The superstars of elite triathlon are just weeks away from competing in the pinnacle of the sport as the countdown to the ITU World Triathlon Series (WTS) 2018 season-opener in Abu Dhabi begins.
Sixty-five of the sport’s leading male athletes from 25 countries, including eight of the world’s top 10 ITU ranked athletes, will go head-to-head for the season’s first honours on March 2 at the iconic Yas Island.
The star-studded line-up will feature 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series world champion and 2016 WTS Abu Dhabi winner, Mario Mola, who will go up against two-time Olympic champion, Alistair Brownlee, making his WTS Abu Dhabi debut.
The pair are joined by more world-class competition, with the likes of Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt, South African Richard Murray and Spaniard Fernando Alarza – all ranked in the ITU’s top five – set to compete.
The eye-catching line-up also features crowd favourites Vincent Luis, who was victorious in the ITU World Triathlon Series 2017 Grand Final in Rotterdam, Henri Schoeman, also a former ITU World Triathlon Grand Final winner and Jonathan Brownlee, the two-time Olympic medallist.
“Abu Dhabi is the one date that really stands out in my calendar,” said Mola.
“It’s the season opener and the opportunity for triathletes to kick-start their season with a win on what is becoming one of the most exciting races on the WTS circuit.
“Last year was a real challenge for me with the new course on Yas Island and the competition was extremely high. But I’m hoping for a better result this year as I go for a hat-trick of series wins.
“I’m familiar with the course and want to put on an amazing show for all the fantastic spectators that come out to show their support.
“The quality of triathletes competing this year is truly world-class, you just have to look at those who will be standing side-by-side on the start line and it already fills me with huge amounts of excitement. I can’t wait to get started.”
Mola, who is hoping to emulate compatriot and triathlon legend Javier Gomez, by claiming a third WTS crown in 2018, will face fierce competition from fellow competitors, not least Alistair Brownlee who will be hoping to make a lasting impression in the capital.
“I’m really looking forward to racing at Abu Dhabi. I haven’t competed in a lot of WTS events over the past year but when I have, I’ve given 100 per cent and tried to be as competitive as possible, as shown with my result in Leeds last year,” said the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion.
“It is a tough field in Abu Dhabi but I expect to be in the mix at the end of the race.”
The world-class line up for the men’s elite field have a combined total of 282 wins on the ITU World Triathlon Series circuit and shared more than 700 podium places between them – delivering the strongest WTS Abu Dhabi line-up in the history of the event.
“We are thrilled to announce the most spectacular elite line up the WTS Abu Dhabi has ever seen. Triathlon’s biggest names, including the full Rio 2016 Olympic podium will compete on Yas Island on March 2 on one of the most unique courses on the series,” said His Excellency Aref Al Awani, general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, host of the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.
“Final preparations are underway for the event, where we expect to see a record number of participants take part and thousands of spectators coming to show their support for family, friends and their triathlon heroes.
“This year’s triathlon marks another momentous occasion for sport in the UAE, as we welcome participants of all experience levels and offer an increased number of entry categories, making this a truly inclusive event.
“With the race just weeks away, I’d like to encourage all potential participants to sign up now via http://abudhabi.triathlon.org and join me on the start line as we help make history here in the UAE.”
In addition to the stunning elite field, the WTS Abu Dhabi has amateur race categories suited to all ages and abilities, and will welcome 3,500 amateur athletes to take part in the two-day event, giving participants the chance to race alongside the likes of Mola, the Brownlee brothers and Murray.
Age group competitors will be able to choose from three course types, all ranging in distance. The three distances available to age groupers are:
The ITU World triathlon Abu Dhabi 2018 will also see the return of the Junior Triathlon – a fun event aimed at encouraging youngsters to get active – which hosts race categories for children aged five-15. For juniors looking to take on a triathlon, there are four entry categories for the 2018 edition:
In addition to age groupers and junior races, organisers have also confirmed that the 2018 global triathlon season-opener will feature dedicated waves for paratriathletes for the very first time. First timers and seasoned paratriathletes will also have the chance to rub shoulders and compete alongside inspirational heroes of Paralympic triathlon, including world and European champion and Rio 2016 Paralympic gold medalist, Andy Lewis and Mohamed Lahna, the bronze medalist in Rio.
Online entries for the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi are open to the public via the race website, http://abudhabi.triathlon.org. Race spots are quickly filling up and organisers are urging those interested to sign up soon before registration closes on February 27.
Andy Lewis unsurprisingly battled depression following a motorcycle accident aged just 16 which eventually led him to make the difficult decision to have his right leg amputated.
It wasn’t until he was 22, six years after the accident, that he underwent the life-changing procedure – a through the knee amputation – and then the depression set in as he struggled with the fact his life would never be the same.
Once a promising athlete who had run cross country for his home county of Gloucestershire, Lewis was torn up by the fact he felt he would now no longer compete, or be able to fulfill a life-long dream of joining the British Army’s Parachute Regiment.
But then daughter Jazmin was born in 2007 and Lewis finally found some perspective and began channeling his frustration in a positive way.
He learned how to walk all over again with his new prosthetic leg, returned to Lydney Boxing Club where he’d trained as a kid to give back to local youngsters and eventually raised enough money to get a blade prosthetic so he could return to running.
