Youri Keulen after winning Challenge Barcelona: ‘Not easy to beat Alistair Brownlee’

“To run towards Alistair Brownlee is one thing, but to run him down is quite something else. He is so tough, so strong and such a great legend in our sport. I really don’t know what happened to me today.” Only one hour after his grandiose victory at Challenge Barcelona last weekend, where he beat Brownlee in a straight duel, Keulen speaks out loud but on the other hand, he really doesn’t know what to say, simply because he doesn’t realize what happened. “You know what it is? Because of Alistair I started doing triathlon and there are people who worked for years to be able to beat him once. And I ‘just’ did it today.”

After the swim and during the bike ride, Keulen was already on top of the multiple Olympic and World Champion, and during the run the Dutchman followed for a long time, about ten kilometers, ten seconds behind Brownlee, who was then in the lead. “In general, I was always running just a little bit faster. I knew that with one lap (5 kilometers, ed.) to go I had to be at him, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to beat him anymore. Brownlee is so incredibly strong. The longer it would take me to get to him, the more he would believe in it.”

‘No need to teach an old dog new tricks’
And so Keulen did exactly what he knew was necessary; close up ten seconds and, with just under five kilometers to go, immediately passed Brownlee as well. From then on, he kept the initiative and Keulen played smart, tactical games. “I felt I was a little more relaxed. He was panting a little bit and he tapped my elbow a few times. That’s kind of how I know him. You don’t have to teach an old dog new tricks. He is someone who can play other games at times like that. Meanwhile, I made sure the pace kept changing from fast to easy and back again. I didn’t let him get into his rhythm. That’s how you can break people.”

‘I had to think back to the European Championships in Weert’
Keulen says it with a smile and above all with huge respect for Brownlee, the very athlete he looked up to so immensely as a young talent himself. “During Challenge Barcelona, I was constantly thinking about the European Championships in Weert (2019, ed.). Alistair won the race and I really finished minutes behind. I thought his level then was otherworldly.”

Last weekend, Keulen himself was otherworldly. With 1400 meters to go, his “master plan” was put into full effect. “With about five minutes to go to the finish, I kept accelerating constantly. That was the moment I really hit it. I was getting the signals that he was struggling; Alistair started pounding, panting and puffing more. I felt I could win and then other forces are released. Suddenly I heard him say something: ‘You earned it, kid.’ That’s when I knew it was done.”

Keulen then indeed ran away from Brownlee and pulled off the victory. “This is my best win ever. If you look at what guys I beat in Barcelona, I did really put myself on the map. Yeah, I surprised myself quite a bit.”