All eyes were on two athletes ahead of the men’s WTS season opener in Abu Dhabi: reigning ITU World Champ Javier Gomez and Great Britain’s Jonny Brownlee.
The stats made for interesting reading too – Jonny Brownlee had won four out of the seven previous WTS sprint distance races, while this was Gomez’s 100th ITU race start, but he had never won at Sprint distance before. As it turned out though it was a different Spanish athlete, Mario Mola, that was the one to watch.
The men’s event followed a thrilling women’s race which saw 2014 champ Gwen Jorgenson put in a ferocious performance on the run to take the win during the hottest part of the day (full report here). The men’s race began two hours later at just after 5pm local time and followed the same 750m swim/20km bike/5km run course. Conditions were warm and breezy with a 28 degree air temperature and 23 degree water temperature meaning no wetsuits, but great conditions for a fast race.
The one-lap swim was fast and tightly packed, with Anthony Pujades (FRA) exiting first in 08:48 followed closely by Aurelien Raphael (FRA) and Richard Varga (SVK). Jonny Brownlee came out of the water and into transition 21sec down. That time was soon made up on the bike leg though as by the end of lap one of four Brownlee and Gomez were cycling side-by-side with the gap to the race leader reduced to just 4sec.
For the remainder of the bike a huge lead pack of around 30 athletes formed including Brownlee and Gomez alongside Mario Mola (ESP), Henri Shoeman and Richard Murray (RSA), Vincent Luis (FRA) and Joao Silver (POR), leading to a tense and frenetic T2 as athletes jostled for position.
A small lead pack of three formed in the run shortly after T2 of Richard Murray, Mario Mola and Vincent Luis. Initially it looked like Brownlee and Gomez could bridge the gap from the chase pack, but at the halfway point and with 2.5km to go the gap was extended to 10 sec.
Shortly after, Mario Mola kicked early to put some serious pace into the run and managed to hold on until the finish – taking the win in 52:32 and achieving his second ever WTS podium gold, with Luis second and Murray third. Fourth was taken by Silva, while Jonny was fifth and Gomez sixth.
Interviewed post-race, Mola said: “I knew how fast Luis and Murray were [when sprinting] so I tried to put the hammer down before that… In the run I put in 110 per cent.”
Full results and splits here.
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