Ones to watch at the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series
The scenic surroundings of Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi will play host to the first leg of the World Triathlon Series (WTS).
The competition on 8/9 March kicks off the global season which includes seven events plus the ITU Grand Final in Lausanne, starting on 29 August.
Defending champions Mario Mola of Spain and Vicky Holland from Great Britain are among the big names to watch over the season, but don't forget about Olympic medallists Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and Bermudian star Flora Duffy.
Abu Dhabi is also one of the five stops presenting the Elite Mixed Relay, with Hamburg, Germany, hosting the World Championships again.
The event, which consists of teams of two men and two women, will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 and qualifying points will be at stake.
Here are the athletes to look out for in the new triathlon season.
The Spanish 'TRI-Armada'
Three-time WTS champion Mario Mola will be the man to beat again.
The 29-year-old is looking for a record fourth consecutive title and will lead a strong Spanish contingent.
Last season Mola equalled the feat of compatriot Javier Gomez Noya, who won three back-to-back ITU world titles (five in total) from 2013 to 2015.
Gomez will be back to short distance racing after pursuing IRONMAN distances for a year and a half.
The 35-year-old missed Rio 2016 due to injury and is targeting Tokyo 2020.
He will take part in the ITU World Cup event in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on 31 March and plans to return to the World Triathlon Series at the Bermuda stop.
Early this year Gomez claimed the IRONMAN 70.3 event in Geelong, Australia, to qualify for the World Championships in Nice, France (7/8 September).
Spain's Fernando Alarza is looking to improve on his fifth and sixth place finishes in the last two seasons.
The 2018 European silver medallist has changed coach and team, and aims to return to the top of the podium for the first time since 2016 (Cape Town).
In-form Vincent Luis from France, who won ITU WTS bronze in 2015 and silver in 2018, leads the other contenders for the men's title.
The list also includes South Africa's ITU world number two Richard Murray and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Henri Schoeman, Norway's Kristian Blummenfelt, fifth in 2018, and Australia's Jason Birtwhistle, third in the series last year.
Jon Brownlee eyes Tokyo
Two-time Olympic medallist Jon Brownlee is ready to bounce back after a nightmare season.
In 2018, the 28-year-old didn't make a single podium for the first time since 2009 and finished a disappointing seventh at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.
This season started on a brighter note with a stage victory in the Super League series in Singapore, but the ITU rankings' world number 9 will not race all of the World series, focusing on qualifying for Tokyo 2020:
"My main aim is to win an Olympic medal again, ideally a gold one", he told Shropshire Star.
"Qualifying a year out is more important because of the challenges of the heat and the humidity. You want to be ready for that race.”
Alistair Brownlee still pondering his future
Will his brother Alistair join him?
The double Olympic champion experienced mixed fortunes in 2018.
He was quite successful in the longer format races, winning the IRONMAN 70.3 event in Dubai and clinching silver in the World Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, over the same distance.
On the other hand, the 30-year-old struggled with persistent injuries: he missed the ITU event in Leeds, came in fourth at the European Championships in Glasgow and tenth at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
The Brit was also disqualified from the Grand Final of the World Triathlon Series after failing to go around a buoy during the swim leg.
Under the British triathlon selection policy, Alistair could secure a place for Tokyo by finishing on the podium at the test event on 16 August.
However, the Yorkshire-born athlete hasn't announced whether he wants to focus on Tokyo 2020 or pursue his career over middle-long distance racing.
"I think he'll only want to do Tokyo if he can be on that start-line knowing he's 100 percent ready to win that race" his brother Jonny said in an interview with Shropshire Star.
A three-way battle on the women's side
On the women's side, Olympic bronze medallist Vicky Holland will look to defend her title.
The 33-year-old just joined the Bahrain Endurance team and topped the ITU world rankings in 2018 after a stellar season.
She reached five podiums in the WTS, including three wins (Leeds, Edmonton, Montreal), to add to a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and a victory in the ITU World Cup (Cape Town).
Katie Zaferes will likely be her main rival.
The American lost the series championship title after being surpassed by Holland in the Grand Final on Gold Coast and will seek revenge.
In the last three years, the 29-year-old has moved from fourth to second in the WTS standings and just ended the Super League Series with a win in Singapore.
“I feel like if I can get better at this type of racing, it is only going to make me better for the WTS series” she told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Flora Duffy will skip the Abu Dhabi event to be in perfect shape for her home race in Bermuda on April 27, where she triumphed in 2018.
Last year, the 2016 and 2017 champion also became her country's first female gold medal winner at the Commonwealth Games.
After missing the final part of last season with a foot injury, Duffy has been training in South Africa and results in local events were encouraging.
Spirig aiming for fifth Olympics
London 2012 gold medallist Nicola Spirig will be out for most of the season.
The 36-year-old Swiss is expecting her third child in April, and is hoping to be back in action in late 2019.
Spirig is not new to coming back after maternity leave: after giving birth to her daughter in 2017, she won the European title for the sixth time last year and took a World Cup win in Lausanne.
The Rio 2016 silver medallist is aiming for her fifth Games:
"Tokyo is my big goal. I still have a lot of motivation and passion for my sport and would like to compete again for a medal in Tokyo".
The 2019 World Triathlon Series schedule:
8 March: Abu Dhabi
27 April: Bermuda
18 May: Yokohama
9 June: Leeds
29 June: Montreal
6 July: Hamburg
20 July: Edmonton
31 August: Lausanne (ITU Grand Final)