The race may have been missing all three Olympic medallists – with Gwen Jorgensen and Nicola Spirig focusing on growing their respective families, and Vicky Holland starting her race season later in the year – and the reigning champ Flora Duffy due to a hip injury, but the Abu Dhabi WTS still had its fair share of dramatic racing.
A standard distance for the second year running, the swim was non-wetsuit, while the 10-lap 40km bike and 10km run legs were, for the first time, held on the UAE capital’s F1 course. With 180° turns and plenty of switchbacks, the technical bike course favoured strong riders.
Spain’s Carolina Routier led from the horn to T1 with 2016 Edmonton WTS winner Summer Cook (USA) in second. Cook was followed in by compatriots Katie Zaferes and Sarah True, who together made up the lead pack out onto the 40km bike leg. Returning WTS Abu Dhabi champ Jodie Stimpson exited the swim 40secs behind, to collect the chase group alongside Kiwi Andrea Hewitt.
Stimpson and Hewitt put the hammer down from the off, halving the front pack’s lead by the end of lap one, and catching it midway through lap two. Continuing to push the pace over the next eight laps, the 15-strong group steadily dwindled to 10 by T2.
Onto the run, Hewitt, Sara Vilic (AUT), Stimpson and Rachel Klamer (NED) pushed to the front and worked as a quarter over the first 6km, before Klamer dropped off the pace with 4km to go.
With 3km to go, the podium was all but decided but in which order?
Running in a triangle, with Stimpson and Hewitt just in front, only a sprint could decide the final positions. Stimpson made the first move and for a moment it looked like she would defend her crown, but Hewitt had kept more in reserve, slingshotting from behind and outsprinting her to the tape.
To the delight of her supporters, Vilic made her first WTS podium at the age of 24 with a third place.
Kalmer finished in fourth, while the diminutive power rocket Ai Ueda from Japan put in a fantastic run performance (making up 20secs on the first lap) to come home fifth.