And before we know it, the World Triathlon Series (WTS) is back. This year is set to be just as exciting, if not more so than 2018. With Olympic qualifying adding to the competitive nature of racing throughout the series. The start lists for Abu Dhabi already hint that the racing will be stepped up another notch with practically all the top-ranked athletes set to be present in the first round of the series. 2018 saw a dominant and record-breaking performance by HUUB athlete Henri Schoeman (RSA) as he annihilated the field - swimming, biking and running away from everyone in a spectacular solo effort. The women's race was won by Rachel Klamer (NED) in an equally exciting race as the weather conditions caused crashes and all sorts of issues for the athletes.
Besides HUUB’s Jonny Brownlee, all 25 of the top ranked athletes are present at Abu Dhabi which is quite likely a record for an opening round of a series. World Champion Mario Mola (ESP) probably enters as the favourite after racking up four WTS victories last year. However, there will be fierce competition from many athletes including HUUB’s Henri Schoeman, Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) and Tom Bishop (GBR), who achieved a career-best result at Abu Dhabi in 2017 narrowly getting beaten into second place by multiple world champion Javier Gomez. HUUB's Richard Varga (SVK) and Marco Van Der Stel (NED) will also be looking to get 2019 and their Olympic qualifying off to a good start. As well as the big favourites, eyes will be on WTS newcomer Alex Yee (GBR), the youngster boasts a 27.51 10,000m PB and is current British 10,000m Champion. Having recently won ITU Cape Town World Cup, beating Commonwealth Champion and Olympic medalist Schoeman, Yee has shown he can do more than just run on two feet.
The women’s race is also set to be a thriller with many of the world's top-ranked females also present in Abu Dhabi. 2018 saw many race winners with Vicky Holland (GBR) dramatically claiming the world title. Holland will feature in Friday's race, so many will have her down as race favourite. HUUB are very well represented with Georgia Taylor-Brown starting with race number 3 after finishing third in the overall series rankings last year. Jessica Learmonth (GBR) who was 2nd at Abu Dhabi in 2018 will hope for another similar start for 2019. In 2018 she then went on to claim a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. Both the men’s and women’s races are in a current state of great unpredictability with many races determined by successful or unsuccessful breakaways. With the dynamic of racing changing year on year there could always be some unexpected results.
2019 is not only important for individuals to gain Olympic ranking points, but with governing bodies able to qualify two spots for the relay there will be a shift in focus to the Mixed Relay for some nations who see that as their best route to a medal. We saw 3/6 qualifying events in 2018 with USA finishing the year ranked first, followed by Australia, France, Great Britain, then the Netherlands. Some nations may be comfortable in knowing they have strong enough athletes to qualify without much emphasis on the relay, however previous events have shown a lot of thought needs to go into tactics. With so much variability in races, it would be a mistake for any nation not to use these final races to hone their tactics in light of the inaugural Mixed Relay event at Tokyo 2020.
You can watch live coverage of the men's and women's elite races, plus the mixed team relay on Saturday, across the BBC Red Button and online.
Friday, 8 March (GMT):
Elite men's race - 09:50-11:15, BBC Red Button and online (replay 21:30-22:55).
Elite women's race - 11:50-13:20, BBC Red Button and online (replay 21:00-22:55).
Saturday, 9 March (GMT):
Mixed team relay - 07:50-09:45, BBC Red Button and online (replay 21:00-23:15).
Sunday, 10 March (GMT):
Highlights - 13:00-14:30, BBC Two.