Three of the world’s leading female elite athletes have thrown their hats into the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon 2013 ring, as they look to flex their competitive muscles against what is expected to be the strongest women’s field to date.
Having peppered the podium for the last few years, Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen, Canada’s Angela Naeth and Australia’s Melissa Hauschildt (nee Rollison), are all familiar with Abu Dhabi’s ‘pure power’ 223kms course, yet have fallen short of taking home one of the sport’s richest prize purses, despite stringing together some of the sport’s most prestigious accolades globally.
The UAE capital’s warm weather, flat-out course and iconic distance have all proved to be a chink in the female trio’s armour – hurdles all hope to overcome on March 2nd this year.
Steffen, one of the event’s longest running competitors who has twice finished in the top three, is back for the fourth time and believes her knowledge of the unique Abu Dhabi course – which includes a lung-bursting 3kms swim, 200kms bike ride and 20kms run – will stand her in good stead.
“I now want to win it. The biggest factors in the race are heat, wind and the gruelling distance on the bike but luckily I like all these influences so I hope this will put me at the top,” said the two-time ITU Long Distance World Series champion.
The ex-national Swiss swimmer comes into the new season having dominated the 2012 circuit, taking the Asia-Pacific and European Ironman Championship titles and setting a world record bike split (4:35:29) at Ironman Melbourne, proving her versatility to handle any distance with ease.
Steffen will be acclimatising to the Abu Dhabi heat and training through her native European winter in Australia, where she will be focusing on her bike and swim, though in her opinion the race will be won or lost on the final 10k run.
Hot on her heels will be the Canadian ‘pocket rocket’ Naeth, who will be racing to improve on her 2012 second place finish. Her excellent early season result in Abu Dhabi set her up for an outstanding season – winning Rev3 Portland, 70.3 Ironman Syracuse, 70.3 Ironman St. Croix (course record), Leadman 125 Las Vegas and 70.3 Ironman Panama.
The Canadian star, who will take on the 223km long course, is already working on her race strategy: “The biggest edge you can get in this race is just building the endurance needed to get away from the group, having the ability to push when needed on the bike will be key and that’s what I intend to do.”
Neath is confident she will be ready for the warmer temperatures come race day and is keen to not make the same errors as in 2012.
“In the last race I was able to stretch out from the group on the bike but made a small mistake of letting off before I headed off to run. I’ll be keen as ever to make that gap and hold it. Swimming faster will also help!”
A relative newcomer to long distance events, Hauschildt became an instant legend when she burst onto the pro circuit and claimed every title she raced for – including the 70.3 World Championships. With a handful of wins in 2012 and a course record at the 70.3 Australian Pro Championships at her back, the 29-year-old Brisbane girl is keen to prove she is one of the world’s best.
“I think my biggest challenge last time was conserving energy on the bike. I came out a few minutes behind in the swim and rode hard to make up that lost time. When we caught the leaders I had already put out a lot of energy and wasn’t prepared for the surges. I also sat too far back as I was nervous about coming into the draft zone,” she said.
Abu Dhabi was Hauschildt’s first drafting race and she believes the experience has given her what it takes to go all the way in March.
“With experience of the course and a good season behind me, I’m in a competitive position to fight for the podium. I also went into last time with a rolled ankle so my physical fitness is in much better condition this time.”
Hauschildt will be training in the Southern Hemisphere sun to prepare for the emirate’s Arabian temperatures, which can reach a 30 degrees Celsius in March. She’ll also be putting in hours on the bike for the long 200k cycle leg where she hopes to get her lead and come into Transition 2 strong.
The impressive female line-up continues with yet another athlete who is set firmly in the pro history books – New Zealand’s Jo Lawn, who owns the title of seven-time Ironman New Zealand winner. She raced Abu Dhabi in 2011 and finished in the top ten – a result she wants to better.
In addition Canadians Heather Wurtele and Rachel McBride, as well as their fellow countrywoman and newcomer Tenille Hoogland, whose first full Ironman was last November, are also keen to make waves at the event.
Overall female participation in the event has seen a steady increase since its inception in 2010, both with professionals and amateurs. Between 2011 and 2012, female participation rose by 15% to 413 athletes, with more than half coming from the GCC – a positive barometer for the sport’s growth across the region.
“Sport is about breaking down boundaries and to see so many female athletes take to the starting blocks is highly positive for triathlon’s future in the region. Being able to compete with role models like Angela, Caroline and Melissa in Abu Dhabi gives many people the added motivation to take up the sport. With an ever increasing number of facilities and clubs for budding triathletes to join across the emirate, it has never been easier to Tri,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), which is behind the race.
Find out more about the race at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon.