In typical fashion, it was HUUB’s Richard Varga (SVK) that led out of the water in a time of 8:38 for the 750m swim. Despite the blistering pace, there were several athletes on his heels including 2018’s grand final winner Vincent Luis (FRA) and HUUB’s Tom Bishop (GBR), along with Commonwealth Champion and fellow HUUB athlete Henri Schoeman (RSA).
As the athletes made their way around the Yas Marina circuit, a few groups began to form, and it was clear the pace was relentless as the pressure applied caused several crashes, ending the race for a few athletes including current European Champion Pierre Le Corre (FRA). Eventually, things started to settle, and a lead group of 15 athletes was established. This could have been the race-winning move, but lap by lap the chasing packs closed, whether it be too much firepower from behind or not enough cohesion up at the front of the race.
By the end of the bike all the contenders were in contact, but with the race being contested over the sprint distance the importance of T2 was magnified. Hayden Wilde (NZL) emerged first and soon established a slight gap on Schoeman, Luis and others. Wilde posted an 18 second T2, which although is hard to envisage in itself, when put alongside Mario Mola’s (ESP) 29-second transition, it shows the large margins that can be gained through transitions. The advantage that Wilde had gained kept him at the front of the race until 2.5km when a lightning-quick Alex Yee of Great Britain bridged the gap from the chasers and eased passed, and it wasn’t long until the reigning World Champion Mario Mola did the same.
Although Wilde's bid for a podium looked all but over, his tenacity through T2 certainly contributed to his top 10 finish. A small group including Schoeman, Luis and Bishop were in pursuit of the two leaders, but Yee and Mola looked in a class of their own as they fought it out for the top step of the podium. In the end, it was experience that prevailed over the young Brit as Mola went on to claim yet another WTS victory after a 5km run split of 14:00. Yee had to settle for second place, but with this his first ever WTS race, it was a result which hints at an exciting future for the track superstar. Fernando Alarza eased away from the chase pack to make the final step of the podium with the French duo of Leo Bergere and Luis fourth and fifth respectively. Schoeman eventually finished in 7th with Bishop in 9th - great starts for both athletes who will be looking to build on form throughout the season.
It was another HUUB athlete who led the women through the swim in the Yas Island Marina. Jess Learmonth (GBR) led out in 9:06 shortly followed by Super League Champion Katie Zaferes (USA). Although there were no major gaps in the field the athletes were strung out going through transition, perhaps more so than in the men's race and it was clear gaps would form on the first lap of the bike. Eventually, a strong group of nine formed at the front led by Learmonth and the American quartet of Taylor Knibb, Summer Rappaport (Cook), Taylor Spivey, and Zaferes. It was clear the group had intent, and with a frantic pace athletes began to struggle out of corners, it was Rappaport and Carolina Routier (ESP) that were the first victims and dropped back to the chase pack.
Behind Laura Lindemann (GER) along with the British trio of Vicky Holland, India Lee and Non Stanford lead the chase, and at first, it looked as if their commitments could at least match the leaders. However, lap by lap the gap increased and by halfway the gap was out to 40 seconds. It looked like there were athletes willing on closing the gap, but with large numbers on a technical course, it was always going to be a tough ask to close down a strong group of athletes working smoothly. By the end of the 20k, the front group were down to six as Emma Jeffcoat also succumbed to the relentless. The gap to the second pack was just over one minute, perhaps putting the podium out of reach for any of the chasing athletes.
Zaferes was first to take the race by the reigns as she soon established a lead over compatriot Spivey and Lotte Miller of Norway. Learmonth and Knibb were side by side throughout the whole 5km, and in the end, with Miller fading in the latter stages it was left to them to fight it out for the bronze medal. Zaferes went on to take the win, claiming her second WTS victory. Spivey finished in a promising second place, and a late surge past Knibb from HUUB athlete Learmonth prevented an America clean sweep of the podium. Further back it was Non Stanford who made the best progress from the chase pack and ran her way into fifth place, outrunning the likes of Cassandra Beaugrand (FRA), Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) and defending World Champion Vicky Holland (GBR). HUUB’s Georgia Taylor-Brown finished one place behind Holland in 9th place, an excellent start for the young British athlete who has claimed to be looking to build into the season.
22 teams lined up for the first relay event of 2019 and with many nations fielding their best athletes, it was evident how important and hotly contested these races will be in 2019. Leg one was dominated by the previous days silver medalist Taylor Spivey who forged out a 20-second lead through the swim and bike. Although her lead had shrunk somewhat by the end of the run, she still handed over to Ben Kanute with a slight lead on the chasing nations. Gaps closed slightly in leg two with South Africa, Germany, Italy and Austria now in contention. Great Britain and France were slightly off the pace, but not out of the race entirely. Onto leg three and Zaferes of team USA and Jeffcoat of Australia worked well together to gain a large gap on the next group of athletes, it looked like the race could only be won by one of their two nations. Zaferes managed to pull out close to 20 seconds on Jeffcoat putting the USA in the driving seat going into the final leg.
Australia’s not so secret weapon Jacob Birtwhitsle was ready to take over for Australia which meant that Eli Hemming of USA would have one of the best relay athletes in the world chasing him down. France, Germany and New Zealand were battling it out for the bronze medal. Birtwhistle caught Hemming in the final stages of the bike and from there on it looked inevitable that Australia would take the first win of 2019. Leo Bergere (FRA) (knowing he had a 20-second penalty to serve) led the chasers out of the water and attached on the bike to try and minimise the costs of the penalty he had to take. Unfortunately, it proved too little as New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde passed a standstill Bergere in the penalty box to claim third after the fastest leg of the day. France finished an agonising fourth place with Germany in fifth. Alex Yee of Great Britain tried his hardest to run his team into a top five but had to settle for seventh.
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