On Saturday, more than 50 of the world’s best triathletes will be racking their bikes for the $250 000 USD Abu Dhabi International Triathlon 2012, as they ready to contest one of the sport’s richest prize purses.
The race bill is star studded with World Champions, World Record Holders and Olympians, joining some of the sport’s most promising up and coming talent from growing triathlon hot spots such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.
This year’s elite field includes athletes who have recorded a combined total of 16 World Championship titles, 47 European titles, 102 national titles and 76 Ironman wins, plus more than 500 podium places between them – suggesting the strongest line-up in the March 3rd event’s history.
“This event has gone from strength-to-strength, both in terms of the quality and depth competing. When we started this event three years ago, we wanted to create a showpiece that would be a calendar highlight for triathletes the world over. Looking at this year’s line-up, I would say we have fully achieved that goal,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority – which is behind the event.
A 2012 highlight for the men’s race is the arrival of Chris Lieto, the American known as the ‘fastest man on a bike,’ who has 80 triathlons and 15 victories under his belt, including three Ironman wins and three top 10 Championship finishes, including a second place in 2009.
Known for his strength and skill on two wheels, Lieto recently underlined his reputation with a stunning 4:25:10 bike leg at the Ironman World Championships – an achievement that will put him in pole position as he debuts on Abu Dhabi’s unique 200km bike course.
Lieto said, “I am very excited to race Abu Dhabi this year. I am usually not prepared in my fitness this early in the year but I have decided to up my training and put in the miles to be ready. I just finished Ironman 70.3 Panama as a preparation race and good signs of my fitness are showing. I have a couple of weeks to fine tune some things and I feel I will be ready to contend for a win at Abu Dhabi.”
Also looking to defend his crown is returning champion Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierdre, who snatched overall victory in the 223kms ‘pure power’ course last year with a combined time of 6h:43:14 – a winning margin of just 18 seconds over compatriot Marino Vanhoenacker.
“Abu Dhabi is for me the perfect event to get motivated through winter! It’s such a great event in a wonderful setting. Since the beginning of December I have spent four training camps preparing for Abu Dhabi. With the ice cold temperatures we have had in Belgium I even managed to do a four hour bike ride on my ergo-trainer, a new personal record and that’s all because of Abu Dhabi! I’ll be as ready as I can be to defend my title,” said the current champion.
Hot on his heels will be a string of contenders, all with the skill and determination to clinch victory in the UAE capital showpiece. Double Abu Dhabi podium finisher Dirk Bockel and five times World Cup winner Rasmus Henning have got the on-course experience to run a smart and strategic race.
Hailing from Luxemburg, Bockel has been within a stride of Abu Dhabi glory twice, finishing in third and second place. This year he is back stronger than ever after joining the cycling team Leopard Trek and training with top Tour de France contenders. Henning will also be back with vengeance after his Abu Dhabi dreams were dashed by cramps early on the bike course last year, a disappointing finish after coming third in the inaugural event.
Other big hitters include first year champion Eneko Llanos, plus Clayton Fettell, Andrew Starykowicz, Fraser Cartmell, Luke Bell, James Cunnama and Leon Griffin.
Rounding off the men’s field from local Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team are captain Faris Al-Sultan, Swen Sundenberg and new additions Paul Ambrose, Maik Tweisiek and Jeremy Jurkiewicz.
The women’s race is packed with first-class competitors, making for a tight fight throughout the entire 223km long course flagship competition.
Caroline Steffen, ‘the Swiss Miss’ is returning to Abu Dhabi for the third time – hoping to better her second place finish last year. In 2011 she overcame injury to win six events in five countries and has been a top five finisher at the Ironman World Championships in both 2011 and 2010. With her Long Distance background, Steffen – the 2010 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championship winner – will be the one to beat.
Looking to make her mark in Abu Dhabi is Melissa Rollison, a relative newcomer to triathlon having only switched to the sport in 2010 after a successful athletics career. In just a short time, the Australian has managed to dominate the world’s Half Ironman circuit winning an incredible seven events, breaking course records for each and is currently 70.3 World Champion.
