Schoeman, Klamer grab wins in WTS Abu Dhabi

by Chelsea White/ITU Media

Men’s Elite

The 2018 World Triathlon Season has officially begun and its first-collected gold medal went to South Africa’s Henri Schoeman as he claimed victory at the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.

Crossing the finish line to collect the tape after leading out of the swim, bike and run, the Abu Dhabi gold was only the second WTS win of Schoeman’s career. And despite the unusual desert rain that caused some slickness out on the bike course for many athletes, Schoeman managed to come out on top and become only the second man in WTS history to win the race after leading in all three disciplines from start to finish.

“To be honest, I am just so happy there really is no words to explain. It has been a tough year since the Olympics and it just feels so good to have a statement. I just tried to play it safe out there. I found myself in front on the bike and before I knew it I had a gap and the gap grew. To just be honest I was having fun out there, I was telling myself that if they catch me on the run, well whatever because I had fun on the bike and I was safe.” Schoeman said.

“Mario is a fantastic runner, so I was running scared. But my fitness is there and it is good to have a race like this, it told me I am in great form as the Commonwealth Games is my next race. I am so thrilled, the last time I was on the top step was in Cozumel in 2016 and I am so glad I did it in such a great way.”

Earning the silver medal was Spaniard Mario Mola, who won in Abu Dhabi in 2015 and 2016. While the bronze went to Vincent Luis (FRA), who repeated his third-place position from 2017.

Mola said, “I am happy with how the race went. It was really slippery, so just to make it into transition without a crash I think it was a completion. I am very happy, I gave 100%. I managed to get ahead on the bike and made time up on the run, but Henri was up there so congratulations to him. I didn’t give up until I saw him on the blue carpet already celebrating. But I tried and I will fight for the next one.”

Abu Dhabi is a desert city, but rain welcomed the elite men for the first WTS race of the 2018 season. With a blow of the horn, the elite men jumped off the pontoon to start the sprint-distance race. Only 750 metres to complete in the swim and by the first buoy, it was Schoeman who had earned the edge.

Schoeman was first out of the water, while Richard Varga (SVK) and Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) trailing right behind. Getting through the first transition with ease, the first lap on the bike brought together a small lead pack that included Schoeman, Brownlee, Ben Kanute (USA), Aaron Royle (AUS) and Luis.

The unique Abu Dhabi course sees the elites ride on part of the Formula 1 race track, but due to the rain the course was slippery and caused some men to crash. Brownlee was one of those men and while it didn’t take him out of the race, he did lose momentum from making any breakaway attempts. Few athletes did, however, feel the effects of the wet roads, however, such as Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt who pulled out of the race during the bike.

Mola exited the swim with a 30-second deficit but managed to get into the main chase group halfway through the bike.

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On the third lap, Schoeman saw an advantage and created a gap. He broke away from the leaders and did the final 10 kilometres solo. He entered the second transition alone with a lead of about 13 seconds.

Once on the run, Schoeman took off with the hopes that the power of the big names runners would not catch him. Luckily for the South African that never happened. While Mola pushed through the competition and secured a second-place position, he was unable to catch up to Schoeman.

Schoeman then ran onto the blue carpet to earn the gold medal. His win was his first since the Cozumel Grand Final in 2016. He also became the first nation to steal the Abu Dhabi title from the Spaniards, since Mola and Javier Gomez Noya were the only men to have won in the Middle Eastern venue.

Mola then trailed in six seconds later to get the silver and third Abu Dhabi medal of his career. However, while he didn’t collect the win, Mola did earn the fastest run time of the race, clocking in at 14:27, while Schoeman only ran 14:41. The final spot on the podium then went to Luis, who battled his French compatriot Leo Bergere out for the bronze medal. Luis collected the bronze in Abu Dhabi last year in 2017, so he repeated his feat once again to start the season.

“I felt blessed last year but this year is better, I am feeling a lot better than last year. No injuries this winter, so I am back full and fit. It was a good race, I spent a lot of energy on the bike. A lot of people were crashing right in front of me. Jonny Brownlee crashing is a nonsense, it’s Jonny Brownlee. I had quite a good run, not quite as good as I expected, but it’s the first race, a sprint race and it’s only March so we have plenty of time until the end of the season. I would prefer to be third place than to be crashing,” Luis said.

Women’s Elite

Starting off the year making the history books, Rachel Klamer (NED) became the 21st woman to ever win an ITU World Triathlon Series race after her season-opening victory at the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.

After a smart and conservative race strategy that brought her through the swim and bike, Klamer gave everything she has on the final lap of the run to earn the gold medal and her first WTS victory of her career.

“I am so happy, there was no way I was expecting this. 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,” said Klamer.

The silver medal went to Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth, who added another silver medal to her belt after taking second in Stockholm last year. The medal gives the Brit good standing going into her last month of training before the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April.

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“With it being the first race I thought, well if I have a bad race at least I have a month until to try and recover for the Commonwealth Games. Likewise, I have always done well here, but we still have a month to go and I have a lot of training to prep for it, but it gives me a bit of confidence and we will see what it brings,” Learmonth said.

Third place went to Aussie Natalie Van Coevorden, who earned her first-career WTS medal from a close photo finish at the line.

Going into the race, the women’s line up was stacked as eight of the top 10 world ranked athletes were included in the start list to take on the sprint-distance course. Rainy conditions carried on in the desert from the men’s race as the women jumped from the pontoon to start off their 2018 season.

The short 750 metre swim was led by Learmonth, making it the ninth time she has been the WTS swim leader. Returning World Champion Flora Duffy and USA’s Summer Cook were trailing right behind.

Once onto the bike, a group of 11 women formed, which included Duffy, Klamer, Learmonth, Kirsten Kasper (USA), Sophie Coldwell (GBR), Melanie Santos (POR), Katie Zaferes (USA) and Lotte Miller (NOR).

However, due to the slippery conditions from the rain, some athletes saw some crashes on the bike that resulted in them needing to pull out of the race, such as was the case with Duffy, Zaferes and Joanna Brown (CAN).

Entering the final lap of the bike the lead group tallied six women, who would face off in a running race for the podium.

The large chase pack that had names such as Non Stanford (GBR), Vicky Holland (GBR), Andrea Hewitt (NZL) and Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) could not make any ground and entered T2 with a large deficit of over a minute.

Once onto the run, a foursome emerged to battle it out for only three podiums spots. Klamer, Kasper, Van Coevorden and Learmonth ran side by side during the first 2.5 kilometres of the race. It wasn’t until the final lap that Klamer found her edge and sprinted ahead of the group. While Learmonth tried to keep up and put the pressure on, once Klamer hit the one-kilometre mark the gold was as good as hers.
She carried herself onto the blue carpet to grab the finisher’s tape for the very first-time in her career, becoming the first elite of men or women from the Netherlands to step onto the top of the WTS podium.
Learmonth followed shortly behind to take the silver, collecting her third WTS medal of her career. A battle for third place saw Kasper and Van Coevorden sprinting it out on the carpet, but after a photo finish, the bronze was awarded to Van Coevorden.

“I am really happy, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I can’t get this smile off my face. Today was a bit of a struggle out there, I just tried to keep myself out of trouble and do things I knew I could do really well and it paid off in the end,” Van Coevorden said.

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