South African Henri Schoeman claimed victory in the elite men’s category sprint distance, while Dutch triathlete Rachel Klamer picked up the first women’s medal as the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Season got under way at the Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Schoeman produced a stellar performance and was first out of the water, taking the lead into the bike section following a smooth first transition.
Despite the unusual rain that caused problems on the bike course for many athletes, Schoeman managed to come out on top and enter the second transition 13 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.
The South African become only the second man in WTS history to win the race after leading in all three disciplines from start to finish and picked up just his second World Triathlon Series gold medal, following his win at the Cozumel Grand Final in 2016. Schoeman finished first with a time of 57 minutes and three seconds, winning by six seconds.
“I am just so happy, there really are no words to explain,” said Schoeman. “I just tried to play it safe out there. I found myself in front on the bike and before I knew it I had a gap and the gap grew. To be honest, I was having fun out there, I was telling myself that if they catch me on the run, well whatever because I had fun on the bike and I was safe. Mario [Mola] is a fantastic runner, but my fitness is there and it is good to have a race like this.
“It told me I am in great form as the Commonwealth Games is my next race. I am so thrilled, the last time I was on the top step was in Cozumel in 2016 and I am so glad I did it in such a great way.”
Earning the silver medal was Spaniard Mario Mola, who won in Abu Dhabi in 2015 and 2016. Bronze went to Vincent Luis of France who repeated his third-place position from 2017.
Meanwhile, in the women’s field, Rachel became the 21st woman to win an ITU World Triathlon Series race after her season-opening victory in Abu Dhabi. After a conservative race strategy in the swim and bike sections, Klamer entered the final lap in front and battled with her fellow triathletes in a running race for the podium. Giving everything she had, Klamer clinched gold and the first WTS victory of her career.
“I am so happy, there was no way I was expecting this,” said Klamer. “I have to say I was quite scared on the bike because the last few months I have been training on only straight roads and didn’t do any corners. There were a lot of women crashing so I just decided to take it easy, ride hard, but just go easy through the corners. When we started running I tried to focus on my breathing because normally at the start of the season I often get side stitches. I stayed at the back of the back on the first lap, but on the last lap I thought I would just give it a try.”
Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth came in second, adding to the silver medal she picked up in Stockholm last year. The medal gives the Briton good standing going into her last month of training before the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April.
Commenting on the opening day of the ITU World Triathlon Series Abu Dhabi 2018, His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council said; “The ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2018 has been the most successful and inclusive triathlon event hosted in the Middle East. Our elite field boasted 17 of the top 20 male and female triathletes, from all corners of the globe, all of which competed spectacularly in what is now one of the biggest races on the ITU calendar. It was fantastic to see hundreds of supporters come out to cheer on their sporting heroes, and is testament to the success of the event. We look forward to making next year’s event bigger and better as we work towards our vision of 2021 – hosting the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.”
Brothers tend to do most things together growing up, especially if they’re born close to one another – but for Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee that has taken on a whole new meaning as they’ve won Olympic Games medals together.
The iconic image of the two though is not the famous gold and bronze double they achieved on home soil in London six years ago, or even the gold and silver – Jonny upgraded – four years later in Rio.
No, it’s the sight of worryingly exhausted younger sibling Jonny staggering incoherently towards the finish line of the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Cozumel 17 months ago.
The 27-year-old was seemingly strolling to the title in Mexico but became disorientated just a few hundred yards from the finish line of the third and final leg run.
South Africa’s Henri Schoeman and Alistair, 29, were vying for second place. In memorable scenes, Alistair stopped to assist his younger brother, practically dragging him to the line while Schoeman raced home for victory. Alistair, the 2009 and 2011 ITU World Triathlon Series champion, even flung Jonny over the line first to ensure he finished second.
Both brothers were penciled in to be on the starting line for the WTS 2018 season opener in Abu Dhabi this weekend – but Alistair pulled out on Tuesday with a calf strain, which he doesn’t want to damage ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Australia, in April.
Brownlee junior revealed he’s happy to be back in the UAE capital after a two-year absence, but admitted it will feel like a part of him is missing with big brother absent.
“I raced here in 2015 so it’s been a few years, it’s nice to be back,” Brownlee, three times a WTS runner-up (2011, 2013 and 2016) said at the race launch in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
“I’ll miss him (Alistair) quite a lot because we like to race together in relay and go hard on the swimming and the bike, but I’ve done lots of races without him. He’s had lots of injuries over the years and so have I but there will feel like there’s something missing.”
