillian Backhouse (AUS) proving too strong on the run to clear out in warm and muggy conditions to win by 29 seconds from Jessica Broderick (USA) with Claire Michel (BEL) in third place.

Unlike the men’s race, won by another World Cup first timer Wian Sullwald (RSA) a smaller group of 15 riders established themselves out of the swim and gradually broke clear of the bulk of the field, leading by almost 2 minutes into T2. That group quickly broke up on the run though, with Backhouse quick to hit the lead and scatter the chasers.

It was a first win for Backhouse and one that she was delighted with.

“In terms of career performances this is the absolute best for me by a mile. My previous best at an ITU World Cup was 15th. It is not a complete surprise though, training has been going really well over the past month, my coach and I were hoping for a top five but to win is just absolutely amazing.

“The conditions were pretty much perfect for us today. The smog has cleared up a bit today, when we first got here I was a bit worried but it is much much clearer today and great for competing.”

Backhouse is back to training for now but already thinking of opportunities later in the year.

“I am back to a block of training and then a crack at the U23 Duathlon Championships and hopefully a couple of WTS starts in the not too distant future.”

Broderick did feel the conditions more so than Backhouse but stayed patient to hold on to second from a fast charging Michel.

“It was pretty hot, I haven’t been to China before but I have been to Taiwan and remember the hot conditions from there. I wasn’t expecting it to be this hot before the race but I just made sure to hydrate on the bike and stick to my race plan and it seemed to work.

“Gillian went out kind of hard, and I know in myself that I need to ease into the run. I haven’t raced for 11 months so I had to be a bit cautious. I had an injury last year and with the floods and all in Boulder it was too chaotic to race at the end of last year. I just started to work with Darren Smith this year and had a consistent training block for the past four months and I guess things are working. This is my all-time high for sure.”

As was the case with all six of the podium place getters in Chengdu, it was a career best performance and first World Cup podium for Claire Michel in third place.

“I didn’t have a very good swim, I had to work hard on the bike in the chase group, I did a lot up front to try and minimize the gap and then had to work pretty hard on the run to try to come back and reel them in but this is my first podium for a World Cup so I can’t complain. I am satisfied with that but I think I am capable of better but that is the good thing about each race, as long as you learn from each race that is good.

“I need to swim better so I can be in that lead group on the bike, I think I am capable of being in the lead group on the bike, I just need to be in the right spot and work on the first 5k on the bike to be sure that if I have a little gap I can close it right away and get to the leaders. Once there I think I can make it interesting.”

Michel’s run was impressive as she and Lisa Perterer (AUT) ran through from the chase group off the bike, with the Austrian finishing 4th to just miss her goal of a first ITU World Cup podium.

In the men’s race, Sullwald broke through for his first ever ITU World Cup win with victory at Chengdu in China today, defeating Kevin McDowell (USA) and Aurelien Lebrun (FRA), with all three posting career-best performances.

The 20 year old Sullwald follows in the footsteps of Richard Murray and Hendrik De Villiers as the only South Africans to stand atop an ITU World Cup podium, following on from his 15th place finish at the Capetown ITU WTS event a week ago.

The young South African was patient in the swim before sitting in a large group that rode well within themselves on the bike, before establishing himself at the front of the run and sprinting clear of McDowell and Lebrun with Tony Dodds (NZL) finishing fourth on his return from injury.

“I am happy to take the win, like I said in the press conference I wanted to be on the podium today and I made it, I am over the moon, “ said Sullwald. “I remained calm throughout the whole race, the swim was decent and the bike was quite easy, all the packs got together and were just riding along, I stuck to the back and on the last two laps I worked my way to the front and hit it hard on to the run and just kept my pace.

“Today the sun is out and it is really quite warm but coming from South African I am used to the heat and for me it was perfect racing conditions. From Capetown to Chengdu it is all going great and hopefully now I can back this up with another good performance in Yokohama.”

-Andrew Dewhurst