Two years ago in 2015 the veteran Spaniard finished sixth in Abu Dhabi as his younger compatriot Mario Mola claimed gold in Abu Dhabi’s WTS debut. Mola backed that up with back-to-back wins in the Emirates last year on his way to winning a maiden WTS title.
It broke veteran Gomez’s three-year stranglehold on the series in a campaign that also saw him withdraw from the 2016 Rio Olympics after breaking his elbow in an innocuous training accident, falling off his bike just yards from his home just a month before the Games.
It seemed Spain’s triathlon torch was being handed down to Mallorcan Mola, but Gomez hit back in the way only true champions can – with Saturday’s triumph an indication the 33-year-old’s injury woes of 2016 are firmly behind him.
“Yeah, it feels like I’m back,” a delighted Gomez said post-race.
“It’s nice to come back this way. I hadn’t raced this kind of competition for a while but I’m very happy with my fitness and where I am. It was a tough course and I’m very happy.”
The Galicia native was a little off the pace following a below par swim at Yas Marina, but quickly made up the eight-second gap when he got on the bike.
France’s Aurelien Raphael was first out of the water following both laps before an initial breakaway group of 19 formed as they headed for the iconic Yas Marina Circuit for the 40km cycle.
Leo Bergere, of France, and America’s Ben Kanute led the way for most of the 10 laps but Gomez came into his own on the 10km run.
The third and final leg saw the leading group splinter, with just Gomez, Britain’s Thomas Bishop and Olympic bronze medallist Henri Schoeman out in front.
South Africa’s Schoeman soon fell behind but Bishop stuck with Gomez, before the Spaniard made his move with 3km to go, streaking ahead to claim victory by 13 seconds, with Frenchman Vincent Luis claiming third.
What can I say...best way to come back to ITU racing! Great to win on a race that we made tough on the bike and quite tactical on the run. Great job @tomwbish and @vincentluistri ! Thanks everyone for the support!/ Qué puedo decir... la mejor manera de volver a la ITU. Victoria en Abu Dhabi, haciendo la carrera dura en la bici y con una carrera a pie bastante táctica. Gran trabajo Tom Bishop y Vincent Luis. Gracias a todos los que me apoyáis y confiáis en mi. 📷 @rokasports
Mola, meanwhile, champion here for the last two years and reigning series champion, was 50 seconds behind after a poor swim and never recovered. He finished eighth, a 1m 34secs adrift of Gomez.
It was Gomez’s 50th WTS race, 13th win and 37th podium, but he claims there is no grand secret to his consistency.
“I don’t know what the secret is. I just love the sport and train as well as I can every day. I love training and doing my best and luckily I’ve had a good career,” he said.
“I still made a few mistakes in the race. I didn’t swim very well but I knew it was going to be a tough run. With Tom it was very tactical.
“On the third lap we slowed down a lot and I tried to save energy for the last lap. I made my move with about 3km to go and it worked really well.”
At one point with two laps to go, Bishop, 25, even had the audacity to attack the veteran, a move he felt may have been costly, although one he felt he also had to make.
“It might have been a bit naive to attack him and he came back to attack me, but it felt good. You’ve got to lead a race every now and then,” he said.
“I have to respect him and then he attacked me on the home straight. He’s a crafty man and knows what he’s doing.
“I think he wanted me to go and do some work. I think he wanted a bit of a rest. It was kind of windy but running at the front is easier for me, I find it more relaxing and you can control it, so I think it helped me relax and recover.”
Welcome your 2017 ITU WTS Abu Dhabi champion, @jgomeznoya! 👏🥇 . حيوا معنا بطل سلسلة الترايثلون العالمية في أبوظبي 2017، هافيير غوميز نويا! 👏🥇 . @abudhabisc @activelife_daman @yasislandae @etihadairways @worldtriathlon @mercedesbenzabudhabi @sil_dxb @onrunning @on_running_me #Triathlon #Unitedbytriathlon #SwimBikeRun #WorldChampions #Abudhabi #InAbuDhabi #ترايثلون #ترايثلون_يجمعنا #أبوظبي #في_أبوظبي #رياضة
After 15 months away from the WTS, third-placed Luis was delighted with his run.
“I’m back after 15 months outside the World Series and eight months since my last race so it’s pretty good,” said the 27-year-old who was seventh in Rio.
“I have a few problems but it feels good to be back. It’s really early so I’m expecting a bit more fitness in July and for the Grand Final in September. I will play the game and it’s a good start.”
As for Mola, he admitted he lost a few seconds after slipping entering the water for the second lap of the swim, but admitted he was off the pace.
“Maybe I lost a few seconds in the water, but I just couldn’t go any faster. They swam very well in front and I have to keep training,” said the 27-year-old.
“I’m not disappointed with how things went. I gave 100 per cent which is what matters. Hopefully there is better to come for the rest of the season.”
It looked like Great Britain’s Stimpson was going to be celebrating back-to- back victories in the UAE as she led down the home straight at Yas Marina Circuit.
But a repeat of her 2016 triumph in the capital was not to be as New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt surged past her in a thrilling sprint finish to claim her first win since the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing.
Stimpson, however, was thrilled with second place after her 2016 season fell off a cliff after her win here 12 months ago.
Stimpson, a double gold medal winner at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, lost out on selection for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to Non Stanford, Helen Jenkins and Vicky Holland, before an Achilles injury then ended her campaign.