The younger Brownlee is also busy preparing for the Commonwealth Games, getting under way on the Gold Coast on April 4. It’s an event that holds as much significance to him as the Olympics; he is the defending triathlon silver medalist, having unsurprisingly finished behind Alistair in Glasgow four years ago.
The pair were also part of the gold medal-winning mixed relay team alongside Vicky Holland, who’s also in Abu Dhabi this weekend, and Jodie Stimpson, runner-up here a year ago.
“A win here would set me up perfectly for the world series but my last few months have been really tough so it’s kind of a marker in the sand for where my form is and confidence for the next four or five weeks ahead of the Commonwealth Games, which is the most important thing for me,” added the Yorkshireman, who is looking forward to riding and running on the iconic Formula One track at Yas Marina Circuit for the first time.
“One of the best things about the world series is you can race different courses. Hilly courses, city courses and running on the Formula One track will be really special and especially as a sports fan.
“It’s a really good course from a technical point of view for racing, it makes it more interesting. I like to think I’m quite a good driver but I think I’d be pretty scared in a car on the track, but I’d give it a good go.”
Mario Mola insists he has no problem staying motivated – and even if he did he has a nation reminding him of iconic fellow Spanish triathlete Javier Gomez’s success.
The younger Spaniard though is undoubtedly the new poster boy of Spanish endurance sport, having retained his ITU World Triathlon Series crown last season, after hoisting his first in 2016.
He will be desperate to make it a hat-trick in 2018 – thus matching the feat of his much-celebrated compatriot Gomez, who won three in a row from 2013-15.
The two have certainly enjoyed a duopoly on the WTS in recent years, although Mola, 28, will require much more of the famed stamina he employs for his success if he is to catch Gomez in terms of total world series titles.
Gomez, 34, has won it five times (also in 2008 and 2010), to sit one ahead of Britain’s Simon Lessing, with Australian Peter Robertson, on three, now the mark for Mola.
Having made his WTS bow in 2012, Mola finished third overall in 2013 before taking consecutive second spots behind Gomez in 2014 and 2015. Gomez, the Spanish master, also won silver behind Alistair Brownlee and ahead of his brother Jonathan at the 2012 Olympics, while apprentice Mola was 19th in London and eighth in Rio.
Ahead of the season opener in Abu Dhabi on Friday, Mola is excited to begin the defence of his title.
“In order to keep winning and doing things well you’ve got to think or act as if you haven’t won anything before. That’s my mentality now,” said the Majorcan.
“Obviously I’m very happy with everything I achieved, but I always say in our country, people are always thinking of Javi who won five world series.
“So if by winning two I think I’ve done it all then I better stay home. People like Javi are big role models, he gives me motivation to keep doing things, the same things that had me ending the season in 2016 and 2017 how I did.”
The season started disappointingly for Mola 12 months ago as he slumped to eighth place in Abu Dhabi. But he picked himself up to win the next two races on the Gold Coast and in Yokohama, winning again in Hamburg and Edmonton and staving off the challenge of Gomez to win his second title by more than 400 points.
Staying motivated after such a demoralising opening to his 2016 title defence was easy for Mola, who didn’t panic despite his under par performance.
“I knew that sometimes sport, what you think is a failure, it’s not what you worked for, but at the end of the day all the guys starting here have done a lot of work so they all deserve a good race and result,” added Mola.
“Sometimes you have got to be happy putting in the 100 per cent even if the result is not the one you wanted or expected. Probably after that race I know I was swimming in front but then the others worked well together and got a distance that was impossible to come back from.
“After that I continued working as I did before and results went better. It’s only the beginning with eight months ahead of you, so you can’t be disappointed if the first race doesn’t go your way. You can’t let that beat or affect you.
“If the race goes well you say ‘well it’s only the beginning’ and you keep working well. You are the same, you’ve just got to keep working and wishing later on.”
And despite disappointment perhaps being the overriding memory of the UAE capital a year ago, Mola has fonder memories of Abu Dhabi, having won the first two races here, in 2015 and 2016.
“Every city and every race has its peculiarities but when you have a good race where you have good memories it’s always a good motivation to be back and do as good as before,” added Mola, who has the added confidence of coming into the season as the world’s best male triathlete for the second year in a row.
“I’m excited to be here, the conditions are a bit hotter so I think that suits me well, so we’ll see how I go.
“It was a great season after 2016 when I won the title. It was different. It was the best year, a great experience and huge motivation.”