With 8 out of the top 10 male triathletes lining up, it was an elite field that descended onto Abu Dhabi for the regular WTS curtain-raiser.
Two not competing were Spaniard Javier Gomez, who is concentrating on his 70.3 races, and Ali Brownlee, who had to pull out due to his pulled calf muscle. However the rest of the high calibre field included his brother Jonny, who would be hoping for a strong performance to put last year’s disappointments behind him, and reigning World Champ Mario Mola.
It was back to the sprint distance for the United Arab Emirates race, and conditions were far from favourable, with rain falling for most of the day. The rain though did not affect the 750 metre swim and it was the South African Henri Schoeman who exited the water first, with USA athlete Ben Kanute in second, and Brownlee in third.
Because of the rain the technical bike leg, which took place over the twisty F1 track, would prove even more technical with slippery conditions, and there were some fallers in the early stages of the race.
The early leading group included Schoeman, Brownlee, Vincent Luis, and Kanute, with Mola some way back. Brownlee caused some drama, and British hearts to drop, in the latter stages of the first lap when, trying to push the pace, he went down. Luckily for the Commonwealth selectors, a grazed knee was all the damage he occurred, and by the end of lap two had managed to rejoin the leading group.
However the leading group wouldn’t stay at the front for long as in the early stages of the third lap Schoeman made a break and was soon 7secs up, which had extended to 14secs by the end of lap four.
With Mola putting in a sterling performance on the bike to join the chasers just after his break, this proved to be a great tactical move from the South African. Schoeman entered T2 with a 22 second lead over Mola and Brownlee, but could they chase him down on the 5km run?
With Brownlee’s run fitness still not quite there, it would be up to the Spaniard to catch him, and by the start of the last lap of the 5km run Mola was just 11secs behind. It looked like we were looking at our top two, but which way would they fall?
Schoeman carried on running strong and just managed to hold off Mola by 6 seconds to win his second World Triathlon Series race in a time of 57:05. He also became only the second man to lead from the start to win a World Triathlon Series race – the other being Alistair Brownlee back in 2014.
“I am so happy there are no words. Mario is a fantastic runner so I was running scared! I am so thrilled,” said Schoeman
Frenchman Vincent Luis finished in third with Brownlee in 7th.
Brownlee said: “I didn’t realise how slippery some parts of the circuit were, and then I lost a bit of confidence and didn’t really get it back on the bike. I knew I wasn’t going to run very well, but that’s the first race done.”