TRIATHLON: Zaferes and Spivey go 1-2 for U.S. in World Series opener in Abu Dhabi

American Katie Zaferes win in Abu Dhabi (Photo: ITU)

A powerful U.S. team went 1-2-4 on the women’s Sprint course in Abu Dhabi (UAE), with Katie Zaferes scoring her second career World Triathlon Series victory, finishing 26 seconds ahead of fellow American Taylor Spivey.

Zaferes was third out of the water and fourth-fastest on the bike, but her track & field background made her an easy winner in the 5 km run to the finish. Her run time of 16:09 was the fastest of the day and she won easily.

“I’m so excited”, said Zaferes. “My muscles were a little tight at the start but it went as well as it could out there. I had a good swim with [Jessica Learmonth] and then a strong bike, and the group we had was optimal, everyone did a great job. This is a brilliant start to the year and I just want to keep getting better. Last year, losing by so little, has really driven me on for this campaign.”

Zaferes was the runner-up to Britain’s Vicky Holland for the seasonal title in 2018 by just 5,540-5,488, as Holland finished second in the World Series Grand Final and Zaferes third. Now Zaferes has the lead to start the season, but may have new challengers in her fellow Americans.

Spivey had second sewn up halfway through the run phase and Learmouth (GBR) overcame American Taylor Knibb near the finish to grab third.

“That race couldn’t have gone better for me,” said Spivey afterwards. “When I knew we could get a breakaway and make it stick I finally had my opportunity to work it out. It was hard to tell how it was panning out on the first two laps then we slowly saw the gap increasing which was really reassuring. The U.S. women are so strong right now, and qualifying for Tokyo will be tough but this is a great way to start the qualification process.”

In the men’s race, Spain’s Mario Mola – the reigning champion – moved up from second in Abu Dhabi a year ago to win the season opener. He was challenged by a newcomer – Alex Yee of Great Britain – in his first World Series race, and Mola managed the win by just three seconds.

“I had to dig deep there,” said Mola, “but I knew that if I was strong it would be a good fight. It was great to have a first battle against Alex and to have the new generation coming up, I know how good Alex is. There were some tricky corners and a few crashes right in front of me and it definitely wasn’t easy, but I’m really happy with that win.”

Australia managed to take the Mixed Relay from the U.S. in the final event, thanks to a strong close from Jacob Birtwhistle on anchor. Summaries:

ITU World Series
Abu Dhabi (UAE) ~ 8-9 March 2019
(Full results here)

Men (Sprint: 750 m swim, 10 km bike, 5 km run): 1. Mario Mola (ESP), 52:00; 2. Alex Yee (GBR), 52:03; 3. Fernando Alarza (ESP), 52:12; 4. Leo Bergere (FRA), 52:14; 5. Vincent Luis (FRA), 52:15. Also in the top 25: 13. Eli Hemming (USA), 52:27; … 20. Matthew McElroy (USA), 52.47.

Women (Sprint: 750 m swim, 10 km bike, 5 km run): 1. Katie Zaferes (USA), 55:31; 2. Taylor Spivey (USA), 55:57; 3. Jessica Learmonth (GBR), 56:06; 4. Taylor Knibb (USA), 56:09; 5. Non Stanford (GBR), 56:37. Also in the top 25: 16. Chelsea Burns (USA), 57:21.

Mixed Relay: 1. Australia (Ashleigh Gentle, Luke Willian, Emma Jeffcoat, Jacob Birtwhistle), 1:24:16; 2. United States (Taylor Spivey, Ben Kanute, Katie Zaferes, Eli Hemming), 1:24:21; 3. New Zealand, 1:24:31; 4. France, 1:24:39; 5. Germany, 1:24:41.