By Mark Etheridge
Gillian Sanders made it a weekend to remember for South African triathlon when she raced to victory in a European Cup event in Quateira, Portugal.
That came on the back of fellow Commonwealth Games silver medallist Richard Murray’s inaugural World Cup win on the other side of the world in New Zealand.
Proving that she’s championship material, Sanders bounced right back from a frustrating first World Triathlon Series (WTS) season-opener in Abu Dhabi where she got up close and personal with the unforgiving tarmac during the bike leg.
The weekend saw her swopping the tar for some terrific form as she covered the Olympic distance of a 1500-metre swim, 40 kilometre bike and 10km run in 2hr 04min 20sec.
That saw her beat France’s Audrey Merle by five seconds and Heather Sellars of Britain by a further 30sec.
An upbeat Sanders told Road to Rio 2016 that the Portuguese performance came at just the right time.
‘ I wanted to put the disappointment of Abu Dhabi behind me and get my season off to a good start and see what type of shape I was in.
‘The swim was extremely tough, there was a storm offshore and it was like swimming in a washing machine. I was happy with my swim though, coming out quite close to the front.’
Good news for Sanders who is already an accomplished cyclist and runner. ‘I feel like I’ve had a breakthrough in my swimming, which I’ve been waiting for for years as I also had a great swim in Abu Dhabi before my race ended with that crash.
‘We caught the front few girls fairly early on in the bike (after two laps of six). The bike was still challenging though as it had a hill on each lap and was very technical in sections.’
Onto the run and Sanders was in control from the get-go.
‘I lead the run from the beginning and felt really relaxed the whole way through. Only the French woman Audrey came with me. With about 400 to go I injected some pace, got a gap…and that was that.’
With the battle for ranking points vital ahead of next year’s Rio Olympics, Sanders knows what she has to do.
‘It was great to get an Olympic distance race under the belt to check my form – all the races up until now that everyone has been doing have been sprint races. The Olympic distance is a totally different dynamic and I’m happy with the shape I’m in.’
There was also a precious Portuguese moment for the London-based Olympian.
‘It was really special being in a foreign country on Human Rights day and hearing our anthem be played and watch the flag go up … these type of moments are always special.’
For the record, Sanders had the 10th quickest swim of the day, the eighth quickest bike and ended of in fine style with the quickest run.