190309 australia
Cyclists in action during the season opening Mixed Relay Series of the World Triathlon Series Abu Dhabi, the first of the ITU’s Global World Triathlon Series, at the Yas Marina Circuit, Image Credit: Organiser

Abu Dhabi: Australia kept their best athlete Jacob Birtwhistle for the last as he powered his way past United States’ Eli Hemming in the final run to clinch the season-opening Mixed Relay Series of the World Triathlon Series Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday.

The Australian team comprising of Birtwhistle, Ashleigh Gentle and debutants Luke Willian and Emma Jeffcoat finished the race with a time of 1h 24’16’’. Five seconds behind was the US team of Hemming, Taylor Spivey, Ben Kanute and Katie Zaferes, who had won the women’s individual title on Friday.

The third place was bagged by New Zealand team comprising of Ainsley Thorpe, Sam Ward, Spohie Corbidge and Hayden Wilde.

“I’m happy with my legs today to bring the team home for the rest of these guys. Once again, we have come together and won. It is great for the Triathlon in Australia,” a jubilant Birtwhistle said.

Debutant Emma, revealing the secret behind her team’s dominant show, said: “I think everyone in the team gives their best and we don’t have any weak legs. Everyone has got a very competitive edge and it was a perfect line-up.”

US’ Spivey, who was second in the women’s individual triathlon behind teammate Zaferes, was first on the bike after the swim. She stepped up the pace straightaway and there were around 15 riders giving chase.

By the halfway mark of the 7.5km ride, she had swelled the lead to 10.5 seconds and by the transition for the run it had widened to 16.25 seconds.

However, the lead was considerably reduced at Spivey’s hand-off to Kanute with Australia’s Ashleigh and Germany’s Laura Lindemann also making a fast finish for their switch.

Kanute, however, kept the slender edge even after the swim and also led the ride with three — Australian Willian, German Valentin Wernz and Italian Delian Stateff — giving chase. By the start of the run, there was very little to choose between these four. USA lost the edge for the first time in the race as Willian overtook Kanute for a brief while. The American, however, quickly seized back the lost ground but in the end, it was Willian who was the first to tap his teammate Emma at the end of the run. The latter then powered her way out of the water first followed by individual champ Zaferes.

Coming at the back of a sensational win of Friday, Zaferes restored the lead for USA on the bike but Emma happily chose to stay on her wheels. As these two were pulling away, things heated up behind between the third place contenders — Italy, New Zealand, Germany, France and Portugal.

Zaferes was very powerful on the run on Friday and she continued in the same vein for her team. The world No. 2 kept pulling away from Emma and by the final touch for Hemming, Team USA had 16 second advantage. Hemming made a nice switch onto the bike after leading the swim but Australian Birtwhistle gave a fierce chase on the bike to breach the gap completely. Both Hemming and Birtwhistle were off the bike together and it was certain that the run would decide the title. By the first turn, it was clear that it will be Australia’s day as Birtwhistle stormed into the lead and powered his way to the tape.

“Jack (Birtwhistle) is not the guy you want to be chasing you down. Overall, it was good result; can’t be upset with it so early on in the season and racing well,” said Hemming, whose words were endorsed by Zaferes. “We have such a strong American team that we can change it up and feel pretty confident. It doesn’t matter what person is on what leg. It is exciting to put together such a strong group,” she said.