And she admitted she will gain confidence from her fine start to the season in the Emirates.
“It definitely does give me confidence, but in the same breath I’m not taking it for granted as this is how last season started,” said Stimpson, who switched coach to Adam Elliott in the off-season.
“I’m not saying I decreased going into the (second race in the) Gold Coast last season because I didn’t, but I’ve been refreshed again. It took a long time after last year so I’m excited moving forward.
“After a really tough year last year and working really closely with my new coach, coming into a new environment and new people to work with, everything’s changed.
“There’s one thing I want to say, I couldn’t have done it without my management team and my family. My manager surprised me by coming out today. My family couldn’t come out but they got me through last year and I owe them so much.”
Andrea Hewitt paid an emotional tribute to fiance Laurent Vidal after winning her first ITU World Triathlon Series in six seasons at the 2017 season-opener in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Vidal, a former triathlete who finished fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, died of a heart attack aged just 31 in November 2015.
The Frenchman, who had been forced to retire in April 2014 after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest during a swimming training session, instead turned to coaching partner Hewitt – who has also featured in the triathlon at the last three Olympics where she has finished seventh (2016), sixth (2012) and eighth (2008).
“I’m definitely dedicating this to Laurent,” the 34-year- old Hewitt said of Vidal – who she had been due to marry in early 2016.
“Laurent always told me I had everything. I had the dedication, I had integrity, I had talent, he told me probably the one thing I was
missing was emotion and I didn’t show it most of the time. There was so much emotion (today). Coming here and winning, I’ve got no words.”
It was a first time on top of the podium at a WTS race for Hewitt since the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing – a result that saw her claim second place overall. She was also runner-up in the 2015 series and has finished third three times too (2009, 2012, 2014).
Despite suffering such a personal trauma, the Christchurch native stated that competing has helped her cope.
“I love triathlon and this is what I do,” she added.
“To keep going, for me, that was the normal route. There was no talk of giving up, there was nothing else for me to do.
“I have to pay tribute to (training partner) Maddie Dillon who’s been beside me the last year and knows exactly what I’ve been going through, so I just want to say thank you to her as well as my friends and family.
“There were so many changes last year. I had a lot of support though and I’m really thankful to the people around me.”
'If I was going to lose to anyone I'm glad it was to Andrea and a sprint finish!' @jodiestimpson congratulates the 2017 champ @andreahewittnz #WTSAbuDhabi #InAbuDhabi #triathlon #unitedbytriathlon #swimbikerun #worldtriathlon#weekend #UAE #fitspo . " إذا كنت سأخسر أمام أحد فإنني سعيدة أنها آندريا" - جودي ستيمبيون تهنئ بطلة ٢٠١٧ . #في_أبوظبي #ترايثلون #ترايثلون_أبوظبي #ترايثلون_يجمعنا
Hewitt claimed a breath-taking triumph at Yas Marina Circuit, digging deep in a pulsating sprint finish to burst past reigning Abu Dhabi champion Jodie Stimpson in the final 10 metres.
The veteran kiwi was around 15 seconds down after emerging from the swim – two laps on two separate legs around Yas Marina.
Spain’s Carolina Routier led at the that point but was quickly swallowed up by the likes of Hewitt and Stimpson.
As the field headed onto the iconic Formula One track for the 40km cycle, a breakaway group of nine started to form, led by Stimpson and Australia’s Gillian Backhouse.
Nine became four as they swapped the saddle for their trainers, with the winner looking like it would come from one of Britian’s Stimpson, Hewitt, Austria’s Sara Vilic or Rachel Klamer of the Netherlands.
Klamer eventually fell back during the final four laps of running, with Hewitt triumphing in thrilling fashion ahead of Stimpson, while Vilic was able to reflect on a first-ever WTS podium seven seconds behind.
“It was such a close race with Jodie, we were neck and neck out of the water and rode really well together and we were side by side in the run too,” added Hewitt.
“I think she was quicker on the uphill but as we came into the flat we were side by side. I’ve always got confidence I can win. I didn’t know how Jodie was going to go. She led from 400m to go and I just hung on and timed it perfectly.”
Congratulations to the 2017 ITU WTS Abu Dhabi champion @andreahewittnz as well as @jodiestimpson and @saravilic and all the elites racing today. What a gripping day of racing! 🏊🏼♀️🚴🏻♀️🏃🏻♀️ نهنئ بطلة سباق سلسلة الترايثلون العالمية في أبوظبي 2017 أندريا هيويت ونهنئ كذلك جودي ستيمبسون وسارة فيليتش اللاتي فازتا بالمركز الثاني و الثالث في سباق النخبة ونهنئ معهما جميع الرياضيات اللواتي شاركن في سباق النخبة اليوم. ياله من يوم مذهل!
Stimpson, 28, was upbeat with her performance despite being pipped on the line.
“Maybe I went too early, I don’t know. That was all I had, I had nothing else left to give, there was no more speed left in my legs. Second was all I had and I’m happy with that,” she said.
“I was stronger on the uphill but Andrea was the stronger on every lap coming into the flat section and I know she’s renowned for her sprint.
“I was at full stretch when she came past and I had no chance. If I was going to lose to anyone in a sprint finish today I’m glad it was Andrea because we worked really hard on our bikes.”