World champion Mario Mola, right, held off Britain's 21-year-old WTS debutant Alex Yee to win a third Abu Dhabi title today ©IYU

World champion Mario Mola earned his third victory in Abu Dhabi as the 2019 World Triathlon Series (WTS) got underway today, with the opening women's title of the season going to world number two Katie Zaferes of the United States.

Every one of the top-ranked male athletes was involved in the sprint course at the Yas Marina Circuit, and the 29-year-old Spaniard came out on top thanks to a blistering final run to hold off the challenge of Britain's 21-year-old Alex Yee, who earned a breakthrough silver on his WTS debut.

The triple world champion, who finished in 52.00min, was ready with a hug after the line for his young challenger, who clocked 52.03.

The podium was completed by Mola's fellow countryman Fernando Alarza, with a time of 52.12.

Slovakia's Richard Varga emerged from the water as leader, but South Africa's Commonwealth champion - and defending champion - Henri Schoeman emerged as leader during the cycle discipline.

It was the run where Mola and Yee came into their own after overhauling early leader Hayden Wilde of New Zealand.

"I really had to dig deep in order to bridge the gap," said Mola.

"I knew that if I could run consistently well then I knew it would be a good fight.

"I'm very happy with this especially as it is the first race of the season, and it's great having this new generation like Yee and Wilde to compete with."

Commenting on his first WTS race, Yee said: "This has been above and beyond my expectations.

"It's been incredible to compete with the likes of Mario, Henri, all of them - these guys have been my idols so to get out there with them has been amazing."

It was only a couple of years ago that the Briton had an almost career-ending accident, but that clearly hasn’t put him off.

"They were hard times and getting to this kind of level seemed very far away at certain points, so to be here in Abu Dhabi, after so much hard work, is credit to all the effort that myself and my team has put in," he said.

US world number two Katie Zaferes won the opening ITU World Triathlon Series event of the season in Abu Dhabi today ©ITU
US world number two Katie Zaferes won the opening ITU World Triathlon Series event of the season in Abu Dhabi today ©ITU

The elite ladies in the afternoon did not disappoint either, as Zaferes clinched first place and maximum points to kick off her season with a time of 55.31.

She was followed by fellow American Taylor Spivey in 55.57, while Jessica Learmonth from Britain ensured it was not a clean sweep for the US by completing the podium with a respectable 56.06.

Zaferes did not appear to slow down at any point, especially in her run, where she created a 26-second gap between herself and compatriot Spivey as she crossed the finish line.

Speaking about her victory on the blue carpet, she said: "Even though my muscles felt a little tired before the race, it couldn't have gone more perfectly for me.

"I managed to have a strong bike session which is always the plan.

"This is a great start to my season and I just want to keep getting better; last season really showed me what I need to do this year."

After collecting her silver medal, Spivey added: "It was really hard to tell who was where in the first two laps of the bike, but we could see the gaps starting to appear before the run.

"Now with these points counting towards Tokyo [Olympic Games] it's fantastic to see that we [Americans] are so strong."

Britain's Vicky Holland, the ITU world champion, finished eighth.

The mixed relay will take place tomorrow.