Birtwhistle leads Aussie triathlon charge

Australia's top male triathlete Jake Birtwhistle heads a small team in Japan for this weekend's opening round of the World Triathlon championship series.

Tokyo Olympic hopeful Jake Birtwhistle will head a small Australian contingent competing in Yokohama this weekend as the World Triathlon championship series gets underway.

Just six Australian athletes have opted to make the trip to Japan given COVID-19 travel restrictions, but starved of international competition Birtwhistle was desperate to get back into action.

Saturday's race is his first on the international circuit since his 2019 breakout season, when he won two World Triathlon Series titles.

Spending much of 2020 and early 2021 training at home in Launceston, Birtwhistle said he was excited to return to the world stage as he looks to cement his Tokyo Olympic selection.

"It's been a long time since my last international race, so I'm just happy to be back," Birtwhistle said.

"I'm looking forward to putting my training to the test in Yokohama this weekend.

"It's a great opportunity to see where my training is at, but more important to simply be back racing this top level competition again ahead of Tokyo in a few months."

Joining him in the Elite Men's field is Aaron Royle, who heads to Yokohama off the back of a solid season of domestic racing in Australia.

They'll be facing strong competition from podium regulars including South African 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Henri Schoeman and 2019 World Triathlon grand final winner, Norway's Kristian Blummenfelt.

In the elite women's field, Natalie Van Coevorden will be looking to reap the rewards of a solid 2020 season of training and racing in Europe.

She'll be joined by Emma Jackson, who arrives in Yokohama from a domestic campaign.

A strong American contingent will contest the event headed by 2019 world champion Katie Zaferes.

In the World Triathlon Para Series, Australians Clint Pickin (Men's PTS4) and Katie Kelly (Women's PTVI) will be on the hunt for strong performances to secure their places in Tokyo later this year.