By Merryn Sherwood on 19/03/12 at 8:29 pm
It’s the sixth year in a row that Mooloolaba will open the ITU World Cup season, which makes it the second time that it’s opened an Olympic year. Back in 2008, three-time ITU World Champion Emma Snowsill took out the Mooloolaba title and went on to win Gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, while two-time ITU World Champion Javier Gomez took the men’s and then finished fourth in Beijing.
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A host of triathlon legends have topped the podium over the years, plenty of them Australian, as they have dominated this race at home. This year, with Olympic qualifying hanging in the balance, the races could be anyones as some of the best in the world line up to try their chances over the mass beach start and challenging course on Australia’s Sunshine coast.
Elite Women’s Preview
Judging from her stellar finish to the 2011 season, wins at the Beijing Grand Final, Yokohama and Auckland, Andrea Hewitt is the female triathlete to beat right now. She’s making her season debut in Mooloolaba. But while Hewitt is arguably the in-form athlete at the end of 2011, there are a host of others in Mooloolaba who were starting to hit their best at the end of last year or start of 2012. They include New Zealand’s Kate McIlroy, who claimed a bronze medal behind Hewitt in Yokohama, Switzerland’s Melanie Annaheim, the Beijing Grand Final bronze medallist, Sweden’s Lisa Norden, the USA’s Gwen Jorgensen and Australia’s two-time ITU World Champion Emma Moffatt, who claimed silver in Yokohama and then her third Australian sprint title in Geeling to kickstart 2012, and it wouldn’t be surprising if any them topped the podium here.
But the women’s race in Mooloolaba will be intriguing for those also looking for a fresh start in 2012. More to watch from this category include the reigning Olympic gold medallist Snowsill, who didn’t record a win in 2011, and Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf and Nicola Spirig. Both spent Ryf and Spirig long periods of time on the sideline last year, but are world-beaters on their day and importantly on a course that can benefit strong cyclists, are more than capable of leading a breakaway. A good result for Ryf would also play well for Switzerland’s Olympic ambitions. Switzerland currently have two athletes qualified, but Ryf is sitting as the third and just behind Germany’s Kathrin Mueller. As Germany is currently the eight NF to have three spots, if Ryf can overtake Muller in the rankings it would allow Switzerland to send three athletes.
While Mueller isn’t in Mooloolaba, the Germans have a strong team including Svenja Bazlen, Anne Haug and Rebecca Robisch. Others to watch when it comes to Olympic qualifying include Laura Bennett, who is fighting for the third spot on the USA women’s team to join Jorgensen and Sarah Groff, and Kiyomi Niwata - who is aiming to qualify for her fourth consecutive Olympics.
Canadians Kirsten Sweetland and Lauren Campbell also had injury inflicted seasons in 2011, but have had good early season form, and Sweetland is always dangerous on the course she won her first World Cup title on in 2009.
Elite Men’s Preview
Brad Kahlefeldt has claimed three of his seven ITU World Cup wins in Mooloolaba and this year he’s going for his fourth overall and third consecutive win. Therefore, it’s no surprise that he will start as one of the favourites, though this is Kahlefeldt’s first race of 2012, while a host of other athletes already have results under their belts. Of those, last year’s silver medallist Brendan Sexton is coming off an impressive win at the Oceania Championships, Aaron Royle with a sprint win in Kinloch and a third place in Devonport, and Courtney Atkinson a fifth place in Devonport.
A trio of Frenchman features two top-10 ITU World Championship finishers from last year, Laurent Vidal and David Hauss, as well as veteran Tony Moulai. Hauss and Laurent will line up wearing #1 and #2 respectively. Others to watch include 2012 Pan American champion Tyler Butterfield who should thrive on the hilly Mooloolaba course, William Clarke, the man currently looking most likely to join the Brownlees on Team GB for London, and a strong German contigent that includes Steffen Justus and veteran Maik Petzold.
In terms of Olympic qualifying, keep an eye on the Canadians Brent McMahon and Kyle Jones. Currently Russia hold the eighth spot on the list of nations with three spots, but a good result for Jones in particular could see him overtake Ivan Vasiliev - who is not racing - and move Canada into eighth place. Also in the Olympic theme, keep an eye on Chris McCormack in his comeback campaign to add an Olympic Games to his already stellar triathlon resume, and two athletes who are aiming for their fourth consecutive Olympic Games Juraci Moreira of Brazil and and Swiss Reto Hug.
The action gets underway when the men’s elite starts at 3pm (local time) on Saturday 24 March 24 followed by the women’s race at 12.45pm on Sunday 25 March. Both races will be decided over a 1.5km swim with a mass beach start, a seven-lap 40km bike leg along Mooloolaba Esplanade and Alexandra Parade, over the Alex Hill. The run is then a four-lap 10km leg, along the Mooloolaba Esplanade and Alex Hill. Follow live through with timing and text updates, at www.triathlon.org/live, or Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/triathlonlive.
Find more details about this event - 2012 Mooloolaba ITU Triathlon World Cup