Gomez and Stimpson seeking Abu Dhabi redemption

Matt Jones 1/03/2017
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Javier Gomez.

The 33-year-old Spaniard is a record five-time World Triathlon Series champion and he won three successive series’ between 2013-15.

However, he was usurped as king by young pretender Mola, 27, a year ago, a season on which decorated Gomez does not look back fondly.

Besides being denied a fourth title in a row, the Galicia native also missed out on last summer’s Olympics when he broke his elbow just over a month before the Rio Games.

Although many would have been left broken, especially as Gomez was one of the favourites for triathlon gold in Brazil after winning silver at London 2012, the veteran admits it gave him some perspective.

“It was really frustrating. It was just a normal training day and 300 metres from my house and I fell off the bike. I was going very slow, it didn’t seem to be a bad crash but I had the ground with my elbow and I broke it and there was no time to recover for the Olympics,” recalled Swiss-born Gomez.

“It was sad but a few days later I accepted it. It’s part of the sport when you do it for so many years. I had a great time and some great success but it was just one of those times I wasn’t successful and I had to recover and get back stronger than before. I tried to deal with it that way.

“I’ve won so many titles and big races so it gave me some perspective of things. It was not a great situation but it’s part of life and sport and you have to deal with it. I’ve had setbacks in the past and the fact I overcame them made me a better athlete and stronger so I’ll take this last one the same.”

Gomez is one of the leading elite male contenders for the season-opening World Triathlon Series race in Abu Dhabi, with the men racing on Saturday around the new location of Yas Island, but Gomez insists Mola is the man to beat.

“I was happy for him being world champion. He was on the podium for three years before finally stepping up to first spot, so he deserved it,” Gomez said of his younger opponent, who was third behind Gomez in 2013 and runner-up twice to him in 2014 and 2015.

“I’m good friends with him but of course when I’m racing against him I’m trying to beat him and he’s the world champion so he’s the one to beat at this race, and I’ll try my best to do so.”

Jodie Stimpson, meanwhile, feels this year’s elite women’s series will be one of the most widely contested in recent memory, but the Briton is determined to claim victory after a “devastating” 2016.

Jodie Simpson.

Jodie Simpson.

The 28-year-old double 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist has fond memories of Abu Dhabi, having claimed victory in the UAE at the same event a year ago.

However, after such a promising start, her 2016 season then went into a tailspin, losing out on selection to the British triathlon team for last summer’s Olympic Games to Non Stanford, Helen Jenkins and Vicky Holland, before an Achilles injury then ended her campaign.

She’s back at the scene of what turned out to be her sole 2016 highlight this season as 2017 opens with the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi tomorrow.

And Stimpson is determined to put her year of hell firmly behind her.

“Missing Rio was absolutely devastating and I was driven then to prove a point,” admitted Stimpson.

“It gave me motivation to finish the season well, but then I had a devastating injury. I don’t think everything else could have gone wrong.

“That was the worst thing, missing Rio when I was so close to it. But I did all I could do, I have no regrets, I just wasn’t good enough. I think that’s why it was easier to come away from it. I did my best and just didn’t make it.”

Stimpson has a perfect opportunity to start the season on the right foot in the UAE capital. Reigning series champion Flora Duffy pulled out of the season opener on Tuesday with a hip injury, while several opponents are taking a season off to start a family.

One of those is American Gwen Jorgensen, who was back to back series champion in 2014 and 2015 and also won gold in Rio.

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Star-studded triathlon line-up reaches Abu Dhabi

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L to R - Javier Gomez Jodie Stimpson and Mario Mola

A record-breaking 2,500 athletes from 52 countries will take their marks for the third annual ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi as 92 of the world’s leading elite triathletes and 2,380 age group participants race on a brand new course on Yas Island.

Leading the charge is the strongest field of elite athletes to be found anywhere in this region, all vying for top honours in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

The elite field boasts countless World Championship titles, Olympic medals and an incredible total of 353 ITU World Series titles between them.

The women will compete on Friday, March 3, at 15:55 with six of the world’s top 10 women on the Abu Dhabi start list.

That includes Abu Dhabi’s reigning champion, Great Britain’s Jodie Stimpson who is looking forward to the race.

“There’s been a lot of positive changes in my life that have made me look forward to racing this weekend,” said Stimpson. “As an athlete you try and prepare for each race so when you’re chucked on any course you can handle it. That’s the athlete that I aspire to be.

“The course will certainly test me technically especially on the bike course, which is the bit that matters the most on this course, is where you have to be really on it.”

The men’s race takes place the following day on Saturday, March 4, at 15:55 where the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi’s top four superstars return to compete for the title.

Topping the list is 2016 ITU World Champion, Spain’s Mario Mola and crowd favourite, five-time ITU World Champion and two-time Olympic medallist, Javier Gomez.

