Road To Paris 2024: WTCS Abu Dhabi is about WAY more than podiums, get the POPCORN

So much to savour about the 2024 WTCS opener

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Triathlon great Mark Allen continues his ‘Road to Paris 2024’ series by looking ahead to the first major short-course race of the 2024 WTCS season in Abu Dhabi. It should have Olympic Games interest from the front of the field, right to the back.

The first big test for triathletes chasing their Olympic dream is just a few weeks away. On March 8-9, Abu Dhabi will host the first WTCS event of 2024. Star-studded would be an understatement in the Elite fields.

The list includes Paris Test Event Champions Alex Yee and Beth Potter. And if either of them can pull off another win, the depth of the fields will make their victories 100% honest.

Who are the challengers? For the men, from France there’s Léo Bergere, Dorian Coninx and Pierre Le Corre: all top-5 finishers in Paris last summer. Vasco Vilaca from Portugal, who was second to Yee in Paris, is on the list. Kristian Blummenfelt, the defending Olympic Gold medalist from Tokyo, is coming and hopes to show us that his focus on run speed is working. Hayden Wilde of New Zealand, one of the few men who consistently challenges Yee for the top spot on the podium, will be looking for redemption after a crash on his way to the start at the Test Event gutted his dreams there.

The women’s field is easily as deep. Cassandre Beugrand from France will be there – she almost pulled off victory last summer in her home country before finally giving best to the brilliant Potter. Laura Lindemann, whose blistering run in the Mixed Relay gave Germany the win over the UK by a whisker, is also on the list. Abu Dhabi will also be the first big test in 2024 for Tokyo silver medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown to see if she is back in form after an injury-hit 2023.

Go deep for the biggest storylines

But the real stories, in my opinion, go much deeper than who wins. One is that Flora Duffy is not starting. The dominant Gold Medalist from Tokyo was out all of last season with injury and isn’t going to pitch up for the start of this year either. Her time to repeat is in danger of slipping by quickly.

Flora Duffy - AJ Bell World Triathlon Series Leeds 2022
Flora Duffy will not race in Abu Dhabi (Photo Credit: Ben Lumley / World Triathlon)

By digging a little deeper into the selection process you’ll find even more drama building. To date, there are only a handful of athletes who have qualified for their teams. There are only 11 worldwide to be exact. That leaves 91 spots up for grabs between now and Yokohama in May, which is the final qualifying event for Paris. That’s a lot of uncertainty for everyone.

Getting to Yokohama will require having enough points on the World Rankings to be able to race for your country. For example, the US women will send five women there. That means to be guaranteed a start, you must be in the top five US women on the World Rankings.


Racing on the bubble

Guess who is sitting in that last guaranteed start spot right now? Yep, it’s the comeback queen – Rio Gold Medalist Gwen Jorgensen. If she drops to 6th on the list of US women by Yokohama, there is no guarantee she’ll even be racing there. So even though the focus will be on who podiums at Abu Dhabi, this race is critical for Gwen and so many more like her who are sitting on the bubble.

They all need to stay high enough in the rankings to be able to continue racing the high-profile events. Remember, some athletes will hit automatic qualification for their country. Others will be put in the selection pool that their National Governing Bodies choose from to fill their team if there are still slots available after all the automatic qualification races are completed.

So, while the race for the win in Abu Dhabi will undoubtedly be watched through a microscope, the competition further down the list will be equally compelling as it will shape who ends up on the start line in Paris. 

Mark Allen
Written by
Mark Allen
Mark Allen has to be in any conversation about the greatest triathlete of all time. A six-time IRONMAN World Champion, he won every other title that mattered in the sport and dominated like few others


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