It was a momentous start to the new season for Britain’s Beth Potter as she hung tough in the heat to win the World Triathlon Championship Series Abu Dhabi on Friday afternoon, her first ever gold at the highest level. After a great swim, Potter was soon riding in a six-deep break on the bike then pulled clear of her rivals along with teammate Sophie Coldwell over the 5km finale. It was on the last climb of the run Potter made her decisive move, Coldwell finishing with silver ahead of USA’s Taylor Spivey.
“It’s always a bit of an unknown the first race of the season, but I’ve been training well and Johnny (Brownlee) texted me last night and said ‘you’re gonna win’ and I couldn’t believe it!” said a thrilled Potter. “I just wanted to do my best having worked not just on the physical side but also the mental. I feel much more calm, positive and aggressive racing. I knew I could potentially attack and run hard over the top of the hill, so it was back to my cross country days there!.
It was a magnificent swim from Sophie Coldwell that set the 2023 season on its way, not even a 10-second penalty for a false start stopping her joining Potter, American duo Summer Rappaport and Taylor Spivey, Lena Meissner (GER) and Vittoria Lopes (BRA) in a six-deep breakaway.
It was a surprise to see number one Georgia Taylor-Brown not with them, the 2022 runner-up out of the water 30 seconds back, the returning Katie Zaferes 40 seconds off the leaders.
That left the two former world champions battling to organise a huge chase pack that merged over the first two laps, driven on by Taylor-Brown, Kirsten Kasper and Verena Steinhauser. With just too many bodies to try and corral into an effective chase, the gap to the more efficient front six just kept extending out with each passing lap: 28 seconds after two laps but up to 47 seconds by the bell.
That was how it stayed over the fifth and final loop around the steamy F1 track, and it was Coldwell marginally out of T2 ahead but nothing still to call between the leaders.
Lopes was the first to fade as Rappaport pushed the early pace before Potter found her groove and took to the front, Spivey in fourth, Meissner fifth as the leaders began to string out up the first climb and only Coldwell could stay in touch with her teammate.
At the bell it was the two Brits with 10 seconds over Spivey and Rappaport, the likes of Lombardi, Steinhauser and Cassandre Beaugrand closing in on Meissner, Taylor-Brown now a minute off the lead.
The bell also signalled Coldwell’s move to the front. Having not even planned to race in Abu Dhabi, she was suddenly dreaming of a first Series win, but Potter, too, was in the mood for the debut Series gold. The final hill was Potter’s time to attack, Coldwell unable to respond, and the final 500m belonged to the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.
Coldwell was delighted with a first silver at the top level, Spivey also happy to be back on the podium, Rappaport and Meissner holding on for 4th and 5th respectively, Cassandre Beaugrand steaming into 6th with the day’s fastest run, Nina Eim, Emma Lombardi, Verena Steinhauser and Lisa Tertsch rounding out the ten.
“To be honest I wasn’t even planning on racing here, so to come second was amazing, i’m lost for words,” said Coldwell. “I was just too keen to get the season started! As soon as i dived in thought i’d gone early, so just wanted to keep my head down and relax. It was a really strong group on the bike. I didn’t really think it was a breakaway course so I was surprised we managed to get it going and surprised the gap went out to nearly 50 seconds but I can’t complain - I love a breakaway!”
“To say i’m pleased is an understatement,” said Spivey. “At one point I was in fourth and I just thought ‘I can’t let this happen again. I’m not the most confident athlete but I executed every step of the race and it paid off. I went into this race after being sick for 5 months so it’s been a bit of a rough off-season so to come back and do that is really reassuring.”
Watch the race back on TriathlonLive.tv.