It’s just a few short months on from November’s spectacular Championship Finals, and WTCS Abu Dhabi is back for a sprint-distance curtain-raiser and a 60-deep men’s start list that reads like a who’s who of the best triathletes in the world ready to hit the F1 track once more.
The 2022 World Champion Leo Bergere of course wears the number one for Friday’s return to the Yas Island circuit after that impressive win on the bay, but even with the confidence that display will have brought to the 26-year-old, the first race back is sure to be an unpredictable and wide-open affair.
A 750m swim in iconic Yas Marina transitions to the 5 x 4km lap bike course with some technical turns and rolling hills, then it is a two-lap run to the first medals of 2023. As always, you can watch the full race live and direct from 2pm local time over on TriathlonLive.tv.
Bergere back for more
With last year’s title still strong in the memory, Leo Bergere will be hungry to build on that perfectly timed first WTCS win. Fresh from training split between the south of France and Girona, the off-season has been short but afforded time to reflect as well as set the next targets for a massive 18 months ahead.
Just as at home over the standard or sprint distance, Bergere has said that he loves racing on the F1 circuit and what a statement of intent to his title rivals it would be to claim a second successive WTCS gold here in Abu Dhabi.
Two of those rivals are the men who came up short by the narrowest of margins in November, Alex Yee (GBR) and Hayden Wilde (NZL). The agony of missing out will have added even more fuel to their fiercely competitive fires for 2023, and it is hard to imagine either going anything less than all-in for the first race back as they seek to exorcise the ghosts of that last few kilometres in the Championship Finals three months ago.
The fire burns for Geens and Luis
Of course the 2022 season in fact began at the tail end of ’21, Abu Dhabi hosting the second event of the extended calendar when Jelle Geens delivered the dynamite 5km run to hold off long-term training partner Vincent Luis. The Belgian then suffered more bad luck as injuries hampered his title challenge and he crashed during a bike training session in February, so Geens will be looking for a clear run at hitting his undeniably brilliant top form between now and Pontevedra.
For Luis, 2022 ended well and the fire is burning brightly once more within the two-time world champion. Untouchable for most of 2020 before struggling with fitness and confidence heading into his Tokyo Olympic campaign, the emotion of that WTCS Bermuda win looked like a cathartic moment from which his best could rise again ahead of a home Olympics next year.
Podium firsts in 2022
A first WTCS podium, second Commonwealth games bronze and playing a decisive part in the Championship Finals were the highlights of a 2022 to remember for Matthew Hauser and the former Junior World Champion will certainly feel a first Series gold is within touching distance this campaign.
There were brilliant debut Series podiums last year for Antonio Serrat Seoane and Roberto Sanchez Mantecon of Spain, Brazil’s Manoel Messias and Jawad Abdelmoula of Morocco, while the likes of Vasco Vilaca (POR), Kenji Nener (JPN) and Matthew McElroy (USA) will feel they are edging closer to their first medals at the top level.
It was another American, Morgan Pearson, who lit up the Abu Dhabi in November, carving through the field to take second and remind the world of his abilities after a year sidelined through injury.
Iden playing the long game
Champion of Kona Gustav Iden begins what will be an interesting first full campaign back after a successful switch to long distance last year. The Norwegian star is without sparring partner Kristian Blummenfelt, who misses out with illness, and has to go back to Bermuda 2019 for his last podium at the top level. Top 10 here back in 2018, Iden will want to put down a strong marker for the start of his own Olympic ambitions.
Elsewhere on a start list thick with talent is Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk, another beset by bad luck in 2022 and ready to show once more what he can do on the biggest stage. The same can be said for Henri Schoeman (RSA), who was back with a bang at the Arena Games Montreal and looking ready to put his own injury woes firmly behind him.
Men’s 2023 WTCS Abu Dhabi
3 March, 14:00 local time