A strong field will be seen in action in the Elite Individual Men’s category of the Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: Defending champion Henri Schoeman is confident of a repeat and is unfazed by the top quality field he will be facing in the season-opening Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi, the first of the ITU’s Global World Triathlon Series getting under way at the Yas Marina Circuit on Friday.

“It’s always a pleasure coming back to Abu Dhabi and competing at the Yas Marina Circuit — it’s a great venue to race, and for all the spectators to enjoy,” said Schoeman, who will be facing a stiff challenge from the all other top 10-ranked men in the world who have confirmed their availability for the event including World No. 1 Mario Mola. The Spaniard is eyeing a record fourth straight World Series title and will be keen to start off on a high. Mola has won four races in each of his three victorious seasons in 2016-17-18.

World No. 2 Vincent Luis of France, Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle, Kristian Blummenfeldt of Norway and Richard Murray of South Africa are the others to watch out for.

“I’m obviously wanting to take the top podium spot again, so I’ve been training hard for this season opener. But I’m up against some incredible athletes, so here’s hoping my training will pay off,” said Schoeman, who is currently ranked World No. 7.

Women’s reigning champion Rachel Klamer of Netherland also has her task cut out if she has to retain the top honours. The women’s field features nine of the top 10 of the world with No. 1 Vicky Holland of Great Britain and Katie Zaferes of USA aiming for the title. The list also includes the Netherland’s Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jessica Learmouth.

“I can’t wait to get back to Abu Dhabi, especially after everything clicked into place last year,” said an upbeat Klamer on the eve of the contest. “It took a lot of hard work to get to where I was at the start of last year’s race, and I’ve been putting in the time for the 2019 edition. It’s a great way to start the season and I’m excited to hit the blue carpet once again,”

Zaferes of US added: “I’m super excited to be racing alongside these incredible athletes from all over the world.

“For everyone coming to see the races this weekend, don’t just cheer these athletes on — be inspired by their passion and use it to make positive steps to get active.”

Also keep a close watch on the UAE’s young talent Faisal Al Zaabi, who is looking for a kick start to his career in front of home fans. “I only picked up triathlon two years ago and went full time in August last year, so this is still quite new to me,” he said. “I moved to Spain so I can fully focus and develop day in and day out. It would be a dream to one day toe the line with the athletes here today, but the main aim for me right now is to keep healthy and aim high this weekend.”

Two Special Olympics athletes — brothers Micah and Jonah Hambleton, who will represent the UAE in triathlon also were looking forward to the event.

“It’s tough, the training. It’s been fun and it’s great to train together with Jonah,” Micah said. His brother Jonah went on to reveal that awareness about Special Olympics has grown tremendously in UAE: “I feel there is a lot more awareness about the Special Olympics and there is lots of love from all the people here in Abu Dhabi.”

The Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi will feature five categories: The Elite Individual Men’s and Women’s races, the Elite Mixed Relay Race, the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi triathlon race, Age grouper races and Junior races.

The Age Group races allow amateur triathletes to compete as individuals or as part of a team, across a variety of distances: Super Sprint (400m swim, 10km cycle, 2.5km run) newly launched for 2019; Sprint (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run) and Olympic (1,500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run).