With just a few hours to go before the start of this year’s Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, things are generally looking pretty good for the Canadian pros lined up to race here in the morning. Heather and Trevor Wurtele got here a few days later than they had hoped due to visa problems, but seem to be in great form and spirits as they prepare for tomorrow’s race. Fresh off an impressive win at Ironman 70.3 Panama, Angela Naeth also seems to be ready to take on some of the world’s best. Poor Rachel McBride, though, was still awaiting the arrival of her bike – hopefully it gets in tonight and she’ll be on her own bike tomorrow.
“This is a course that is really exciting for us,” Heather Wurtele said today. “This is definitely a good cyclists course and since it’s so flat and likely to be windy, it’ll be good for us tall strong cyclists. There’s an extremely strong women’s field, but there are a few women who haven’t tackled this kind of distance before so it should be interesting.”
“The key for me is to be out of the water in a good position so I can be with guys who I can ride with and then finish it off with a good run,” said Trevor, who no-doubt gained some running confidence from his 2:51 marathon at Ironman Arizona last November. “It’ll be a great race – I’m looking forward to it.”
Angela Naeth came off the bike in third place here in Abu Dhabi last year, only to be passed by a couple of women on the run. It was her first long distance race and in the year between she’s gained a lot of experience, including two Ironman 70.3 wins (Boulder and Panama).
“There are very strong riders in this race, so (it’s difficult) trying to figure out where you’re going to come out of the swim,” Naeth said in an interview today. “Then with the long bike ride, it will be difficult to figure out when to push hard or whether to hold back a bit.”
Naeth typically posts some of the fastest bike splits in the races she enters, so a 200 km bike ride should play in her favour. Add to that the absence of two-time champion Julie Dibens, and the door opens for the Prince George, B.C. native to potentially lead off the bike in the morning.
If Naeth doesn’t lead off the bike, another Canadian could very well do so, and it’s not the speedy Wurtele. McBride is a powerful cyclist who burst onto the scene last year with three 70.3 podiums and an 11th place finish at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 last year, will definitely be a major player on the bike here – provided, of course, that bike arrives!
“Racing for me is about pushing my mental and physical limits,” McBride said in a press release before the race. “I believe Abu Dhabi has the potential to be a very boundary-breaking event for me, where I can test these limits among some of the best athletes in the world.”
The Canadian contingent truly will be taking on some of the best in the world this weekend. At yesterday’s press conference Dibens picked Caroline Steffen to be the woman to beat, but even the impressive Swiss athlete is hardly a hands down favourite. Names like Rachel Joyce (a multiple top-five Kona finisher), Leanda Cave (third in Kona last year and then the Ironman Arizona champ) are just two of the many that can be bandied around as top competitors. Many are also focussing on last year’s Ironman World Championship 70.3 champion Melissa Rollinson, who has burst on to the 70.3 scene over the last 18 months after a career as a track and field athlete. She’s going to do the longest bike ride of her life tomorrow, but she’s such a tough athlete and fierce competitor that many here are planning on keeping a keen eye on the Aussie.
Defending men’s champion Frederic Van Lierde is going to be taking on an incredible field that includes a virtual who’s who of distance racing. Names like Dirk Bockel, Eneko Llanos, Faris Al Sultan, Rasmus Henning, Maik Twelsiek litter this starting list. And all of them might find themselves chasing the man renowned as the fastest cyclist in the sport, Chris Lieto. For years the triathlon world has felt this is the perfect course for the American – tomorrow we might get an idea if that’s true or not. Even Lieto might spend much of the day chasing Australia’s Clayton Fettell, a frighteningly fast swimmer who can ride like the wind, too.
Suffice it to say that we’re looking forward to an incredible day of racing here in Dubai tomorrow, a day that could very well see some Canadians at or near the front.
We’ll have a race report from here in Dubai for you once the race is completed.