Even with reigning champ Gwen Jorgensen and Brit duo Non Stanford and Vicky Holland opting out of the series opener, it was a veritable roll-call of sporting greats in the UAE – all three London Olympics’ medallists Nicola Spirig, Lisa Norden and Erin Densham, 2015 WTS Series runner-up Sarah True, Commonwealth gold medallist Jodie Stimpson and two-time world champ Helen Jenkins.
Leading from the horn to T1 was Spain’s Carolina Routier, stepping back on terra firma after 18:47mins. Also making that crucial front pack of 10 was True, Jenkins, Katie Zaferes (USA) and strong cyclist Flora Duffy (BER)
GB’s Stimpson and former D-Squad teammate and Olympic silver medallist Lisa Norden dug in deep in the chase pack to bridge the gap during the first half of the first 13km lap and form one large lead group of 25 athletes. Olympic gold medallist Spirig finished the first lap 35secs down at the helm of the chase group, doing the majority of the leg work to bridge the gap with few strong cyclists to help her.
Reminiscent of the Brownlees’ cycling style, and no doubt conscious that the Olympic selectors would be closely watching the two Brit girls’ performance, Jenkins could be seen ‘encouraging’ the lead pack to push the pace and share the work load.
The American pairing of True and Zaferes spent the majority of the 40km bike leg sitting in, saving their legs for the final 10k.
Onto the penultimate 4.5km lap, and Spirig had dragged that chase pack up to the lead group, setting the stage for the final 10km showdown.
But with metres to go before transition, a crash caught out both True and Spirig. But with True able to continue cycling, the London gold medallist was forced to abandon her bike and jog to her stand. Pulling on her trainers over a minute down on the lead runners, she started the 10k but would eventually drop out.
As France’s Emmie Charayron and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy made their way to the head of the race, Brit duo Stimpson and Jenkins raced side by side and were soon on their heels, the four racing together throughout the first of four laps.
Aussie Ashleigh Gentle caught the leaders to form a lead quintet at the end of lap one but Charayron soon dropped off, leaving the final four to trade places over the remainder of the run leg.
With True and teammate Zaferes both forced to pull the plug, it was Renee Tomlin who stepped up to the plate for Team USA, racing into fifth place throughout the 10k to the line.
On the final lap, Stimpson kicked, leading to the tape to take the first win of the series and her first WTS victory since Cape Town 2014. Gentle ran in for second, Jenkins third, setting the Brit girls up for the final qualification race in Gold Coast at the start of April.
Read the race report from the 2016 WTS Abu Dhabi Men’s here