Australia’s best line up for the ITU Season Opener in Abu Dhabi
Jake Birtwhistle will kickstart his 2019 tri season campaign at the opening round of the World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi on Friday night (Australian time).
2018 produced incredible results for Birtwhistle – third in the world series rankings, an individual silver and Mixed Relay Team gold at the Commonwealth Games and third at WTS Montreal and Edmonton.
Joining Birtwhistle on the starting line is Commonwealth Games team member Luke Willian (QLD) and 2016 Rio Olympian Aaron Royle (NSW).
The men’s race features all top ten ranked WTS athletes, led by world champion Mario Mola (ESP).
Birtwhistle has two big goals on his list for the 2019 season – to become world champion and qualify for Tokyo 2020.
“I’ve built a good summer training base back home in Tasmania and I’m looking forward to the first race of the season,” said Birtwhistle.
“There’s always a little uncertainty going into the first race of exactly where your form is, but I do expect a good performance on Friday and again in the Mixed Relay on Saturday (pending selection).”
Ashleigh Gentle had a memorable 2018, which culminated at the ITU WTS Grand Final on the Gold Coast where she beat world champion Vicky Holland (GBR) in a sprint finish to win in front of a home crowd.
Gentle has been based in the hometown of coach Jamie Turner in Taranaki New Zealand along with training partners Natalie Van Coevorden and Emma Jeffcoat. Gentle says her program has included a lot of bike miles, base work in the pool and run sessions to set up for a long season ahead.
Gentle kick-started her 2019 season at the grand final of Super League in Singapore, after two brutal days of racing the Eliminator and Enduro formats in scorching heat, finishing fifth overall. She’s looking to do well in the Abu Dhabi opener and is also thinking of her “longevity for the season ahead.”
Gentle will meet world champion Holland, world ranked number two Katie Zaferes (USA) and training partner Natalie Van Coevorden (NSW) who finished third in this race last year and ranked in the top ten.
Abu Dhabi last year was a breakthrough performance for Van Coevorden, who navigated the treacherous conditions on the rain-soaked Formula 1 circuit.
Van Coevorden has been based in the picturesque New Plymouth, NZ for the past couple of months, taking advantage of hilly country roads, trails and beaches to prepare for the season and tackle some serious off-season training with Gentle.
“We have built a solid base of training and it’s been rejuvenating being in a new environment. I have been enjoying seeing progress over the last two months with some taste testers of some speed work” says Van Coevorden.
“Abu Dhabi is pretty unique in the chance to race on the F1 circuit there. It’s kind of like you’re in Mario Kart at some points. I have special memories here, so the location now means a lot to me. “Last year I went into the race with a clear plan under difficult weather conditions and just did the basics right under pressure and fatigue. I go into Abu Dhabi the same this year, to just keep in the moment, to challenge myself and put myself in the game,” said Van Coevorden.
The world-class fields are set to tackle a sprint course – 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run to kick off the WTS season.
A calendar that features events in Bermuda, Yokohama, Leeds, Nottingham, Montreal, Hamburg and Edmonton before wrapping up in September with the Grand Final in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Abu Dhabi’s got a jam-packed schedule on both Friday 8th and Saturday 9th March with the individual sprint distance triathlon on Friday and the wildly entertaining and nail biting Elite mixed team relay on Saturday. This is also the first time this event has been included in the Abu Dhabi schedule.
Charlotte McShane (VIC) and Emma Jeffcoat (NSW) both off the back of good performances at Super League two weeks ago round out a full complement of Australian women lining up in Abu Dhabi – all of whom are in the points muster for their Tokyo 2020 qualification.
Justin Drew, Triathlon Australia’s National Performance Director is looking forward to kicking off World Triathlon Series 2019.
“It’s a great opportunity to assess where our athletes are at coming off their summer training programs heading into the 2019 season, and as we edge closer to Tokyo. The Mixed Relay World Series round in Abu Dhabi is of significant importance as athletes will be pursuing results in terms of solidifying their ranking towards Tokyo,” said Drew.