Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee says triathlon has grown beyond anything he could have imagined as his home city prepares to welcome the sport’s finest this weekend.
Leeds stages a leg of the World Triathlon Series with a day and a half of mass-participation amateur races leading into the elite men’s and women’s events on Sunday afternoon.
Brownlee, who won Olympic gold and completed the set of major honours at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow two years later, is among the favourites to succeed again this summer in Rio.
And a first World Series win of the season in his home city would be the perfect boost as he bids to become the first man to win two Olympic triathlon titles.
“There’s a massive change in triathlon both in terms of participation – which has seen massive increases year on year – and interest,” said Brownlee.
“You see people out on the streets training for it all the time, especially around Leeds. This city is a real hub and a hotbed for the sport.
“But there’s also more people following it now and actively watching it on television, people who wouldn’t have been interested before suddenly are. It’s a different world to what it was.”
Brownlee versus his younger brother Jonny is the headline attraction in the men’s race, particularly given the two haven’t raced against each other competitively in more than two years.
Olympic silver medallist Javier Gomez makes his first appearance of the season in Leeds, meaning all three of the London 2012 medallists are in the city.
For all of them, Leeds and any other race in the run up to the Olympic triathlon on August 18 is an opportunity to race towards peaking at the right time.
For the Brownlee brothers, and in particular Alistair, it is a bit more special.
“Leeds is obviously very important, and it’s very much a stepping stone in the lead up to the Olympics, but a very important one,” he said.
“It comes at a very good time for us, you obviously want to be there and have a good race and be competitive and be at about 95 per cent, but obviously the Olympics is 100 per cent.
“There is a bit of extra pressure on my shoulders but like any race, you want to go there to win it.
“It’s a World Series race so it’s a big deal, and you want to have a good race in front of the home crowd.
“The whole event will be really special and I’m looking forward to the whole thing.”
What makes the event so exciting is that Alistair and the vast majority of the British competitors know this course so well, given they all train together in and around the city.
On any given day, Alistair, Jonny, Non Stanford, Vicky Holland and the others can be seen swimming, running or cycling in the city’s pools and the country roads.
“Every day is different but normally starts with swimming at either the John Charles Aquatics Centre or the University of Leeds, then we run anywhere and everywhere,” said Alistair, who still trains alongside his brother and great rival Jonny.
“A lot of running I do is around my home in Bramhope, out onto the Chevin and to Harewood House; and then for the ride I tend to ride up Wharfedale, or into Wetherby or up to Pateley Bridge.
“Most of it is with other people. I swim with the squad, riding with groups or just with Jonny, running on my own with Jonny.”
And rather ominously for the rest of the triathlon world, the brothers’ bond remains as strong as ever.
They no longer live together as they did before London 2012, but remain thick as thieves.
“We’re there to help each other as much as we can in training and in a race,” said Alistair, who has often been a sounding board for his younger brother in times of injury and despair.
“And then when it comes to it we’ll race to the death.”