Top 5 men to watch
Starts favourite having emerged from the shadow of five-time winner and countryman Javier Gomez to win the past two ITU world titles. Last year’s success was aided by a four-race mid-season winning streak that started on Gold Coast, so the Spaniard will relish the return to Queensland for this season Grand Final.
Losing a sprint finish in London in 2013 and overheating in Cozumel in 2016 means Brownlee still has just one individual WTS title (2012), despite being one of the most consistent triathletes in the world. Last year was mediocre by his exceptional standards. Struggling for form and fitness he won just once, in Stockholm. Likely to be joined by cameo appearances from older brother Alistair in both Abu Dhabi and Leeds.
The Norwegian burst into serious contention for honours with three consecutive runners-up spots to conclude last season’s World Series, including in the Grand Final in Rotterdam where he defeated world champion Mola. Still improving at 24 years old, he further proved his mettle in winning the new mixed format Super League Triathlon contest in Jersey in September.
The South African has already put down a marker with victory at the second-tier World Cup event in Cape Town in February. The 29-year-old hasn’t placed lower than seventh in a race since a disqualification in Hamburg in July 2016, but has also not won on the WTS circuit since Edmonton in 2015.
The emerging Derbyshire athlete finished a creditable seventh in the WTS rankings last year having enjoyed a breakthrough race to open the season and finish runner-up in Abu Dhabi. Steady improvement would see him add more WTS podiums and look for a top five finish in the series.
Top 5 women to watch
Will take some stopping. Seized the mantle from Gwen Jorgensen by beating the newly-crowned Olympic champ in the 2016 Grand Final in Cozumel and then strung together a run of victories almost as impressive as the American. Duffy has suffered defeat just once in her past eight WTS races and has landed two world titles in the process.
A traditional powerhouse of triathlon, Australia hasn’t had a WTS champion since Emma Moffatt in 2010, but it may not be beyond Gentle’s reach. The Brisbane triathlete had the best season of her career in 2017 and became the only woman to beat Duffy in landing a first WTS win in Montreal. Will be buoyed by home crowd support should she reach Gold Coast’s Grand Final in September in contention.
A latecomer to the sport, Learmonth was originally considered as a support athlete in big races due to her strong swim-bike combination and comparatively weak run. That changed last season after she sacrificed a race in Leeds, but unshackled from team orders won the European title five days later. A third place in the Grand Final in Rotterdam suggests a first WTS win is not beyond question.
Despite Jorgensen pledging her future to marathon running, the US remain the No 1 nation in draft-legal women’s triathlon. Current top dog is Zafares, who finished third in last year’s series and was second in the Grand Final behind Duffy. She has also tasted individual success in the WTS with a 2016 win in Hamburg.
While compatriots Zafares, Kirsten Kasper, Summer Cook, Taylor Spivey and Renee Tomlin all rank higher than Knibb, the back-to-back world youth champion has age on her side. She became the youngest triathlete to make a WTS podium in Edmonton last season, and only turns 20 this year. If her rate of improvement continues, expect more top three finishes in 2018.
Abu Dhabi, March 2, Sprint
Now the regular WTS curtain-raiser, the sprint format means a sharp jolt back to racing after the winter break. Flat, fast and hot, it can throw up surprise victors given its early scheduling, but this season may be different with Commonwealth athletes looking to peak early due to the Games on Gold Coast. That also suggests high calibre racing, underlined by both Brownlees being on the provisional start list.
Bermuda, April 28, Standard
The North Atlantic island hosts a WTS event for the first time, with all eyes on the women’s race as reigning champion - and home hero - Flora Duffy looks for a third successive world title. After a sea swim, it promises a challenging bike leg to suit the 30-year-old’s strengths, followed by a 10km harbourside run in Hamilton, the island’s capital. As a new venue a seven-hour flight away, expect the Brits to turn up in force.
Yokohama, May 12, Standard
A frequent host of WTS racing, the Japanese city just south of Tokyo has been an annual stopover since 2011. A flat course but often beset with heavy rainfall, the most challenging part of the event can be staying upright on the bike. Has been dominated by the Spanish on the men’s side in the past four years, with Javier Gomez and Mario Mola sharing two wins apiece.
Leeds, June 10, Standard
Back to Leeds for a third successive year on a course made for - and by - the Brownlees. Alistair and Jonathan finished one-two in 2016 and 2017 and should the Yorkshire duo be fit and motivated, don’t rule out a repeat. The challenging test - a fierce climb straight out of T1 - plays to their strengths, and with triathletes scoring from a maximum five WTS races, their major rivals often decide this chillier venue is a good one to skip.
Hamburg, July 14, Sprint
The only city to have hosted a race every season since WTS inception in 2009, Hamburg claims to be the ‘world’s biggest triathlon’ with crowds estimated into six figures. The elite races are set over sprint distance on Saturday, with the four-strong mixed relay events taking centre stage in the city centre on Sunday. Jodie Stimpson, in 2013, is the only British woman to have won here.
220 named Hamburg as the 25th best triathlon in the world
Edmonton, July 27-29, Sprint
The Canadian city has embraced the series since hosting the Grand Final in 2014, and is again chosen for the season finale in 2020. Like Yokohama, results are often dictated more by conditions than the course. In 2015, temperatures dropped to seven degrees with driving rain and strong winds. It was a race that suited Britain’s Vicky Holland, who mastered the challenge of Hawrelak Park to claim the the second of her two WTS wins.
Montreal - August 25-26, Standard
Quebec marks the penultimate round of the WTS and a chance top up the ranking points before the Grand Final. Notable for its cobbled sections on the bike course, Montreal made its debut in the series in 2017 with wins for veteran Javier Gomez of Spain and Australia’s Ashleigh Gentle.
Gold Coast, September 12-16, Standard
After hosting the Commonwealth Games in April, the Queensland resort is certainly getting its triathlon fix for 2018. A flat, technical test, often raced in sweltering heat. It’s the first venue to play Grand Final host for a second time. In 2009, Alistair Brownlee ran away from Javier Gomez to win his first world title in an undefeated WTS season.
And don’t forget... World Mixed Relays (Nottingham, June 7; Hamburg, July 14; Edmonton - July 27-29) Having been accepted into the Olympic Games for Tokyo 2020 , the two-man, two-woman mixed relay is upping the ante for 2018. A standalone event in Nottingham, then a further qualifier in Hamburg, act as a precursor for the World Relay Finals in Canada. Britain, Australia and the USA will be among the favourites, but with a 300m swim, 7.5km bike and 1.5km run, the event can be as unpredictable as it is tactical.
220 named the National Club Relays in Nottingham, UK as the 26th best triathlon in the world