Henri Schoeman of South Africa and Rachel Klamer of Netherlands won the 2018 World Triathlon Series sprint distance opener at Abu Dhabi.
Klamer navigated safely through a crash-filled bike leg on rain slick roads which led to several DNF crashes among the top women (including Flora Duffy and Katie Zaferes of the U.S.) and the men, including Dorian Coninx, Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, Igor Polyanskiy of Russia, Jelle Geens of Belgium, and Kevin McDowell of the U.S.
Schoeman won gold by six seconds over defending WTS World Champion Mario Mola of Spain and 22 seconds over 3rd place Vincent Luis of France. With his victory, Schoeman became only the second man to win a WTS event wire-to-wire.
“It has been a tough year since the Olympics and it just feels so good to have a statement,” said Schoeman, who was cleared by an ITU investigation of a reported doping violation after his bronze medal finish at the 2016 Olympic Triathlon. “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 just 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.”
Klamer took her first career World Triathlon Series win by a 14 seconds margin over Jessica Learmonth of Great Britain and 17 seconds over 3rd place Natalie Coevorden of Australia.
“I am so happy, there was no way I was expecting this," Klamer told ITU media. “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 decided to ride hard, but just go easy through the corners. I ended up sitting behind a couple crashes, which wasn’t smart so I had to chase one whole lap to get back to the front pack. But I am happy I stayed on my bike.”
Schoeman led the swim in 8:56 which gave him a 3 seconds lead over Ben Kanute of the U.S., 5 seconds over Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain, 6 seconds over Vincent Luis of France, 7 seconds over Richard Varga of Slovakia, and 30 seconds over top overall contenders Mola and Richard Murray of South Africa.
On the first lap of the bike, Schoeman, Brownlee, Kanute, Aaron Royle of Australia, and Luis led a small breakaway. While riding on the Formula One track section made slick by light rain, Jonathan Brownlee crashed and got up but was so far behind he never contended again. Last year’s WTS World Championship silver medalist Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway crashed and did not finish the bike leg.
By the third lap of the bike, Schoeman had a surge of energy and broke away to a 13 seconds lead at T2. Mola, who began the ride with a 30-seconds deficit, joined the main chase group. Mola then worked hard to catch the leader, but his race-best 14:27 5k run - 14 seconds better than Schoeman - fell 6 seconds short of Schoeman at the line.
“Mario is a fantastic runner, so I was running scared,” Schoeman told ITU media. “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.”
“I felt blessed last year but this year is better,” Luis told ITU Media. “I am feeling a lot better than last year. No injuries this winter, so I am back full and fit. It was a good race, I spent a lot of energy on the bike. A lot of people were crashing right in front of me. Jonny Brownlee crashing is a nonsense - it’s Jonny Brownlee! I had quite a good run, not quite as good as I expected, but it’s the first race, a sprint race and it’s only March so we have plenty of time until the end of the season. I would prefer to be third place than to be crashing.”
Learmonth, who earned her first WTS silver medal last year, led the 750-meter swim in 9:06 with Duffy of Bermuda and Cook of the U.S. right on her toes. Zaferes of the U.S. trailed by 4 seconds, Zsofia Bragmayer of Hungary and Fuka Saga of Japan by 6 seconds, Coevorden and Carolina Routier of Spain by 7 seconds, and Klamer trailing by 12 seconds in 14th place.
On the bike a group of 11 women including Duffy, Klamer, Learmonth, Kirsten Kasper of the U.S., Sophie Coldwell of Great Britain, Melanie Santos of Portugal, Zaferes, and Lotte Miller of Norway surged to a lead.
Due to slippery conditions, a chase pack including top contenders Non Stanford and Vicky Holland of Great Britain, Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, and Ashleigh Gentle of Australia rode carefully and fell over a minute behind at T2. Several women crashed in the slick conditions including two-time WTS defending World Champion Duffy and Zaferes, who did not finish.
On the run, Klamer, Learmonth, Kasper and Coevorden broke away and ran together for the first of two 2.5-kilkometer laps. At that point, Klamer found another gear and slowly pulled away from Learmonth on her way to a race-best 16:54 run split which gave her a 14 seconds margin of victory over Learmonth, who ran 17:05 for the second WTS silver of her career.
“With it being the first race [of the year] I thought, well if I have a bad race at least I have a month to recover and try to qualify for the Commonwealth Games,” Learmonth told ITU media. “Likewise, I have always done well here, but we still have a month to go and I have a lot of training to prep for it, but it gives me a bit of confidence and we will see what it brings.”
Coevorden and Kasper sprinted to a close finish where Coevorden prevailed by one second for the bronze – her first WTS medal.
“I am really happy, it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Coevorden told ITU media. “I can’t get this smile off my face. Today was a bit of a struggle out there, I just tried to keep myself out of trouble and do things I knew I could do really well and it paid off in the end.”
WTS Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
March 2, 2018
S 750m / B 20k / R 5k
1. Henri Schoeman (RSA) 57:03
2. Mario Mola (ESP) 57:09
3. Vincent Luis (FRA) 57:25
4. Leo Bergere (FRA) 57:34
5. Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS) 57:40
6. Joao Silva (POR) 57:45
7. Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) 57:56
8. Adrien Briffod (SUI) 57:57
9. Gustav Iden (NOR) 57:58
10. Richard Murray (RSA) 57:59
1. Rachel Klamer (NED) 1:00:43
2. Jessica Learmonth (GBR) 1:00:57
3. Natalie Coevorden (AUS) 1:01:00
4. Kirsten Kasper (USA) 1:01:01
5. Melanie Santos (POR) 1:01:24
6. Laura Lindemann (GER) 1:01:39
7. Andrea Hewitt (NZL) 1:01:40
8. Yuka Sato (JPN) 1:01:41
9. Leonie Periault (FRA) 1:01:42
10. Lotte Miller (NOR) 1:01:50