Alistair Brownlee: I'm still the best says Olympic triathlon champion

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer
Triathlon World Series: Brownlee, Jenkins & Holland set for return
World Triathlon Series - Cape Town men's race
Date: Sunday, 26 April
Coverage: Live coverage on the BBC Red Button and online from 14:00 BST. Highlights on Monday, 27 April on BBC Two at 11:00.

Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee believes he is still the best triathlete in the world as he prepares to make his World Series return this weekend.

Back from an ankle injury to race in Cape Town after missing the season's first three events, Brownlee has not finished in the world championship top three since his last title in 2011.

Each year injury has denied the 27-year-old a full season to pick up enough race points, but whenever fit he has threatened the same hold over his rivals he had at London 2012.

"I'd definitely like to think I'm the best triathlete in the world - all round, through the three sports on a day," he said.

Brownlee 'massively proud' of gold

"If it came down to a run, I probably haven't run quite as well as I did in 2012, but if I repeated that performance it would still be the fastest run off any bike on any given day."

This is not said through arrogance nor a desire to belittle his brother Jonny nor Spain's Javier Gomez, the other two men to be crowned world champions in the last three years.

It is also said with a smile. But after missing five weeks of training having turned his ankle trying to avoid a dog on a training run, he is glad to be back competing in a year when he must qualify to defend his Olympic title in Rio next summer.

"I'm never in the shape I'd like to be, but I just want to get out and race. While this might not be as good as I can be, hopefully I'm getting better," he said.

"I surprise myself sometimes. I tend to go out and do a period of training really hard and hope that pays off, but I don't want to just race averagely. I could have done that a few weeks ago.

"I'm not saying it's going to be one of my best performances, but I'll do all I can as I always do to get a result, even if it involves some unusual tactics."

In his absence, Jonny - world champion in 2012, and bronze medallist in London - has picked up impressive wins in Auckland and the Gold Coast to lead the standings after three races.

'Aggressive' Jonathan Brownlee wins on Gold Coast

With points on the board, he is missing from Cape Town as both brothers look to peak for the Rio test event (not part of the World Series) at the start of August.

To qualify automatically for the three-man British team next summer, a triathlete must finish in the top three at both that race and the World Series final in Chicago a month and a half later.

"Qualifying for Rio is my priority this season," Alistair says. "I can do the races in Cape Town, Yokohama and London, and have plenty of time after that to prepare for the test event exactly as I'd like.

"It's come round incredibly fast. You do the Olympics and you think four years is a lifetime in sport. Yet you go past the two-year mark and you have to start thinking about qualification.

"But one of the things we learned from last time is that it's such an advantage to have that pre-selection.

World Triathlon Series schedule
7 MarchAbu DhabiMario Mola
29 MarchAucklandJonathan Brownlee
11 AprilGold CoastJonathan Brownlee
25-26 AprilCape Town
16 MayYokohama
31 MayLondon
18-19 JulyHamburg
22-23 AugustStockholm
5-6 SeptemberEdmonton
15-20 SeptemberChicago - Grand Final

"I had the injury early in 2012, and the fact that my place was guaranteed was absolutely essential. If I'd had to qualify and rush back and had that stress, it could have been a very different story.

"Hopefully I can get those two podium places, but I want to perform in Rio to put a marker down for the other athletes as much as anything."

As a child, Brownlee would always cheer for the favourite in any sporting event he was watching, the typical British affection for the underdog absent.

Should he go to Rio as the fancied athlete, as he was in London, he would see that only as a good thing.

"So many people see being favourite as bad," he says. "In the build-up to London it was all, 'Ah, this will make it so much harder'.

"But that seems mad, because you're favourite for a reason. It might be an arrogant way of looking at it, but you have to say, 'I'm in that position because I've earned that spot'.

"You have to stand there knowing you deserve it, knowing that you have the best chance of winning."