Abu Dhabi was set to be the most competitive first round of the World Triathlon Series for years. Usually, the WTS builds momentum throughout the season with athletes looking to peak later on in the year. With it being the beginning of March it would be very impressive for any athlete to hold form until the end of September.
However, looking down the start list, many of the worlds best triathletes choose to begin their 2018 campaign this weekend. For the Commonwealth athletes it was an excellent opportunity to blow out some cobwebs before travelling on to Australia, and for the others, it presented a chance to earn some WTS points to help towards an end of season ranking. As we have seen before, it can prove critical to get some points on the board early on.
HUUB was well represented in the men's field and as expected HUUB athletes domineered the front end of the swim. Henri Schoeman (RSA) took the honours this time round, with Brownlee (GBR), Varga (SVK), Bishop (GBR) and Van Der Stel (NED) all inside the top 10.
Apart from Schoeman's slight lead out of the water, there was no significant break in the field, and at first, it looked like the race would all come back together. However, this is where the race really started. In 2017 we saw the field split up over the 40k bike due to the strong winds, but more damage this time around was caused by the rain and greasy roads. In only 20k the field splintered and it was Schoeman who seized his opportunity and went ahead solo to leave small groups of cautious riders to make their way around the F1 circuit.
Several riders fell victim to crashes which further split up the race. Bishop, who was last years silver medalist and Brownlee both hit the deck, Brownlee managed to remain in contact with the leading pack, however Bishop fell back to the chase pack, putting an end to his podium hopes. The technical course and the poor road conditions allowed Schoeman to ride his own race and stay out of trouble. The South African maintained his lead all the way to T2 with the two chase packs unable to make any inroads. Other than Schoeman, ride of the day perhaps went to Mario Mola (ESP) and HUUB's Gustav Iden (NOR) who made their way up to the front of the race from the chase pack, keeping Mola's chance of a win alive.
Brownlee had admitted before the race he wasn't in his best run shape having had a troubled winter, and it seemed he lacked a bit of top end run speed in the first few kilometres of the run. It was left to 2017's World Champion Mola to try and prevent Schoeman not only claiming victory but also leading out of the water, leading off the bike and being first across the finishing line - a feat only ever achieved by a handful of athletes including Alistair Brownlee & Helen Jenkins. In the end, the gap proved even too big for the lightning fast Mola, and Rio's Olympic bronze medalist claimed his second WTS victory. Brownlee and Iden finished 7th and 9th respectively with Bishop making his way back up the field to 14th, with one of the days quickest runs. Perhaps not the greatest of races for the two British athletes, but they will both have their eyes set on the Commonwealth Games next month.
Like the men's race, the field was stacked with some of the worlds best athletes. Last years World Champion Flora Duffy (BER) was ready to try and make it three back to back world titles, and ITU's 2017's Breakthrough Star Jessica Learmonth (GBR) was there to establish herself as one of the worlds best. HUUB was represented by the British duo of Learmonth and Coldwell (GBR), as well as Anna Mazzetti (ITA) and Lotte Miller (NOR). Learmonth continued her run of swim ‘lead outs' and was closely followed by the usual suspects of Cook (USA) and Zaferes (USA). Both Coldwell and Miller were well up at the front of the race and would ultimately make the front group.
Duffy quickly made her move, and as expected Learmonth chased after her down, the pair worked together for a few kilometres until Duffy creeped out a small gap on the technical course leaving Learmonth to be swallowed by the chase pack. However the women's race proved as treacherous as the men's, and Duffy fell victim to the greasy roads putting her out of the race. The rest of the bike was littered with crashes and near misses. Coldwell and Zaferes both crashed, and although Coldwell managed to finish the race, it wouldn't have been what she was hoping for leading into the Commonwealth Games.
The lead group of ten soon dwindled, and the chase packs featuring star athletes like Stanford (GBR), Holland (GBR), Spivey (USA), Ueda (JPN) and Gentle (AUS) slipped further back. Baring an incredible run from one of these athletes it looked like the podium would be made from this lead pack, suggesting we could be in for some debutants on the WTS podium. The quartet of Learmonth, Klamer (NED), Kasper (USA) and Van Coevorden (AUS) ran most of the 5k side by side. There seemed to be some serious poker faces going on. Then a move by Klamer was only countered by Learmonth, and it appeared the young Australian and American athletes would battle out for the final spot on the podium. Klamer eased her way to her first was victory and Jess held on to her second place. At first, it would seem Kasper would have the edge on Van Coevorden, but a time penalty stopped the American in her tracks and left it down to a sprint finish that the Australian held on for.