Henri Schoeman collects first gold of 2018 WTS season in Abu Dhabi
The 2018 World Triathlon Season has officially begun and its first-collected gold medal went to South Africa’s Henri Schoeman as he claimed victory at the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.
Crossing the finish line to collect the tape after leading out of the swim, bike and run, the Abu Dhabi gold was only the second WTS win of Schoeman’s career. And despite the unusual desert rain that caused some slickness out on the bike course for many athletes, Schoeman managed to come out on top and become only the second man in WTS history to win the race after leading in all three disciplines from start to finish.
“To be honest, I am just so happy there really is no words to explain. It has been a tough year since the Olympics and it just feels so good to have a statement. I just tried to play it safe out there. I found myself in front on the bike and before I knew it I had a gap and the gap grew. To just be honest I was having fun out there, I was telling myself that if they catch me on the run, well whatever because I had fun on the bike and I was safe.” Schoeman said.
“Mario is a fantastic runner, so I was running scared. But my fitness is there and it is good to have a race like this, it told me I am in great form as the Commonwealth Games is my next race. I am so thrilled, the last time I was on the top step was in Cozumel in 2016 and I am so glad I did it in such a great way.”
Mola said, “I am happy with how the race went. It was really slippery, so just to make it into transition without a crash I think it was a completion. I am very happy, I gave 100%. I managed to get ahead on the bike and made time up on the run, but Henri was up there so congratulations to him. I didn’t give up until I saw him on the blue carpet already celebrating. But I tried and I will fight for the next one.”
Abu Dhabi is a desert city, but rain welcomed the elite men for the first WTS race of the 2018 season. With a blow of the horn, the elite men jumped off the pontoon to start the sprint-distance race. Only 750 metres to complete in the swim and by the first buoy, it was Schoeman who had earned the edge.
Schoeman was first out of the water, while Richard Varga (SVK) and Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) trailing right behind. Getting through the first transition with ease, the first lap on the bike brought together a small lead pack that included Schoeman, Brownlee, Ben Kanute (USA), Aaron Royle (AUS) and Luis.
The unique Abu Dhabi course sees the elites ride on part of the Formula 1 race track, but due to the rain the course was slippery and caused some men to crash. Brownlee was one of those men and while it didn’t take him out of the race, he did lose momentum from making any breakaway attempts. Few athletes did, however, feel the effects of the wet roads, however, such as Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt who pulled out of the race during the bike.
Mola exited the swim with a 30-second deficit but managed to get into the main chase group halfway through the bike.
On the third lap, Schoeman saw an advantage and created a gap. He broke away from the leaders and did the final 10 kilometres solo. He entered the second transition alone with a lead of about 13 seconds.
Once on the run, Schoeman took off with the hopes that the power of the big names runners would not catch him. Luckily for the South African that never happened. While Mola pushed through the competition and secured a second-place position, he was unable to catch up to Schoeman.
Schoeman then ran onto the blue carpet to earn the gold medal. His win was his first since the Cozumel Grand Final in 2016. He also became the first nation to steal the Abu Dhabi title from the Spaniards, since Mola and Javier Gomez Noya were the only men to have won in the Middle Eastern venue.
Mola then trailed in six seconds later to get the silver and third Abu Dhabi medal of his career. However, while he didn’t collect the win, Mola did earn the fastest run time of the race, clocking in at 14:27, while Schoeman only ran 14:41. The final spot on the podium then went to Luis, who battled his French compatriot Leo Bergere out for the bronze medal. Luis collected the bronze in Abu Dhabi last year in 2017, so he repeated his feat once again to start the season.
“I felt blessed last year but this year is better, I am feeling a lot better than last year. No injuries this winter, so I am back full and fit. It was a good race, I spent a lot of energy on the bike. A lot of people were crashing right in front of me. Jonny Brownlee crashing is a nonsense, it’s Jonny Brownlee. I had quite a good run, not quite as good as I expected, but it’s the first race, a sprint race and it’s only March so we have plenty of time until the end of the season. I would prefer to be third place than to be crashing,” Luis said.