ABU DHABI // Mario Mola of Spain is back to defend his ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi title as he heads a 65-strong field in the opening leg of the series on the Corniche on Friday.
The women’s race has also drawn 65 athletes, including last year’s runner-up Katie Zaferes who will be hoping to clinch her first win in the race series in the absence of defending champion Gwen Jorgensen.
Zaferes is set to face a strong challenge, however, from Swiss Nicola Spirig, Lisa Norden of Sweden and Australian Erin Densham, the gold, silver and bronze medalists at the 2012 London Olympics.
Mola said he was “happy” to be back at the venue where it all started for him last season.
“I like people to expect great things from me because it means I am doing well,” the Spaniard said when asked if defending the title in Abu Dhabi put him under pressure.
Mola believes the opening leg of the ITU series will be a wide open race, particularly with qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics on the line. “We have to be worried about everyone who lines up for this race, it being an Olympic qualification year for some of the triathletes,” he said.
“It’s pretty hard to predict how the race will pan out. It is going to be very challenging for every athlete and that is what is also going to make it a very interesting race.”
The men’s race has drawn six of the world’s top 10 triathletes and the women’s event four of the top 10.
Richard Murray, the South African world No 4, is another looking ahead to the summer Games.
He was third behind Mola in Abu Dhabi last year and is enthusiastic about starting his final Olympic preparations in the UAE.
“Last year was a great first adventure. This year it’s familiar and I am excited to come here and race again,” he said.
“It’s been a great lead up to the season so far and it’s great to see where the form is at and how it translates on the field.”
Ryan Bailie of Australia, Mexico’s Crisanto Grajales and Joao Pereira of Portugal are also ranked in the top 10.
Sarah True and Zaferes carry the medal hopes for the Americans in the women’s race.
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