ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi welcomes 2,500 participants from 52 countries on Yas Island this weekend.
Spanish superstar Javier Gomez returns in a bid to halt Mola's hat-trick quest.
A record-breaking 2,500 athletes from 52 countries will take their marks for the third annual ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi as 92 of the world's leading elite triathletes and 2,380 age group participants race on a brand new course on Yas Island from 3 to 4 March.
Host partner, Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), is ready for a spectacular weekend with a stellar line up at the largest triathlon in the region: "We are extremely encouraged to have once again attracted a world-class elite field and most importantly thousands of age group participants and junior triathletes from around the world. To see this event go from strength to strength each year and witness a 39% growth since we started in 2015 is highly gratifying," said Talal Al Hashemi, Director of Technical Affairs at ADSC.
"Triathlon represents everything we are working towards for the UAE’s communities. It is a sport that attracts and welcomes people from all walks of life – irrespective of age, gender, nationality or ability – to search for that wonderful sense of achievement."
Leading the charge is the strongest field of elite athletes to be found anywhere in this region, all vying for top honours in Abu Dhabi this weekend. The elite field boasts countless World Championship titles, Olympic medals and an incredible total of 353 ITU World Series titles between them.
The women will compete on Friday, 3 March, at 15:55 with six of the world’s top 10 women on the Abu Dhabi start list. The powerful cast includes Abu Dhabi’s reigning champion, Great Britain's Jodie Stimpson; World Number three, Japan's Ai Ueda, USA's Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True; World Number six, New Zealand's Andrea Hewitt and World Number eight Australia's Charlotte McShane.
"There’s been a lot of positive changes in my life that have made me look forward to racing this weekend. As an athlete you try and prepare for each race so when you're chucked on any course you can handle it. That’s the athlete that I aspire to be. The course will certainly test me technically especially on the bike course, which is the bit that matters the most on this course, is where you have to be really on it," said Stimpson who came bursting out of the gates last year by winning in Abu Dhabi and then following up with a World Cup win in Mooloolaba.
She found her way to the World Triathlon Series podium again in Cape Town and ended up with a seventh overall ranking in the Series despite pulling out of the last race of the year with injury. She is expected to perform big this year and will be gunning for a back-to-back Abu Dhabi gold.
The men's race takes place the following day on Saturday, 4 March, at 15:55 where the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi's top four superstars return to compete for the title. Topping the list is 2016 ITU World Champion, Spain's Mario Mola; compatriot and World Number three, Fernando Alarza; Portugal's Olympian Joao Silva and World Number five South Africa's Richard Murray. The impressive line-up also stars South Africa's Olympic bronze medallist and World Number four Henri Schoeman and crowd favourite, five-time ITU World Champion and two-time Olympic medallist, Javier Gomez.
"I’m excited to be here and racing ITU," said Gomez who will face fierce competition from 26-year-old Mola who is intent on securing a hat-trick. "After the IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai last month I’ve been training well, with more speed needed for this race. I’m feeling good, I’m excited to be back and let’s see what happens this weekend."
Wearing the golden number one to start the season is the reigning ITU World Champion, Mario Mola. Last year, Mola had a storybook journey to earn his first-ever World Championship title after winning four World Triathlon Series events, including Abu Dhabi. Then a fifth-place finish in the Cozumel Grand Final landed him enough points to take the crown. As he begins his WTS season this Saturday, he will officially begin his trek to reclaim the ITU throne.
On whether targeting a hat-trick brings with it added pressure Mola said: "Not really, I see it as a motivation to try new things as I’ve done in the past. It’s been a great way for me to start the year in Abu Dhabi and with it comes new challenges. Maybe I'll do what I've done the past couple of years and see if it works to my favour this year as well."
"It’s great to have Javier here but with it, it creates a challenge, it’s always very hard to beat him in that top position. It is never easy and it wasn’t easy to get the title last year. I feel motivated and I am optimistic about this weekend's race," added Mola.
"The competition is fierce this weekend with the world's fastest triathletes uniting for the first time this season on an all-new course, all with their eye firmly set on winning the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi title," said Race Director, Gary Marescia.
For amateurs, entries into the ITU World Triathlon's Olympic distance which includes 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run has seen the biggest increase with more amateurs making the leap into the sport as triathlon grows in popularity in the region.
"When the event debuted in 2015 the Sprint distance saw the highest number of entries out of all three distance options. With Olympic distance entries in the lead this year it shows us how far the sport of triathlon has advanced in the region in just three years. Amateur entrants are taking on longer distances as they become more and more engaged in the sport. The increase in mass participation in general is a great testament to the growth of triathlon, which now sees participants return to the UAE capital each year for a challenging and memorable experience," added Marescia.
The event also sees the Junior Races - a fun event aimed at encouraging youngsters to get active – taking place Friday from 08:00. The grassroots event, which has seen numbers double this year compared to 2015, will see close to 250 children participate across four race categories on Yas Island, cheered on by five-time world champion Javier Gomez.
The new venue is expected to be one of the most striking courses on the ITU World Triathlon Series calendar this year and promises an unforgettable experience for both participants and spectators who will be able to cheer on their loved ones from more viewing platforms and vantage points. The Race Village on Yas Island, will be open on Friday and Saturday from 06:30 and 05:30 respectively, to 18:30 and will feature a grandstand, bike park, a range of refreshment kiosks and a kids entertainment zone.