ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Kirsten Kasper (North Andover, Mass.) placed fourth in a photo-finish at ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi on Friday, leading the U.S. effort in a dramatic and challenging World Triathlon Series opener.
The sprint-distance 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run course was held on Yas Island, with much of the race taking place on the Yas Marina Formula One Circuit. The track was slick due to rainy conditions that morning, resulting in a technical course that got the best of several frontrunners.
Rachel Klamer of the Netherlands earned her first career WTS victory in the women’s race, breaking the tape with a time of 1 hour, 43 seconds. She was followed by Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth in second in 1:00:57. The battle for bronze ended in an all-out sprint, with Australia’s Natalie Van Coevorden just barely edging Kasper, 1:01:00 to 1:01:01.
Katie Zaferes (Hampstead, Md.) and Summer Cook (Thornton, Colo.) started the day with strong swims, coming out of the water in third and fourth respectively behind Learmonth and Bermuda’s world champion Flora Duffy. A lead pack of 11, including Kasper, quickly formed on the bike. The slick track proved challenging, however, as Duffy, Cook, Zaferes and several others ultimately crashed out of the race.
The lead group had whittled down to six by the end of the bike, and the four frontrunners — Klamer, Learmonth, Van Coevorden and Kasper — pulled away on the first lap. With less than 1k to go, the podium looked to be set with Klamer, Learmonth and Kasper, but Kasper was served a 10-second penalty that allowed the Australian to catch back up. The two athletes sprinted neck-and-neck to the line, but after an official review of the photo finish, Kasper ended up in fourth.
Also racing for the U.S. on Friday were Chelsea Burns (Seattle, Wash.) and Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.), who finished 18th and 19th respectively in 1:02:34 and 1:02:43.
In the men’s race, South Africa's Henri Schoeman was victorious in 57 minutes, 3 seconds. Spain’s two-time world champion Mario Mola claimed silver in 57:09, while Vincent Luis of France rounded out the podium in 57:25.
The men’s competition saw plenty of crashes too, with the likes of Kevin McDowell (Phoenix, Ariz.), 2017 WTS overall bronze medalist Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway and 2017 U23 world silver medalist Dorian Coninx of France all forced to pull out of the race.
Ben Kanute (Phoenix, Ariz.) looked strong early on, coming out of the water in second place just three seconds behind Schoeman. He positioned himself well on the bike, joining a lead pack that included Schoeman, Luis, Great Britain’s Jonny Brownlee, Slovakia’s Richard Varga and Australia’s Aaron Royle.
Schoeman took off in a breakaway on the final lap, giving himself a 13-second lead heading into the second transition. Mola, who had been in the chase group on the bike, ran his way into second position, while Luis held on for the bronze. While Kanute was in the mix heading out onto the run, he was not able to keep pace with the sub-15-minute 5ks of the frontrunners and ended up 19th in 58:30.
Also racing for the U.S. was Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D.), who placed 42nd (1:00:04) in his second career WTS start.
The ITU World Triathlon Series continues with a stop in Hamilton, Bermuda, on April 28.
2018 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi
750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
Elite Women — Complete Results
1. Rachel Klamer (NED), 1:00:43
2. Jessica Learmonth (GBR), 1:00:57
3. Natalie Van Coevorden (AUS), 1:01:00
4. Kirsten Kasper (North Andover, Mass.), 1:01:01
18. Chelsea Burns (Seattle, Wash.), 1:02:34
19. Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.), 1:02:43
Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.), DNF
Summer Cook (Thornton, Colo.), DNF
Elite Men — Complete Results
1. Henri Schoeman (RSA), 00:57:03
2. Mario Mola (ESP), 00:57:09
3. Vincent Luis (FRA), 00:57:25
19. Ben Kanute (Phoenix, Ariz.), 00:58:30
42. Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D.), 1:00:04
Kevin McDowell (Phoenix, Ariz.), DNF
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work with athletes, coaches, and race directors on the grassroots level, USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).