“I’m excited to be here and racing ITU,” said Gomez who will face fierce competition from 26-year-old Mola who is intent on securing a hat-trick.

“After the IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai last month I’ve been training well, with more speed needed for this race. I’m feeling good, I’m excited to be back and let’s see what happens this weekend.”

On whether targeting a hat-trick brings with it added pressure, Mola said: “Not really, I see it as a motivation to try new things as I’ve done in the past.

“It’s been a great way for me to start the year in Abu Dhabi and with it comes new challenges. Maybe I’ll do what I’ve done the past couple of years and see if it works to my favour this year as well.

“It’s great to have Javier here but with it, it creates a challenge, it’s always very hard to beat him in that top position. It is never easy and it wasn’t easy to get the title last year. I feel motivated and I am optimistic about this weekend’s race.”

“The competition is fierce this weekend with the world’s fastest triathletes uniting for the first time this season on an all-new course, all with their eye firmly set on winning the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi title,” said Race Director, Gary Marescia.

For amateurs, entries into the ITU World Triathlon’s Olympic distance which includes 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run has seen the biggest increase with more amateurs making the leap into the sport as triathlon grows in popularity in the region.

The event also sees the Junior Races – a fun event aimed at encouraging youngsters to get active – taking place Friday from 08:00.

The grassroots event, which has seen numbers double this year compared to 2015, will see close to 250 children participate across four race categories on Yas Island, cheered on by five-time world champion Javier Gomez.

The Race Village on Yas Island, will be open on Friday and Saturday from 06:30 and 05:30 respectively, to 18:30 and will feature a grandstand, bike park, a range of refreshment kiosks and a kids entertainment zone.

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INTERVIEW: Mola remains cautious of rivals in Abu Dhabi

Denzil Pinto 28/02/2017
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Mola in action.

Mario Mola is the only man to win both Abu Dhabi races in its two-year history but the Spaniard insists that doesn’t mean he’s odds on favourite for a repeat this weekend as he sets his sights on claiming more world crowns.

The 27-year-old enters the season-opener as the ITU World Triathlon champion, having added to his UAE success with victories in Gold Coast, Yokohama and Hamburg last year for his maiden global title.

The Mallorcan has happy memories of the UAE capital, standing top of the podium after conquering the course on both occasions at the iconic Corniche.

The 2014 and 2015 world runner-up has given himself the best possible chance to make it an Abu Dhabi hat-trick on Saturday and lay down an early marker of retaining his world championship over the nine-round series with a three-month training camp in Spain.

But even that doesn’t mean guaranteed success with Mola remaining cautious of the challenge ahead.

“It has been a good winter period and most importantly I have been injury free during that time,” Mola told Sport360 from Mallorca before his arrival in Abu Dhabi.

“You don’t really know what to expect in the first race of the season and there are always elements of surprises that crops up.”

While it will be his first competitive appearance of the campaign, his task to get off to a winning start is not a straight forward one given that seven of the world’s top 10 of the strong 60-man field are set to feature this weekend.

World No3 Fernando Alarza, Portugal’s Olympian Joao Silva, training partner Richard Murray and five-time world champion Javier Gomez all stand in his way of denying him a historic three-peat.

While Mola understands all eyes will be on him every step of the way as he tackles the 1,500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run around some iconic venues at Yas, he will just focus on his own game plan.

“In our sport, you have people who have won several world titles like Javier Gomez and the Brownlee brothers,” he said. “If I think achieving one world title would be enough, I think I would be wrong. I want to win more world titles but I will just keep doing the same things as in the past and remain motivated and be in the best possible shape.

“My goal is to be on top of the podium and be in contention for the world championships crown at the end of the year. You can only do that, if you’re consistent and you race well during the entire the
season.

“I always think  before every race, that everyone who is at the starting line up wants to win and cross the finish line first. I don’t  want to see it as an individual battle. Everyone has the same chances given it’s the start of a new season and of course, it’s good to know that all the competitors have you in mind before the race.

“They think you can do well but it’s the new season and every race is different. All I can promise is that I will give my best.”

Mola and the rest of the field will also have to tackle a new course that will see them run the Yas Marina Circuit track and cycle past some of the landmark locations of the UAE capital, including Ferrari World and Yas Links.

While the new venue is part of the organisers’ plans to make it more competitive, they also have an eye of bidding for the season-ending Grand Final in 2021.

“If I talk about my experience in the race I would love to have a Grand Final in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“In terms of venue and organisation, I think it has everything to host the biggest event in our sport. I would love to be back for Abu Dhabi for a bigger event that it is now. I’m sure they wouldn’t have any problems to make it happen and put it together for such a big event.”

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