The Brownlees may have been absent but it was still a top-class line-up at WTS Abu Dhabi on Saturday 4 March. Nestled within the 54-strong line-up was reigning world champion Mario Mola (ESP), five-time ITU world champ Javier Gomez (ESP) and Rio bronze medallist Henri Schoeman (RSA). But it would be lucky number 13 (WTS wins) for Gomez, the Spaniard taking his first WTS win since Yokohama 2015 and in only his second race since injury wiped out his Rio Olympic medal ambitions last spring.
Contested over a standard distance for the second year running, conditions were breezy while the 23.2°C water temperature meant, like the women’s race yesterday, it would be a non-wetsuit swim.
The breeze provided a bit of chop in the 1.5km swim, but, as expected, France’s Raphaël Aurélien led the swim with teammate Pierre Le Corre, Schoeman and Russia’s Polyanskiy brothers in the mix.
With Ali Brownlee switching to middle distance for 2017 and Jonny Brownlee absent due to injury, British hopes for a top performance were buoyed by Tom Bishop, who was just 10secs down at T1 and in the lead group of 25 at the start of the 40km bike leg. Last year’s victor Mola and his training partner Murray had disappointing swims to exit T1 in the chase group, approx 45secs secs behind.
By the end of lap three, the lead group had more than halved, with 10 athletes, including Gomez, Schoeman and Bishop working hard to maintain their 50sec lead over the chase group. Entering T2, the gap had increased to 63secs.
Schoeman capitalised on a slow changeover for Gomez in transition, racing to the front and setting the pace. It was short-lived, however, as veteran Gomez and Bishop caught him within seconds and quickly established a gap over the Rio bronze medallist.
Bishop, in what was fast-becoming his breakthrough race, kept Gomez honest until the London silver medallist made his move with just over a lap to go. Never looking back, Gomez ran through with a 17sec margin of victory over Bishop to take his 13th WTS career victory. For Bishop, Abu Dhabi marked a career-first WTS podium and reinvigorated British hopes for a strong men’s 2017 season. Frenchman Vincent Luis rounded out the podium in third, while huge runs from Spain’s Fernando Alarza and Murray saw them take 4th and 5th places, respectively.