Zaferes Golden, Spivey Takes Silver at ITU World Triathlon Series Opener in Abu Dhabi

By USA Triathlon | March 08, 2019, 10:10 a.m. (ET)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.) kicked off the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series in dominant fashion on Friday, grabbing her second career WTS victory at the season opener in Abu Dhabi. Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.) ran her way to the silver medal, her second time reaching the WTS podium. Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.) finished fourth — just three seconds behind Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth — to nearly lock down a U.S. podium sweep. 

Zaferes was coming off a 2018 season that saw her medal in six of the eight races on the WTS circuit, earning the season-long overall silver medal. The last time she broke the tape in a WTS race, however, was in 2016 in Hamburg, Germany. 

“I’m so excited. Before the race, my muscles felt a little tired, and the race went probably almost as perfectly as it could,” Zaferes said. “I was really surprised that Jess (Learmonth) lined up next to me for the swim. We had a great swim, and strong people on the bike all working together. And then I tried to just run and stay in front.”

The race in Abu Dhabi featured a 750-meter swim, 18.9-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run, with portions of the bike and run taking place on the Yas Marina Formula One circuit. The U.S. women went hard from the start, with Zaferes, Summer Rappaport (née Cook, Thornton, Colo.) and Spivey all exiting the water on the heels of swim leader Learmonth. 

By the halfway point of the technical bike course, a breakaway of seven had formed — including Zaferes, Spivey and Knibb, along with Learmonth, Norway’s Lotte Miller, Australia’s Emma Jeffcoat and the Netherlands’ Maya Kingma. That group had almost a minute on the chasers by the time they hit the second transition. 

Zaferes was first out onto the run, and she would not let go of her lead from there. She continued to gap the field with each passing lap, while Spivey worked her way solidly into the silver-medal position. Meanwhile, Knibb and Learmonth were running neck-in-neck for the bronze, a battle that would end with a sprint finish down the blue carpet. 

With a blistering 16-minute, 9-second run split, Zaferes crossed the finish line in 55:31 for the win. Spivey secured the silver with a time of 55:57, adding a second WTS medal to her collection after earning silver in Leeds, England, in 2017. 

Learmonth ultimately edged Knibb for the bronze in 56:06, crashing what would have been the first U.S. podium sweep since WTS Edmonton in 2016. Knibb came through the line three seconds later to take fourth, her second-highest finish in a WTS race after earning silver in Edmonton in 2017.

Chelsea Burns (Seattle, Wash.) was the fourth U.S. woman across the line, taking 16th with a time of 57:21. Rappaport finished the day in 35th in 59:17.

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualifying period underway — it officially began last May at the WTS stop in Yokohama, Japan — consistent performance on the WTS circuit is critical to stand out among a deep U.S. women’s squad. 

“That race couldn’t have gone better for me,” Spivey said. “The U.S. women are so strong, and qualifying for Tokyo is just a matter of performing on the day. So, coming into the 2019 season with a second-place is a great way to start this Olympic qualification process.”

In the men’s race, three-time world champion Mario Mola of Spain took the victory with a time of 52 minutes flat. Great Britain’s Alex Yee was the silver medalist, finishing three seconds behind Mola, while Spain’s Fernando Alarza claimed the bronze in 52:12. Eli Hemming (Kiowa, Colo.) led the U.S. men, placing 13th in 52:27 for the second-best WTS performance of his career. 

South Africa’s Henri Schoeman was first out of the water, but seven athletes — including Ben Kanute (Phoenix, Ariz.) —were within five seconds of him.

Kanute went for an early breakaway on the bike, but he was reeled back in after the first lap. He joined a lead pack of 14 athletes, which eventually merged with a large peloton of chasers. By the time they reached the second transition, it was anyone’s game with nearly the entire field together. 

On the run, it was a battle for the podium with many of the sport’s top runners in the mix — including Mola, Yee and Alarza, as well as Schoeman, New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde, Great Britain’s Tom Bishop and France’s Vincent Luis. Mola ultimately came out on top, claiming his 16th career WTS victory.

Hemming’s 14:38 run split was enough to put him in 13th place, his best showing since a career-high 11th at WTS Bermuda last April. 

Matt McElroy (Huntington Beach, Calif.) was the second U.S. man across the line, placing 20th in 52:47. Kanute ended up 29th, crossing the line in 53:21.

The ITU World Triathlon Series stops next in Bermuda on April 27.

2019 Daman ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi
750m swim, 18.9k bike, 5k run

Elite Women — Complete Results

1. Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.), 55:31
2. Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.), 55:57
3. Jessica Learmonth (GBR), 56:06

U.S. Finishers
1. Katie Zaferes (Santa Cruz, Calif.), 55:31
2. Taylor Spivey (Redondo Beach, Calif.), 55:57
4. Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.), 56:09
16. Chelsea Burns (Seattle, Wash.), 57:21
35. Summer Rappaport (Thornton, Colo.), 59:17

Elite Men — Complete Results
1. Mario Mola (ESP), 52:00
2. Alex Yee (GBR), 52:03
3. Fernando Alarza (ESP), 52:12

U.S. Finishers
13. Eli Hemming (Kiowa, Colo.), 52:27
20. Matt McElroy (Huntington Beach, Calif.), 52:47
29. Ben Kanute (Phoenix, Ariz.), 53:31
Morgan Pearson (Boulder, Colo.), 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 at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — 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).