While the mood was jubilant at the 2016 World Triathlon Series opener in Abu Dhabi, thoughts first turned to late triathlete and coach Laurent Vidal, who sadly passed away at the end of 2015. Athletes honoured the Frenchman by wearing his initials on their tri-suits and placing a flower at the No.1 bike position in transition, which, along with the No.1 race number, had been left open as a mark of respect.
With both Brownlees and reigning champion Javier Gomez choosing to sit the first event out, hopes were pinned on training partners Richard Murray (Commonwealth bronze medallist) and Mario Mola, runner-up in last year’s world series.
From Team GB, Tom Bishop and Adam Bowden were flying the flag, both keen to impress the Olympic selectors for that final pilot position alongside the Brownlee brothers.
In a break from the usual two-laps-of-750m format, the Abu Dhabi course saw athletes do an initial non-wetsuit 1km lap followed by a second lap of 500m. Unable to replicate his phenomenal swim from last year's Worlds in Chicago, which eventually saw him take the race win over teammate Javier Gomez, Mola exited the water towards the back of the field. To compound his disappointing start to the season, he then incurred a 15sec penalty for ‘equipment outside of the box’ in transition.
South Africa’s Henri Schoeman led the field of 67 men into T1 after 18:09mins, forming a front group of 12 athletes, which also included GB’s Bishop. Murray had made the second chase group; Mola the third and final.
Over the first lap of 13km, little changed but as the laps reduced in length – six of 4.5km – the packs started to consolidate. By the start of the final lap, Italy’s Alessandro Fabien made a break, pulling out a gap of 12secs by T2.
But by that second transition the likes of Mola and Murray, the race’s strongest runers, were in the main chasing group behind the Italian.
Bolting out of T2, Mola soon took up the helm of the race, conscious of the 15sec penalty that he still had to serve. Halfway through, and with a 12sec gap over Murray, Portugal’s Joao Silva and teammate Fernando Alarza, Mola pulled over to the penalty box. Restarting the race, he was back up with the leading trio within a minute… before passing them once more and taking the lead.
As Alarza dropped off and into fourth place, Mola continued to extend his lead, with Murray firmly ensconced in second and Silva in third.
While Murray gave good chase over the final 2.5km, Mola would cross the line in 1:46:39, Murray 15secs down in second, Silva third 29secs down. Bowden would cross the line in 11th, 1:11min behind and Bishop in the top 30.
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Read the race report for the 2016 WTS Abu Dhabi Women's here