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Klamer wins, Learmonth second at ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi

At times it was more like the Wacky Races, but Rachel Klamer and Jess Learmonth survived an Abu Dhabi crash-fest to take first and second at the WTS season opener at Yas Marina

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Rachel Klamer takes first WTS win; favourites crash out in Abu Dhabi

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“It was carnage”, says Silver medal winner Jess Learmonth

As we reported from the men’s Elite race earlier in the day, wet conditions combined with the slick road surfaces of the Yas Marina Circuit contributed to several crashes on the bike at ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi today.

Hopes that drying track conditions would make things safer for the Elite women proved to be well off the mark, with athletes hitting the tarmac with great frequency over today’s 20km course. It was painful viewing at times – we just have our fingers crossed that the pain incurred by the athletes isn’t too long lasting.

The Race

Everything started in seemingly incident free manner, following the usual script with Great Britain’s uber-swimmer, Jess Learmonth, leading the way to dry land in 9:06, with the two-time and defending World Champion, Flora Duffy (BER), on her shoulder. Sophie Coldwell was in a good position just nine seconds back, with VIcky Holland and Non Stanford also in the mix, another six seconds later.

We’ve seen a Flora Duffy / Jess Learmonth ‘2-up’ on the bike a number of times previously, and when they gained a small lead together in the first couple of kilometres then the writing seemed on the wall for everyone else. The technical, rolling and slick course seemed perfectly suited to the bike handling talents of multiple XTERRA World Champion Duffy, but like Jonathan Brownlee before her, she crashed out and hit the deck. Unlike Brownlee, Flora’s fall was at speed and she was unable to continue, we think primarily for mechanical reasons.

The crashes continued – many of them on the same turn in the tunnel area – and the athlete who appear to come down the hardest was Katie Zaferes (USA). Sophie Coldwell also hit the tarmac (possibly as a result of the Zaferes incident [UPDATE – now confirmed below]), but she bounced back to continue on. Zaferes however was on the ground and being attended to for some time; fingers crossed that she recovers quickly.

All of these incidents saw the front pack numbers continued to dwindle, which left a leading six of Rachel Klamer (NED), Melanie Santos (POR), Lotte Miller (NOR), Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS), Kirsten Kasper (USA) and Jess Learmonth starting the run together, having survived the worst the course could throw at them.

With the first 2.5km of the run completed, six had become four – and soon after the race for Gold looked like it would be between Klamer and Learmonth, both seeking debut World Triathlon Series wins. With 1000m to go, Klamer has gained a couple of metres but hadn’t completely broken Learmonth, but into the final few hundred metres and the elastic was starting to stretch… and perhaps more crucially for the race, Kasper seemed to be pulling back towards Learmonth.

Klamer wasn’t going to let her winning opportunity go and duly broke the tape to take the win, while behind Learmonth was now well clear in second. Well clear? What happened there?! Turns out that Kasper had a penalty to serve in the very late stages of the run, the result of which was a blue carpet sprint finish with Van Coevorden to determine the Bronze medal. The Aussie just got the verdict in a photo finish and, initially at least, it looked as though Kasper had been disqualified. That appears to have been changed on the results (at the time of writing…)

Overall, an exciting and unpredictable race – but seeing more than 20% of the field not finish, primarily due to bike crashes, is not comfortable viewing.

Post Race Podium Comments

Rachel Klamer on her first WTS victory:

“There was no way I expected this. I was quite scared out there on the bike – ride hard, but take it easy and go slow through the corners. When we started running I tried to focus on my breathing and then just give it a try on the last lap. There were so many crashes… I just tried to stay in one piece. On the run I thought I should be able to do this. I need to start to believe that I can race really hard, but once you know it is possible it really helps.”

Jess Learmonth on the ‘carnage’:

“Oh my lord… it was a nightmare! It was just survival, i just hope everyone is all right, it was carnage. Before the race, I just hoped to make it to the run in one piece. To be in a running race was surreal – normally I’m just hanging on or seeing people run past. It gives me a bit of confidence (for the Commonwealth Games).”

Natalie Van Coevorden on her very late sprint for Bronze

“Today was survival in there and it paid off in the end. I didn’t know she (Kasper) had a penalty, so I just went for it at the end.

ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi – Friday 2nd March 2018
750m / 20km / 5km (Draft Legal) – ELITE WOMEN

1st – Rachel Klamer (NED) – 1:00:43
2nd – Jessica Learmonth (USA) – 1:00:57
3rd – Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS) – 1:01:00
4th – Kirsten Kasper (USA) – 1:01:00
5th – Melanie Santos (POR) – 1:01:24
6th – Laura Lindemann (GER) – 1:01:39
7th – Andrea Hewitt (NZL) – 1:01:40
8th – Yuka Sato (JPN() – 1:01:41
9th – Leonie Periault (FRA) – 1:01:42
10th – Lotte Miller (NOR) – 1:01:50
11th – Vicky Holland (GBR) – 1:01:59

16th – Non Stanford (GBR) – 1:02:28
26th – Sophie Coldwell (GBR) – 1:03:24

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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