The focus of the triathlon world will be on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast this weekend with the world’s best athletes in town for ITU Mooloolaba World Cup (11 March), traditionally one of the toughest and fastest races on the international calendar.

World number four Richard Murray (RSA) headlines the super strong men’s field includes defending champion Luke Willian, his Commonwealth Games team mate and world junior champion Matt Hauser, and Rio Olympians Aaron Royle and Ryan Bailie and a host of internationals ready to kick start 2018.

Runner up in Mooloolaba in 2014, Murray is keen go one step higher on the podium and get everything back on track after an uncharacteristic and torrid start to the year at the World Triathlon Series race in Abu Dhabi.

“My form was really good heading into Abu Dhabi. I was a bit behind on the swim and I worked hard on the bike in the first lap and managed to catch the group. But about 20 second later we went over some bricks and there was some oil or something there and a guy crashed in front of me and tried to change my line and I crashed as well.”

“The nerves were a bit wrecked so my cornering was bad, it got worse and then it went downhill from there. The same happened to a lot of guys. It hadn’t rained there for a long time and there was a lot of oil, muck and grit on the course from the race cars. So when it rained it became one of the slipperiest roads to ride on and about 30 guys stacked out of the 60 competing. I am kind of glad that I am coming to Mooloolaba to race so I can hopefully have a good one here.”

Murray is looking for some high quality early season racing and the ITU Mooloolaba World Cup is the perfect race for him to iron out the early season kinks in preparation for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. He is also well aware that early in the season, and over the super quick sprint format, anything is possible.

“I have raced at Mooloolaba in 2014 and was second to Mario Mola. It is definitely a tough course. I almost won it and got beaten by Mario on the run. That year they had to change the swim because of the ocean swell. I haven’t had an ocean swim here before so I am hoping we get that opportunity. An ocean swim will be perfect.”

“Mooloolaba is a great place to race and I had to travel over this side of the world to get to Wanaka in New Zealand where I am going to train and prepare for the Commonwealth Games. I was weighing up whether I should do New Plymouth or Mooloolaba but the Sunshine Coast is a great place to come to and nice place to race and is the weekend immediately after Abu Dhabi. So in the end it was an easy decision.”

“I am not feeling too bad despite the crash in Abu Dhabi. I have one or two little sore spots, bruises and what not but I should be alright. Nothing is broken or cracked or strained so I should be fine but I am sure the Aussie boys will give me a hard time. The likes of Matty Hauser and some of the Kiwis are pretty good and it is a strong field so there is nothing to say that I can’t get taken out,” he laughed.

Aussie youngsters defending champion Luke Willian and Matt Hauser are in the final stages of preparation for the Commonwealth Games and three weeks out, both are keen to get an early season confidence boost against world class opposition.

“Mooloolaba will be a tough race this year and it is on a great little course. Over the sprint distance the field stays together a little more and it makes the run mean a bit more. It is not an easy course so it will quickly show who is fit and who is not firing,” Willian said.

Hauser is excited to racing Mooloolaba but he knows that success comes from believing in the processes he has been putting in place.

“I have been told many times that I need to truly trust executing the processes throughout my racing and that is what I will be doing in these races. I will be focusing on the Commonwealth Games and how I need to execute my race there by trying to emulate those processes in the Mooloolaba World Cup and not get too caught up in the result. I know that if I give 100 per cent and tick all the boxes then it will be a good day out for me,” he said.

Rio Olympians Ryan Bailie and Aaron Royle add to the depth of the field assembled in Mooloolaba and after frustrating run with injury both are determined to get back to their best in 2018.

“My preparation so far has been consistent,” Bailie said. “For me to be going well I need that consistency in training which I missed a lot of last year with a few injuries and niggles that kept me away from the work I need to be at my best. Missing so much racing last season Mooloolaba gives me exposure to a quality field without having to travel too far. It is a wonderful chance to look at where my fitness is and build on it for other races I’ll be targeting later on in the year.”

“With the Commonwealth Games being just around the corner a lot of athletes would use Mooloolaba as a tune up. So I’m not surprised at all the field that it has attracted. The good thing about the tough course that Mooloolaba provides is that it zaps the speed some athletes possess and favours those who are more strength based athletes, which is perfect for an early season race when you haven’t done a whole heap of faster work. It’s going to take the winner to have a very good swim, ride and run to come out on top,” he said.

Royle has been doing his early season preparation in Leeds and while the weather has been pretty grim and the daylight hours short, he has found a way to get the work done.

“Training doesn’t stop because it’s raining or snowing, so while some days are tough, preparation for the season ahead has gone well. Mooloolaba is at the very start of my season and I am excited to race this year as I have missed it recently due to injury. Mooloolaba is a course that is relentless and favours an aggressive style of racing. With the top Australian athletes and some very strong internationals it should make for a very fast race,” he said.