Coming into the final race of the season, the message was clear: if Jonny Brownlee was to win the world title he needed to win WTS Cozumel and keep Spaniard Mario Mola off the podium. With just 400m of the race to go, the plan was working as Jonny led the field and Mola was trailing in fifth.
Jonny’s second elite ITU world title beckoned, until a bonk saw him collapse with exhaustion. His brother Alistair would scoop him up and carry his younger sibling to the line, being passed by South Africa’s Henri Schoeman on the way. Jonny would finish second and be rushed straight to hospital as Mola came home in fifth to take the world title by just four points.
Despite soaring temperatures, the race had the Brownlees’ traditional stamp of authority all over it from the outset. The brothers were second and third out of the water behind Raphael Aurelien from France (with Mola around 20secs back), and they emerged from T1 sharing the lead on the bike course.
Both Brownlees were joined by seven other riders to form a lead group of nine, which included Aaron Royle (AUS), Greg Billington (USA), Henri Schoeman (RSA), Raphael Aurelien (FRA), João Pereira (POR), Alessandro Fabian (ITA) and Andrea Salvisberg (SUI), and throughout the eight laps the group worked well to extend their lead on the chase group from 21secs to 1min 30secs by the time they got to T2.
Should Jonny win Mola would need to podium to claim the title, and he set a blistering pace on the early stages of the 10km run; however both Brownlees had no intention of letting him catch them. The brothers and Schoeman formed a front group of three and stayed there, maintaining their one minute lead they obtained in the bike.
It was all but certain that the podium would be the same as Rio, but the question was in what order? It was the younger Brownlee who made the first move, with Schoeman and Alistair trailing behind. The title looked his for the taking.
However with 400 metres Brownlee started to wobble, staggering and appearing disorientated. In worrying scenes he staggered over to an official, before brother Alistair scooped him up and almost carried him to the line. Medics rushed over to help as he collapsed and joined Julie Moss, Paula Newby-Fraser and Sian Welch in triathlon’s greatest bonks montage.
In the meantime Schoeman had ran past the brothers to clam victory, his first WTS win, and Mario Mola finished in fifth to take the world title by just four points. Jonny was given second place in the race and series, while Fernando Alarza (ESP) took third place in the series
Alistair Brownlee said: “If it happened to anyone I’d help them across the line, it’s an awful position to be in. If he conked out a K [kilometre] from the finish line and there’s no medical support, it’s dangerous. I wish he’d get his pacing right and get to the finish line first. He could have won easily, he could have jogged that last 2km and won the race, but who am I to talk!?
“You have to race the conditions. I’ve done what I wanted to do for the season so I wasn’t going to put it on the line today. I was quite comfortable, thinking I’m going to get second or third. I made sure I took lots of water on, made sure I kept myself cool and I was alright.”
Mario Mola commented: “First of all, that’s not the way I wanted to win the world championships. I thought, well, I’m going to be second again, but at least I will fight until the end. It’s racing, that’s triathlon and I’m very happy to win.”
The Spanish Triathlon Federation lodged a protest about Jonny receiving assistance; however the ITU jury ruled against him being disqualified in accordance to the rules, which state that athletes can receive help from other athletes, Technical Officials or Race Officials.
WTS Cozumel: all the drama and emotion in pictures