Henri Schoeman led all the way to clinch the season-opening ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi title ahead of world champion and two-time winner Mario Mola at Yas Marina on Friday.
South Africa's Schoeman was first out of the water following the 750m swim, established an advantage on the 20-kilometre cycling leg before holding on to the lead in the 5km run, to cross the finish line in 57 minutes and 03 seconds.
Mola was six seconds adrift in second followed by Frenchman Vincent Luis in 57.25.
“To be able to win was just fantastic,” Schoeman, 26, said. “I wanted to be out in front from the start, to be safe and in front on the bike.
“And before I knew it, I had a gap between me and the chase-pack (in the cycling stage). I just went for it. I had a lot of fun doing it today.”
Schoeman had to overcome treacherous road conditions caused by persistent rain on the cycling leg even though he managed to establish an advantage over the chasing pack.
“It was very slippery and in some areas, more than others,” added the bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Games. “You just have to be very careful, be focused and be safe on such conditions. But I’m glad I managed to do it. Now I go back to Durban and train for the Commonwealth Games in a month’s time.
“Obviously many of today’s participants were treating this opening race of the year as a launching pad for the Commonwealth Games. Now I wish I can take this momentum forward to Gold Coast.”
Mola was in 38th of the 57 triathletes after the swim leg but he moved to fourth at the end of the cycling stage and to second on the run, yet he was left with too much to do at the end.
“I did everything I could but Henri had more in the tank,” said Mola. “I’m still happy with the result, it being the first race of the year. It is good motivation for the remainder of the season.”
The rains had caught many of the triathletes off guard and Mola was among them.
“I never expected it to rain in Abu Dhabi,” the 28-year-old Spaniard. “I never cycled in such slippery roads in a race. A lot of people went down.
“But this is part of the game and we’ll have to deal with it. It was more of trying to stay in the bike than going faster on the corners.
“Today you needed some good fortune because you never know who can go in front and who would go down.”
Jonathan Brownlee suffered most in the conditions. The double Olympic medallist went down when he led the first lap of the cycling stage. The Briton never recovered and finished seventh with a time of 57.56.
Klamer wins women's title
The women’s race was marred by more falls but Rachel Klamer of the Netherlands kept her cool to clinch the Abu Dhabi title.
Jessica Learmonth of Britain was second ahead of Australian Natalie van Coevorden, who pipped American Kirsten Kasper in a sprint finish to the line for third spot.
Among the casualties in the cycling leg was the world No 1 Flora Duffy of Bermuda.
Klamer described the cycling stage as “scary” and runner-up Learmonth said it was a “nightmare” shortly after crossing the finishing line.
“I’m so happy and I never expected this,” said Klamer, who crossed the line in one hour and 33 seconds.
“I just decided to take it easy in the cycling leg after seeing so many going down after every lap of the stage. I decided to ride hard but take it easy at the corners. I’m happy to stay on my bike.”
RESULTS - ELITE WOMEN:
1. Rachel Klamer (NED) 1:00:43
2. Jessica Learmonth (GBR) 1:00:57
3. Natalie van Coevorden (AUS) 1:01:00
4. Kirsten Kapser (USA) 1.010.00
5. Melanie Santos (POR) 1.010.24