TRIATHLON: Olympians Emma Moffatt and Brendan Sexton will spearhead a six-strong Australian team into triathlon's "land of the unknown" when the ITU World Triathlon Series (WTS) kicks off in a new frontier in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (Saturday night, Australian time).
The opening round in Abu Dhabi will show case the UAE capital for the first time on the prestigious WTS circuit, a city that joins Auckland, the Gold Coast, Cape Town, Yokohama, London, Hamburg, Stockholm, Edmonton and Chicago on a spectacular world tour for the cream of the world's WTS triathlete.
The exclusive Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club will host the Sprint race format with the race unfolding along the breakwater opposite the Abu Dhabi Corniche – that forms a sweeping curve on the western side of the main Abu Dhabi Island.
It will feature a 750m swim off the Volvo Ocean Race yacht pontoons, while the looped 20km bike and 5km run courses, will follow and feature a turnaround point along the Corniche Road starting and finishing at the Sailing & Yacht Club.
It is the start of a campaign Moffatt hopes sets her on track for a third Olympics in Rio next year, while Sexton is hoping to claw his way back to the kind of form that saw him make the Olympic team for London in 2012.
They will be joined by the men's Commonwealth Games trio from Glasgow, Dan Wilson, Ryan Bailie and Aaron Royle in a red-hot men's field that features nine of the world's top 10 – including the top three – Spanish pair Javier Gomez and Mario Mola and Great Britain's Jonathan Brownlee.
The only one missing from the top 10 is Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee who will kick-start his 2015 campaign in Auckland for race two.
Moffatt will only have 2013 Under 213 ITU World Champion Charlotte McShane to keep her company in the women's field that also features 14 of the top 20 and the world's top three – USA pair Gwen Jorgensen and Sarah True (nee Groff) and New Zealander Andrea Hewitt.
Triathlon Australia's National Performance Director Bernard Savage knows there will be no room for complacency.
"It may be the first race of the season but there is no way you can ease your way into racing, that's for sure," said Savage.
"It's going to be an exciting start to the WTS and our guys are going to have to be on their game from the outset.
"Our men's team looks good with a lot of experience and when you look through both sets of fields they are world class – you are up against the best of the best first up.
"And it will be good to see Emma Moffatt back racing and joined by Charlotte McShane."
Head coach of the Australian-based Wollongong Wizards group, Jamie Turner, who has three athletes on the team – Bailie, Royle and McShane as well as ITU World champion, Jorgensen, knows the athletes will have to be prepared for anything in triathlon's new frontier.
"Abu Dhabi is a city of the unknown, when it comes to triathlon," said Turner.
"You have to be ready for the heat, the wind, different equipment and just not knowing what to expect and that's why we are going in early to acclimatise and to get over the jet lag and get four sleeps before you race.
"If it was Hamburg then you know ‘every nook and cranny' like the back of your hand, we've been there so many times.
"We have done as much training in the heat of the day as we can to prepare for the heat and then there's the wind, which determines the wheels you use."
After spending December and January at altitude at Falls Creek, Turner has had McShane training twice a week in the heat adaptation chamber at NSWIS' Sydney headquarters to get her acclimatised to the kind of weather she can expect.
Bailie and Royle, ninth and 10th respectively on the 2014 rankings have shown Turner they are ready for the 2015 WTS circuit, using Abu Dhabi as a launching pad for the Standard (Olympic) distance opener in Auckland on March 28,29 and then the Gold Coast on April 10 and 11.
While Sexton, who had no luck with a puncture in his hit out in Devonport, which forced him out of the race two weeks ago, knows he will have to control the first section of his run.
Bailie, who is swimming as well as ever, has the runs on the board when it comes to sprint distance and Royle is also a class act who will be looking towards Auckland as a key event for him.
Wilson enjoyed an injury free 2014 and according to his coach Stephen Moss is "jumping out of his skin".
WTS RACE ONE – ABU DHABI
Triathlon Australia Release