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ITU World Triathlon Series Kicks off in Abu Dhabi

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The 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series debuts this week in Abu Dhabi for the third straight year. The nine-stop global series brings together the fastest short-course athletes from around the world to compete. The women’s race starts Friday, and the men will race on Saturday. New for this year is a standard-distance course that stretches over the famed Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix course.

While the WTS always draws incredibly stacked fields, the races in post-Olympic years tend to not be as star-studded as usual because the top ITU athletes aren’t chasing after ITU points to make their respective Olympic teams. Notably missing from the start lists are two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee (GBR), who expressed interest in stepping up to longer distances; 2016 Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen (USA), who’s expecting her first child; two-time Olympic medalist Jonathan Brownlee (GBR), who plans to contend for the ITU world title but is starting his season a little later this year.

Women’s race

Highlighting the women’s field is former Commonwealth Games gold medalist Jodie Stimpson of Great Britain, who won in Abu Dhabi last year. Her top competition will come from Japan’s Ai Ueda, one of the most consistent performers (and prolific racers) across the series who ended up third overall in the 2016 ITU rankings; and from New Zealand’s Andrea Hewitt, a consistent, experienced racer with strong cycling skills. Hewitt was third in the Gold Coast race last year and silver in Stockholm.

From the U.S., Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True are the top American women, but newer ITU athletes Summer Cook, Kirsten Kasper and Renee Tomlin could also find their way into the top 10. Other women to watch include Aussie Charlotte McShane, a former U23 world champ who made it onto a WTS podium in Cozumel last year, and The Netherlands’ Rachel Klamer, who finished as the runner-up in Hamburg last year.

Find the full women’s start list here.

Men’s race

The men’s race is sure to be an exciting one, with two Spaniards topping the start list—reigning ITU world champion Mario Mola is looking for his third Abu Dhabi win and will be facing off against countryman, multiple Olympic medalist and five-time ITU world champion Javier Gomez, who had to miss out on the Rio Olympics because of a crash leading into the Games. This race will be his return to WTS racing.

Mola and Gomez will face tough competition from South Africa’s Richard Murray and Henri Schoeman. The two were fourth and third (respectively) in the Rio Olympics, and Murray scored two WTS podiums last year (including a silver in Abu Dhabi). Murray also won the first WTS World Cup of this year in Cape Town. Schoeman is the only 2016 Olympic medalist in either race, and he had a breakout season last year—his bronze in Rio came out of nowhere, and he won a WTS race in Cozumel later in the season.

Other top names to follow are Spain’s Fernando Alarzo, who had his best season last year with three WTS podiums, including a victory in Cape Town. Mexico’s Crisanto Grajales and Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt both made it onto the podium (Grajales second, Blummenfelt third) at the WTS race in Yokohama last year, the first for each of their nations. And Portugal’s Joao Silva was third in Abu Dhabi last year. France’s Pierre Le Corre (the third-place finisher in Stockholm last year), Dorian Coninx (third in Cape Town) and Vincent Luis will all be racing. This is Luis’ first race back since 2015, when he switched his focus to the Olympics.

Find the full men’s start list here.

Follow all of the action live on and on Twitter @triathlonlive, #WTSAbuDhabi.