Jess Learmonth third as USA's Zafares wins World Series opener
Non Stanford, world champion Vicky Holland and Georgia Taylor-Brown also finish in top 10 in Abu Dhabi
Third-place Jess Learmonth led the British charge in the first World Series race of the season as Non Stanford, Vicky Holland and Georgie Taylor-Brown also finished in the top 10.
USA’s Katie Zafares, who finished runner-up to Holland in last year’s World Series, sealed a commanding victory in Abu Dhabi by breaking clear on the 5km run.
With her compatriot Taylor Spivey in second, it was left for Learmonth to out-sprint Under-23 world champion Taylor Knibb to stop a US podium sweep.
“I thought I’d shove ‘em out, “Learmonth joked. “She [Knibb] kept pushing and I thought it was going to come to a sprint finish. I thought: ‘She’s a young buck, she’s not 30-odd, she’ll get me, so I’ll have to push on to getaway.’
“We were working really hard [on the bike]. I’m glad that finally we had a breakaway that worked. I’ve got to be honest, I hadn’t aimed for this race. I’ve had a bit of a bad lead-up and I said I’m just going to get round. It’s a big year for selection and the girls are so strong so I’m just going to take it a race at a time.”
After Learmonth had led out of the water in the 750m swim, a front group that was eventually whittled down to six opened an insurmountable 65sec gaps on the main pack over the 20km bike course.
Even for the calibre of France’s Cassandra Beaugrand and Stanford, it was always going to be too much of a gap and the ever-consistent Zafares, who had stood 17 times on the World Series podium, but only once on the top step, ran clear to win by 26sec in 55min 31sec.
The American also clocked the fastest 5km run leg with a time of 16:09. It was 2sec faster than Stanford, who having left Leeds to join Canadian Joel Filliol’s training group will be encouraged by her start to the World Series. India Lee was the final British competitor in 26th.
There is now a six-week break before the World Series resumes in Bermuda for the second of eight events.
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