He even earned his pilot’s license, which gave him the launchpad for a career as an athlete.
Not only did he return to running, just over a decade after losing a limb and fearing he’d never be active again, Lewis became a para-triathlete and won a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
“In 2007 my daughter was born and it made me realise that someone now was going to rely on me and need my support,” Lewis told Sport360 when asked how he summoned the strength to get over his accident and get his life back on track.
“In 2005 I was suffering from depression, I really didn’t know what was going to happen to me, I was in a really bad way, but my wife was a massive supporter of mine and kept me on track.
“(Jazmin being born), it made me pick myself up, sort myself out, get my fitness back, I wanted to get my life back. I went back to college, got a new job, became a boxing coach, got a running blade and the rest is history.”
Lewis’ then employers, Airbus UK, part-funded his new leg at a total cost of £8,000 (Dh40,763). It changed his life dramatically as he started competing in events, and winning, even registering for England Athletics.
He took up paratriathlon in 2013 and began competing in 2014. In 2016 he won gold at the European Championships and the ITU Para-Triathlon World Championships, while the pinnacle was reached that summer as he won gold in the PT2 category at the 2016 Paralympics, the first Games to include triathlon.
Lewis won in 1 hour 11 minutes and 49 seconds, with a 41-second winning margin to Italy’s Michele Ferrarin in second and Morocco’s Mohamed Lahna in third.
Speaking of his Rio glory, Lewis said: “It’s a difficult one, I was the current World and European champion and was definitely keen to get on the podium.
“My coaches and team were very sure that I could leave Rio with a medal but I suppose I didn’t really expect to win. I had made, as do most athletes, some big sacrifices and wasn’t prepared to go to Rio and come home without anything.
“It made me realise my potential, not just in sport but also in life. It made me feel very proud of my achievements.
“It has raised my profile in the sport somewhat but it hasn’t made a massive difference to my dreams, aspirations and goals. It has made me realise that motivating people, especially children, is something that I really enjoy.”
Lewis and Lahna will be reunited in the UAE next month when both take part in the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi at the capital’s Yas Island from March 2-3.
The paratriathletes will compete on Friday, March 2, with organisers announcing the 2018 global triathlon season-opener will feature dedicated waves for paratriathletes for the very first time.
And Lewis is looking forward to locking horns again with Lahna.
“He has a massive heart and is really dedicated to his family, I know he wants to make them proud and I feel that he shocked quite a few people in Rio,” said Lewis, 35.
“I really hope that he continues to improve and give me and the other PTS2 athletes a battle.”
With paratriathletes debuting at the ITU series opener in Abu Dhabi, Lewis admits it is the race he is most excited about in 2018.
“I am really excited to be coming to Abu Dhabi, it seems a beautiful country and I am really excited about the race, more excited than any other race on my calendar this year,” he said.
“I haven’t been before, I have always watched the race when the World Series has been hosted there and always felt a little bit frustrated that paratriathlon races were not held there. The course looks amazing and to be able to race in such an amazing city with great scenery is fantastic.”
And with Abu Dhabi set for its fourth year of hosting the ITU World Triathlon Series having acted as the first event of the season since 2015, Lewis is elated at it being opened up to disabled athletes.
“Paratriathlon is a growing sport as is triathlon, however it still needs people to believe in it and to put events on to showcase it to the world,” said Lewis.
“The organisers have gone through a lot of trouble to make it accessible for all who participate. I have to thank them personally for that. I am sure the paratriathletes will not feel forgotten about.
“Over the past four years paratriathlon has become very popular, however we do need to get more media coverage and continue to ensure that organisers promote the events and do a build up to the event, help people understand what it’s all about.
“The organisers normally do a great job but being open and asking the participants how they can make it more accessible and successful is key.”
Nine of the world’s top 10 women in triathlon will lead a stellar field of 50 women from 20 countries at the ITU’s World Triathlon Series opener in Abu Dhabi on March 2.
The world-class field, set to tackle a 750-metre swim, 20-km bike and 5-km run over the Yas Island course, will be one of the most competitive women’s line-ups in the event’s history.
The powerful race bills includes defending champion Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series champion Flora Duffy, Austria’s Sara Vilic who finished third in Abu Dhabi last year, World No2 Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, World No3 Katie Zaferes of the USA, and Great Britain’s Vicky Holland.
The top nine participants boast a total of 61 wins and 171 podiums between them.
After a stunning 2017 that saw Duffy clinch four gold medals on the WTS circuit and the World Championship, the 30-year-old Bermudian is relishing the prospect of stepping out at the Yas course next month.
“I was disappointed to miss the Abu Dhabi race last year due to an injury,” she said. “I’ve heard a ton of great things about the course so I can’t wait to tackle it next month — especially the bike course which looks like it’s really suited to my aggressive style of racing.
“I’ve never topped the podium in Abu Dhabi so, of course, it would be amazing to start the season with a win. I’m going all in as always and hoping for the best possible outcome.”
In addition to the elite field, the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi has amateur race categories suited to all ages and abilities, and will welcome 3,500 amateur athletes to take part in the two-day event.