Also predicted to be in the lead pack on race day are British trio Leanda Cave, Emma-Kate Lidbury and Rachel Joyce, Canadian Angela Neath, and Australian Nikki Butterfield.
Cave won her first Ironman gold at the end of 2011 and is fighting fit after a season of 13 races – of which she managed five wins. She changes between distances with ease – Ironman, Long distance, Olympic distance, Half Ironman and Duathlon – standing her in good stead for the unique Abu Dhabi distance.
Familiar with the conditions and format of the race, as former member of Abu Dhabi team, is Rachel Joyce, who won the ITU Long Course Championships and came fourth at the Ironman World Champions in 2011. Neath, with her strong bike credentials including fastest split at 70.3 Boulder and bike course record at 70.3 Ironman Croix, as well as a string of fastest bike times in recent events, is also expected to dominate the course, which includes the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Another athlete who will be giving her all on the bike is Butterfield – the former Under-23 World Champion and Australian Long Course Champion – who is returning to the sport after five years out as a professional cyclist in America and Europe. And not to be underestimated is Lidbury, a three time 70.3 champion who made the top 10 in her Abu Dhabi debut last year.
And finally, newest Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team addition, joining compatriot Kristin Moller in the women’s field, is Jodie Swallow, from Loughborough, UK, who is hoping to make her mark on the emirate and her new home.
“This event has become one of the most coveted titles to win in the professional triathlete world. It is incredibly exciting to be part of the race and doubly because I will be racing for Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team. Good luck to all who contest and I hope the event and the competitors inspire and entertain the wonderful people of the UAE,” said 2010 World 70.3 Champion Swallow, now fully recovered from injury.
The elites will battle it out on the same power packed course as the record breaking number of age group athletes – an experience set to motivate these ‘weekend warriors’ who are coming from 67 different countries.
For 2012, the race offers a selection of distances to accommodate athletes of all abilities. The 223km ‘long course’ boasts a 3km swim, a 200km cycle and 20km closing run – the same distances as the world class elite. Newcomers can choose to tackle the ‘short’ course at half the length, with a 1.5km swim, a 100km cycle and a 10 km run.
The sprint course offers a 750m swim, a 50km bike and 5km run. Both the short and sprint distance also offer the option of a relay entry, encouraging like-minded friends, families and colleagues to take up the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon challenge.
The unique course offers the sport’s most picturesque setting; starting in a clear blue lagoon, biking on the famous Yas Marina Circuit, and then ending on the sweeping shores of Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Pro Women Start List
Angela Naeth (CAN)
Caroline Steffen (SWI)
Christie Sym (AUS)
Daniela Sammler (GER)
Emma-Kate Lidbury (UK)
Eva Nystrom (SWE)
Emi Sakai (JAP)
Heather Wurtele (CAN)
Jodie Swallow (UK)
Kristin Moller (GER)
Leanda Cave (AUS)
Lisa Ribes (USA)
Lucie Zelenkova (CZE)
Melissa Rollison (AUS)
Michelle Bremer (NZ)
Nikki Butterfield (AUS)
Rachel Joyce (UK)
Rachel McBride (CAN)
Silvia Felt (GER)
Pro Men Start List
Andi Boecherer (GER)
Andrew Starykowicz (USA)
Bryan McCrystal (IRE)
Bryan Rhodes (NZ)
Chris Lieto (USA)
Clayton Fettell (AUS)
Dan Halksworth (UK)
Dirk Bockel (LUX)
Eneko Llanos (SPA)
Erich Wegscheider (USA)
Faris Al-Sultan (GER)
Fraser Cartmell (SCO)
Frederik Van Lierde (BEL)
James Cunnama (AUS)
Jeremy Jurkiewicz (GER)
Johann Ackermann (FRA)
Jo Spindler (GER)
Leon Griffin (AUS)
Luke Bell (AUS)
Maik Tweisiek (GER)
Michael Davidson (SA)
Niclas Bock (GER)
Nicolas Munoz (ESP)
Paul Ambrose (AUS)
Rasmus Henning (DEN)
Sam Hsieh (Short Distance) (TAI)
Stephen Bayliss (UK)
Swen Sundenberg (GER)