Alex Yee executes perfect race to win WTCS Abu Dhabi
An expertly timed breakaway on the run saw Brit Alex Yee take the win at a hotly contested season opener in Abu Dhabi
Alex Yee broke away on the run after a closely contested swim and bike to take the win at the WTCS season opener in Abu Dhabi.
For most of the race it was anyone’s guess as to who would be taking the tape, with 50 athletes separated by only 6secs by the time they came into T2.
The British and French athletes were always in the running, however, and Yee demonstrated his maturity by executing his plan to perfection, upping the pace at the right moment to ensure a fantastic win to start the season.
Behind, Vasco Vilica (POR) outran Manoel Messias (BRA) for second.
Who raced the 2023 WTCS Abu Dhabi men’s race?
Despite Norwegian ace and 2021 World Triathlon champion Kristian Blummenfelt not racing due to illness hampering his training, the men’s start list was looking very strong.
On it, you’ll find Brit Yee and New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde, who went head-to-head in so many exciting races in 2022, plus world champion Leo Bergere (FRA).
Also lining up on the pontoon is Jelle Geens (BEL), who won here in 2021, double world champion Vincent Luis (FRA), who’ll be jetting off to race Clash Miami the week after, and Australia’s Matt Hauser, who performed very well in the 2022 Super League Triathlon series.
We’ll also see Gustav Iden continue his return to short-course racing as an Ironman World Champion, following his spectacular performance in Kona in October.
What happened on the swim?
Straight away three groups emerged side by side and such was the furious start that it was hard to see who was where.
However, it soon became apparent that Frenchmen Luis and Dorian Coninx were at the head of the pack and were quickly joined by Mark Devay (HUN).
As the athletes turned onto the final straight a small gap started to emerge between the top five and the chase pack, but by the time they emerged from the water there was a long line of athletes following each other out.
The biggest surprise, however, was just quite how far down some of the pre-race favourites were. Yee arrived into T1 some 23secs back in 31st place, with Bergere in close company.
Geens emerged in 36th, while Iden and Wilde were all the way down in 55th and 57th, with a 40sec gap to the leaders.
What happened on the bike?
The question coming out of T1 was simple. Can the likes of Iden, Yee, Wilde, Bergere and Geens work together to bridge the gap? We’d soon find out.
At the front, Luis headed a large group that included Coninx, Henri Schoeman (RSA), Hauser and roughly a dozen others.
By the end of the first lap, Bergere and Yee were just 9secs down on the front, with a lot of athletes in tow. Meanwhile, Iden was languishing down in the high 50s and Wilde was riding on his own in last.
Over the course of the second lap, that large chase group made up ground and as they made their way onto the second lap they came together.
We were now looking at a lead group of roughly 40 athletes and what happened next was anyone’s guess.
Toward the end of lap three reigning world champion made his move, making a breakaway with Jamie Riddle (RSA) and Roberto Sanchez (ESP).
They were soon joined by Brazilian Miguel Hidalgo and Kyle Smith (NZL), with several other athletes also trying to bridge the gap.
Brit Barclay Izzard was also putting in an impressive showing, going well near the front of the chase pack, who were just 5secs down by the end of the fourth lap.
But they quickly came back together and as we approached T2 we had a huge group within seconds of each other. In fact, the top 50 athletes were separated by only 6secs.
What happened on the run?
Australia’s Brandon Copeland went steaming out of T2 and quickly formed a small gap, but a huge group were soon on his tail, including Brits Yee and Izzard.
Luis, Yee and Sanchez gradually edged their way to the front throughout the first lap, with Bergere also in close company.
As the lap unfolded, however, Yee made his move. Messias and Vilica stuck with him for a while, but the Brit soon took his run to another gear as he upped the pace on one of the several hills on the track.
Both men behind him attempted to respond, but there was no stopping Yee, who looked in fine form as he took the tape in 52:53.
Vilaca put in a great effort to take second just 6secs later, with Messias taking third a further 7secs behind.
Three Frenchmen followed behind them, with Luis taking fourth, Coninx fifth and Bergere sixth.
It was a day to forget for Wilde and Iden, though, with the Kiwi finishing down in 46th with a time of 55:24 and the Norwegian further back in 52nd with a time of 56:37.
Quotes from the women’s 2023 WTCS Abu Dhabi race
Shortly after crossing the finish line Yee had this to say: “I just wanted to see how the last four weeks [training] in Australia had gone and see the fruits of our labour, and I guess it worked out quite well.
“I think I swam pretty solid, not amazing, but pretty good. I’ll take it and hopefully build on it.”
Asked how much he’s been thinking of missing out on the world title in Abu Dhabi just 98 days ago, he said: “It’s funny. We get given a Maurice Lacroix watch at the end of the race on the podium and I decided to wear it. I’ve looked down every day and it just reminds me of it.
“Irrespective, I didn’t go into the start of the season looking to be world champion, but it’s just good fuel for the fire and it’s just so good to be back racing these guys.”
Second-placed Vilaca said: “It’s been three years since I was on the podium in Hamburg. Since then I’ve always been hungry for more. It’s really amazing to start the season like this. It was an amazing race, an amazing run in the end with Alex and Manoel. Going all in until the end.
“Alex had an extra gear on the uphill in the end and I just did my best. I’m super happy to get the silver medal.”
Top 10 men’s results at 2023 Abu Dhabi
1. Alex Yee, GBR, 52:53
2. Vasco Vilaca, POR, 52:59
3. Manoel Messias, BRA, 53:06
4. Vincent Luis, FRA, 53:11
5. Dorian Coninx, FRA, 53:14
6. Leo Bergere, FRA, 53:15
7. Roberto Sanchez Mantecon, ESP, 53:18
8. Matthew McElroy, USA, 53:19
9. Max Studer, SUI, 53:20
10. Adrien Briffod, SUI, 53:24
15. Barclay Izzard, GBR, 53:37
46. Hayden Wilde, NZL, 55:24
52. Gustav Iden, NOR, 56:37
What comes next?
The next race on the WTCS circuit will be Yokohama (Japan) on 12-14 May. That’ll be followed by:
- Montreal on 24-25 June
- Hamburg on 15-16 July
- Sunderland on 29-30 July
- Pontevedra (finals) on 23-24 September
Top image credit: World Triathlon