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Promising start for Aussies in Abu Dhabi

Promising start for Aussies in Abu Dhabi

It was a promising start to the 2019 season for Gold Coaster Ashleigh Gentle and Tasmanian Jake Birtwhistle with top ten finishes in the first event of the 2019 World Triathlon Series at Abu Dhabi sprint distance race.
Birtwhistle finished eighth in a field that contained all the top-ten ranked men from 2018 and Gentle ran on for tenth in the women’s race on a day where she felt flat. 

“It was pretty tough, I felt a bit flat out there.

“First race of the season is done, first World Series, I can walk away and build on the season,” said Gentle.

Richard Varga (SVK) who took up position at the front of the swim early on along with Alois Knabl (AUT). Behind them the pack’s arrow formation made the first buoy a major test for the bulk of the field and while it began to stretch out, Vincent Luis (FRA) and Henri Schoeman (RSA) were able to keep themselves in the front eight along with Ben Kanute (USA) Sam Ward (NZL), with Mola (ESP) well set in the middle.

NSW’s Aaron Royal had a great swim to be out within seconds of the leaders, WA’s Ryan Bailie next out (+18sec), Birtwhistle (+22sec) and Queenslander Luke Willian (+34sec) adrift of Varga and Knabl.

Luis had worked his way to the front by the end of the 750m swim, emerging with his thoughts firmly on a clean transition and it was the Frenchman first onto the bike along with Kanute and Schoeman. Some six seconds behind that trio, a pack of twelve was giving chase and, after initially struggling to get themselves organised, Matthew Sharpe (CAN) and Marten van Riel (BEL) led the effort to close down the leaders so that after 3km, a train of 15 athletes had formed.

Jumpei Furuya (JPN) and Ryan Bailie (AUS) were among the athletes to come off at the first sharp turn of lap two, which ended their day but the chase pack 11 seconds off the front was now a formidable group including Mola, Shachar Sagiv (ISR) and Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR) along with debutant Alex Yee hoping to stay in touch and keep enough in the tank to deliver his trademark explosive run.

With two laps to go on the bike, Hayden Wilde (NZL) assumed the front with a solid train of more than 40 riders settling behind him, the big runners including Jacob Birtwhistle (AUS), Fernando Alarza, Vincent Luis and, of course, Mario Mola evenly spread among them.

Richard Murray (RSA) knew he would have to go easy on the tendon issue that had kept him from full running in pre-season, and he jockeyed to the front into T2 but it was Wilde still out front as the run got underway, Yee now 9 seconds off and well set alongside Luis, as Mola also looked to work through the field.

After a kilometre it was Wilde already stretching away to test a quartet of Schoeman, Sam Ward (NZL), Jonas Schomburg (GER) and Leo Bergere (FRA) now behind him, with the New Zealander looking very comfortable in his stride. Alex Yee and Vincent Luis then joined the chasers 5 second behind Wilde, before Yee made his move with 2km gone, just as Mola eased into position on the Brit’s shoulder.

At the halfway point, Yee closed in on and then passed Wilde, before Mola eased to the front with 1700m to go. The Brit looked unfazed and hung on the defending champions shoulder, while behind them Henri Schoeman was eyeing third.

 As the Kiwi almost inevitably blew up from that almighty early solo effort, it was to be Alarza who then closed down Wilde with 750m to go and also passed Schoeman, before a sprint finale saw Leo Bergere outsprint the South African, Luis and Ward to take fourth, Hayden Wilde eventually finishing 10th after a brilliant opening effort of the new season.
Birtwhistle remained within contact of the front group for the first lap but the pace lifted and group splintered.

In a very fast first up race Willian finished 26th and Royle 36th which gives them an indication of form and platform to build on.
In the women’s race NSW’s Emma Jeffcoat again showed her strength, emerging from the swim in the front group and forming a seven-strong lead bunch that included American’s Katie Zaferes, Taylor Spivey, Taylor Knibb and Jessica Learmonth (GBR). 

As Rappaport and Routier dropped off and a group of seven then settled into their rhythm out front, Laura Lindemann (GER) along with Britain’s Holland, India Lee and Non Stanford trying hard, but with little luck, to organise the chasers who had dropped to 30 seconds back after two laps.

That gap continued to grow and was up to 40 seconds with 10km to go, Learmonth and Zaferes looking utterly focussed out front, Miller, Jeffcoat, Kingma and Knibb also at ease where by contrast the chasers continued losing ground with nobody seizing the reigns.
By the bell lap, Emma Jeffcoat had also dropped off the pace and the gap between the main packs was just shy of a minute, allowing the leaders time to prepare for a clear transition and find their run legs out of the congestion behind. 

Zaferes then wasted no time in laying down the gauntlet, looking to get the hard work done early and carve out some daylight between her and the five chasers by the end of the first kilometre. Spivey was also going well at the halfway point as Miller dropped off, and with the top two places looking assured with 1500m to go, the race came down to a superb battle for bronze between Learmonth and Knibb, the Brit battling back to prevent a USA podium clean-sweep.
Further back, Non Stanford had managed to run her way into fifth followed by Lotte Miller and Cassandre Beaugrand (FRA), defending champion Vicky Holland finishing in 8th place ahead of teammate Georgia Taylor-Brown and Ashleigh Gentle (AUS).

“The big group on the bike slowed the pace through the corners, a really tough day to be feeling flat,” said Gentle

“It’s a great course to have a small group, so unfortunately it was really hard out there, the change of pace through the corners, a really tough day to be feeling flat, bit I wanted to get the most out of myself so I just ran hard,” added Gentle.

After a breakthrough performance last year where she claimed a bronze, this year the course claimed Natalie Van Coevorden and Charlotte McShane as victims on the bike leg and not finishing.


Results: Elite Men


Mario Mola




Alex Yee




Fernando Alarza




Léo Bergere




Vincent Luis




Elite Women

1.Katie ZaferesUSAUSA Flag00:55:31
2.Taylor SpiveyUSAUSA Flag00:55:57
3.Jessica LearmonthGBRGBR Flag00:56:06
4.Taylor KnibbUSAUSA Flag00:56:09
5.Non StanfordGBRGBR Flag00:56:37