After hosting a stunning finale to last year’s WTCS Grand Final, where Leo Bergere and Flora Duffy were crowned World Triathlon champions, Abu Dhabi will once again play host to the very best short course triathletes in the world as they look to kick off their 2023 season in style.
In a crucial year of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics, with the Paris Test Event scheduled for August, athletes will be hoping to gain an understanding of what went well over the winter and what needs to be tweaked in the run up to the crux of the season this summer.
However, the racing will still be as brutal as ever, with the full men and women’s podium from the 2022 WTCS Grand Final, minus Flora Duffy, returning for another shot at a medal in the United Arab Emirates.
Start time, course and how to watch live
The racing in Abu Dhabi will commence on Friday, March 3rd at the Yas Marina Circuit, with the athlete village centred around the famous pit lanes of the venue for the Etihad Airways F1 Grand Prix.
The women’s race will begin at 12:00pm local time (8:00am GMT), with the men’s race two hours later at 2:00pm local time (10:00am GMT).
The race is the first of WTCS 2023 series and will be held over the sprint distance. The swim will be a 750m lap of the Marina, before the athletes run 250m to T1. From there, they will complete five laps of 4km on the bike before running two laps of 2.5km and then heading down the finishing straight.
The race will be broadcast live on the World Triathlon subscription service, TriathlonLive, and also available free for UK viewers via BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website, the BBC Sport App and the BBC Red Button.
WTCS Abu Dhabi 2023 Elite Women
Just over three months ago, Georgia Taylor-Brown suffered heartbreak over the Olympic Distance in Abu Dhabi as Flora Duffy pulled away on the run to take another world title to go alongside her Commonwealth and Olympic wins, which have all been at the expense of the Brit.
This time around, Duffy will not be on the start line, as she is still building back from a knee injury sustained last year. However, this doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park for Taylor-Brown, as she chases her first win in Abu Dhabi after finishing as the runner-up in 2021 and 2022.
First up and returning to Abu Dhabi after third place in the Grand Final in 2022 is German Lena Meißner, who after only finishing seventh in the German Sprint Championships in 2022, shocked the field and most likely her federation, to record her first ever WTCS podium.
Alongside her compatriots Lisa Tertsch, Anabel Knoll, Marlene Gomez-Goggle and Nina Eim, Germany will have five athletes from last year’s WTCS Rankings top-30 and will hope to take home some silverware. All of that in the absence of 2022 European Championship runner-up and national star, Laura Lindemann.
From further afield, there is an exceptionally strong American contingent racing, with 2022 WTCS fourth-ranked athlete Taylor Spivey leading a group that includes recent Arena Games Triathlon Montreal winner Gina Sereno, 2022 WTCS top-20 ranked athletes Kirsten Kasper and Summer Rappaport, plus the return of Katie Zaferes.
Zaferes, who will be racing for the first time since August 2021 after giving birth, will hope to make a strong start upon her return to racing at a venue where she has found success previously. The Olympic medallist won in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
With a full start list of 60 athletes, there are plenty of names to consider, with the French trio of Cassandre Beaugrand, Leonie Periault and Emma Lombardi, plus Miriam Casillas Garcia of Spain among a strong group of Europeans who will look to size up their competition and compatriots as the chase for 2024 Olympic berths intensifies.
Amongst the British women, Taylor-Brown is not the only podium prospect, with Sophie Coldwell and Beth Potter also likely to feature. Finally, rising British star Kate Waugh will look to do well on happy hunting grounds, after winning the World U23 title here in November.
The full women’s start list can be found here.
WTCS Abu Dhabi 2023 Elite Men
In the men’s race, Leo Bergere will return to the site of his first WTCS win as a world champion, after edging Alex Yee by just 20 points to take the that title with his maiden WTCS victory last time around in Abu Dhabi.
Alongside Bergere in the blue, white and red of France will be WTCS winners Vincent Luis and Dorian Coninx, with the French trio likely to be sizing up the field and each other as they gun for a spot to represent France at a home Olympics next year. With that strength-in-depth, as Luis recently told us, “I think to begin with it will be a big fight just to be part of the team.”
This Friday, everyone worth their salt (with the exception of Jonny Brownlee) will be lining up on the pontoon at Yas Marina, with last year’s Grand Final podium of Bergere, Morgan Pearson of the USA and Belgian Jelle Geens all returning, plus WTCS Series second and third place finishers, Alex Yee and Hayden Wilde.
Wilde and Yee especially, who were billed as the favourites for the world title until the very last second in 2022, will want to put the disappointment of last season’s Grand Final behind them as the Olympic medallists look to reclaim their authority over the field this time round.
Talking of Olympic medalists, Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo champion, will return from a year of long-course racing [UPDATE – Kristian is a late withdrawal], which culminated in him winning the St George IRONMAN World Championships and IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships, to start the build to his Olympic title defence.
Alongside him, Kona winner Gustav Iden will toe the start line, plus Bergen World Cup third place finisher Vetle Thorn, as the latter continues to battle Casper Stornes for the elusive third spot on the Norwegian Olympic team. Stornes has opted to start his season at the New Plymouth World Cup instead.
Elsewhere, Jacob Birtwhistle makes a return to the WTCS scene after most recently winning IRONMAN 70.3 Tasmania, with Henri Schoeman also heading to the UAE off the back of some recent success following a second place finish at the Arena Games Triathlon Montreal.
Another southern hemisphere athlete coming off the back of a recent podium is Kyle Smith, who whilst better known perhaps for his long-course exploits, is making a stab at qualifying for the New Zealand team at the Paris Olympics. He recently finished second at the Wanaka Continental Cup, suggesting that at the very least, that isn’t simply a pipe dream.
Finally, the British contingent is made up solely of Alex Yee and Barclay Izzard, with other home talents on the men’s side such as Jonny Brownlee, Ben Dijkstra, Grant Sheldon and Daniel Dixon choosing to start their seasons at Arena Games Triathlon races or on the Continental Cup and World Cup scene.
The full men’s start list can be found here.