It was another stellar field for the women’s sprint race in the United Arab Emirates. Nine of the top ten women would race, including reigning world champ Flora Duffy and Rio bronze medallist Vicky Holland. The only notable absentee was Olympic champ Gwen Jorgensen who has moved to marathon running.
If you were a betting person your money would be on Flora Duffy for the victory. The double world champion dominated the 2017 season, and with a technical bike course WTS Abu Dhabi looked like it would all play out to her strengths
The early indications were that it would. Brit Jess Learmonth would lead the swim, with Duffy just behind. Out on the bike Duffy and Learmonth then made a leading duo until Duffy pulled away at the end of the first lap. It looked like it was about to become the all-familiar Duffy show.
However like in the men’s race, conditions in Abu Dhabi were not favourable with the rain and oil on the F1 track making life slippy for the triathletes. Duffy fell victim to this, falling in the tunnel where it was particularly bad. There was no way back for the Bermudan and suddenly the race was wide open.
With about 5km to go there was a lead group of about eight triathletes, including Katie Zaferes (USA), Rachel Klamer (Netherlands), Sophie Coldwell (GB), Jess Learmonth (GB), Kirsten Kasper (USA), Natalie VanCoevorden (AUS), Lotte Miller (NOR) and Melanie Santos (POR) all in contention. But then the infamous tunnel claimed its next victims as Zaferes and Coldwell both fell. For the six remaining it was now just about survival and riding safely until T2.
Which they did and when safely out on the 5km run the six soon became four as Kasper, Klamer, Learmonth, and VanCoevorden broke away. Then as the bell went for the last lap of the 5km run it became two as Learmonth and Klamer made their move.
Running strong Klamer then left a tired Learmonth with about 800 yards to go and claim her first WTS victory. A penalty for Kasper assured a tiring Learmonth of second and a sprint finish from VanCoevorden earned her the final podium place.
“I am so happy, there was no way I was expecting this,” says Klamer. “I have to say 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 was a lot of women crashing so I just decided to take it easy, 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.
“When we started running I tried to focus on my breathing because normally at the start of the season I often get side stitches. I stayed at the back of the back on the first lap, but on the last lap I thought I would just give it a try.”