WTS Abu Dhabi preview

Can Flora Duffy and Mario Mola complete the three-peat? They both begin the quest to defend their World Triathlon Series titles at the season opener - WTS Abu Dhabi.

| March 1, 2018 | NEWS

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

With nine of last year's top-10 men in the field and eight of the women's top 10, the ITU WTS series kicks off with a bang this week in Abu Dhabi. The sprint-distance race is sure to offer some speedy racing, even without two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, who pulled out due to a strained calf muscle. 

Can Duffy keep her streak rolling?

As the above video clip shows, no one is more aware than Bermuda's Flora Duffy that the rest of her competition will have been working on their tactics over the off season. In all but one race (Montreal) of the WTS races she competed in, Duffy was able to break clear on the bike and stay out in front on the run. 2017 was a huge year for Duffy (watch our entire interview with her here) that included that WTS defense, a fourth Xterra World Championship and a big payday at the Island House Triathlon. Oh, and there was that wedding in December, too. After a huge 2017, Duffy isn't likely to rest easy this year. She continues to work on her run skills, which isn't great news for her competition. The race in Abu Dhabi will be a fun test to see if the rest of the women have figured out how they can nullify Duffy's impressive bike skills that seem to allow her to ride away from the rest of the group. Even if she can't, though, it's important to remember that Duffy posted the day's fastest run in winning the Grand Final in Rotterdam last year, so she's arming herself with some options.

While Duffy arrives as the woman to beat, there are more than a few women happy to do just that, including Australian Ashleigh Gentle, who was the only woman to finish ahead of Duffy last year thanks to her WTS Montreal win. Behind Gentle in the rankings were Americans Katie Zaferes and Kirsten Kasper, who both will likely be in the mix, too. Last year's champ Andrea Hewitt (NZL) might not be as well suited over the sprint distance, but if she can stay within touch starting the run she could be a threat. Vicky Holland (GBR) is back after a year of injury and is fresh off a win at the world cup event in Cape Town. Her countrywomen Non Stanford, Jessica Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell will certainly be at the front through the initial part of the race, too. 

The name-game could go on for a while - there's Ai Ueda, Juri Ide and Yuko Takahashi from Japan, Canada's Joanna Brown and Rachel Klamer (NED) to keep an eye on, too. It's important to remember that all the Commonwealth-bound athletes are only a month out from those games, so they'll be closer to mid-season shape than usual. Bottom line - we're in for a fun, fast night of racing.

Mario Mola

Mario Mola

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

Mola's perfect distance

Defending WTS series champion Mario Mola (ESP) loves the sprint distance, so he couldn't ask for a better way to start the season. He's in for a heck of a battle, though, with a who's who of ITU racing ready to take him on and challenge for that world title.

While big brother Alistair won't be in the field, the Brownlee name will be more than well-represented by Olympic silver-medalist Jonathan (GBR). Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt's name is one that gets mentioned a lot these days thanks to his breakout year in 2017 that included a third-place finish in the WTS standings. Richard Murray (RSA) is always one to watch and he's fresh off an impressive win in Cape Town. Mola's countrymen Fernando Alarza and Vincente Hernandez can race with the best, too, while Grand Final champ Vincent Luis (FRA) would surely love to take another big race. Olympic bronze medalist Henri Schoeman was second in Cape Town and will no-doubt be at or near the front at the end of the swim.

The events will be covered live at triathlonlive.tv - see below for the start times in your region.