As you’re running along the Corniche, staring out into the Arabian Gulf after having just ridden your bike on one of the most spectacular racetracks in the world, you appreciate that one of the most alluring aspects of triathlon is having the ability to travel with the sport. The opportunity to explore new places and cultures while competing in a race makes for a much richer experience.
The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT) was launched in 2010 and, building on the success of that race, the 2011 race drew an even bigger crowd with an even more impressive pro field. With an impressive list of former and current Ironman world champions, all chasing after one of the largest prize purses in the sport, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has quickly put itself on the map as one of the most prestigious races in the world of triathlon racing.
Abu Dhabi has all the elements to host a world-class race. As a modern city that owes much of its economic success to its oil production, it has new roads, a beautifully developed waterfront, stunning architecture, world-class hotels and restaurants, along with a diverse and multicultural community of expatriates and locals. The backdrop of the Arabian Gulf and the sand dunes of the desert set the tone for a truly scenic race.
Mid-March is a perfect time for Canadians looking for a warm weather getaway to consider a destination race. Abu Dhabi is serviced by a number of international airlines, but Etihad Airways, the nation’s official airline, has direct flights from Toronto to Abu Dhabi. Canadians are required to have travel visas and can obtain them through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Ottawa. Check with your travel agent, or the UAE Embassy, prior to departure, as there have been recent changes to visa requirements for Canadians. Upon arrival at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, transportation is easily available. Taxis are reasonably inexpensive and can take you directly to the city. Once in the city centre it’s relatively easy to get around. Frequent public buses can take you up and down the Corniche for 1 dirham (about 25 cents) and there is no shortage of taxis that can take you just about everywhere else.
The official event hotel is the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana and offers special rates for competitors. This five-star hotel has a wonderful restaurant and pool along with beachfront access with great open water swimming. The hotel is situated right across from the Emirates Palace, which is not to be confused with the actual presidential palace, but rather one of the most opulent hotels in the world. A six-star hotel famous for it’s decorated gold leaf marble and 1,000 Swarovski crystal chandeliers, its private beach serves as T1 and the race start and is within walking distance from the host hotel. Race packet pick-up is at the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan and, leading up to race day, the hotel hosts several clinics and autograph signings from the pros. Wolfi’s, the local bike shop, provides support during the event and leading up to race day sets up shop at the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan. It’s perfect for those in need of bike service or who simply want to pick up some accessories like race day nutrition, tires, tubes, or Co2 cartridges. You can pre-order what you need online and pick up at the stand when you get there.
The ADIT offers three distances: a long course (3km swim, 200km bike, 20km run), a short course (1.5km swim, 100km bike, 10km run) and, new in 2011, a sprint course (750m swim, 50km bike, 5km run), along with a short- and sprint-distance team relay. As mentioned, the swim starts on the private beach of the Emirates Palace and takes you out on a loop in the private lagoon. After T1 the bike course winds along the Corniche and through the closed streets of downtown Abu Dhabi where it eventually finds its way alongside the port and onto the Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed Highway. Surrounded by deserts and sand dunes, the highway crosses Saadiyat Island and leads to the Yas Marina Formula One Grand Prix Circuit. Abu Dhabi became part of the international Formula One circuit in 2009 and the track was quickly praised as one of the world’s great modern Grand Prix Circuits. The racetrack, with its windy chicanes and fast pit straights, serves as a dramatic backdrop for one of the most unique bike experiences of any triathlon race. After a lap, athletes make their way back to Abu Dhabi and, depending on their race distance, do a quick out and back on the main highway before ending up in T2. The bike course is closed and the fresh tarmac (and a tail wind) makes it fast. The run course edges along the beautiful Corniche, across Breakwater Bridge, and takes athletes out to do a loop around an immense flagpole (claimed as the largest in the world) and back to the finish. The race is well supported and there are numerous aid stations along both the bike and run course.
Outside of the race, Abu Dhabi has much to explore. Situated between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and bordering the countries Oman and Saudi Arabia, the UAE is a federation of seven emirates with which Abu Dhabi is it’s capital. In the city there are some fantastic shopping options and travelers can choose from either the comforts of the air conditioned Marina Mall, with its range exclusive luxury goods manufacturers, or explore the more traditional souks and markets. The carpet souk, fish souk and the Madinat Zayed gold market are well worth exploring Something definitely not to be missed is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Opened in 2007, the mosque is the largest in the UAE and the eighth largest in the world. Named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates, the mosque is large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshipers at a time. With its gold encrusted crystal chandeliers, pristine white marble walls and minarets, along with the largest hand woven carpet in the world, the mosque is an awesome sight. It’s open weekdays from 9 am to 8 pm except Friday mornings.
Another recently completed attraction worth visiting is Ferrari World. Located next to the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island, Ferrari World has a number of attractions to experience. There is a collection of historic Ferrari Formula One cars and vintage Ferrari’s dating from the 50s, 60s and 70s, along with a selection of current models. Ferrari World is also home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa. With speeds reaching 240 kilometers per hour it’s guaranteed to terrify any thrill seeker. Another great option to consider is a desert safari. Tour operators take you over some of the desert’s largest sand dunes before arriving at a camp where visitors are treated to a barbeque, followed by tradition shisha, also referred to as a hookah or water pipe, camel rides and falconry displays. Visitors can choose to stay the night and travel further into the desert and mountains the next day. Arrangements can be made through one of the various tour operators found on the UAE website or your hotel.
Travelers will find the people in Abu Dhabi welcoming. Locals are very friendly and informative and genuinely want foreigners to enjoy themselves and explore the culture. Abu Dhabi is very much a mosaic of both local and foreign culture. Visitors can easily choose to explore the more traditional sites and sounds of the region or treat themselves to the various luxury hotels and dine on some exceptional cuisine. Either way, there is something for everyone and this event is highly recommended for those looking to turn a race into an adventurous vacation.
Facts for the Traveler:
Abu Dhabi International Triathlon website www.abudhabitriathlon.com
Abu Dhabi Tourism website www.visitabudhabi.ae
Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana – Official Event Hotel
Etihad Airways www.etihadairways.com
Electricity: 220/240 volts at 50 Hz. Square three-pin sockets are standard.
Water: Tap water is safe to drink.
Currency: The UAE’s money is the dirham (AED). Money exchanges (bureau de changes) are all over Abu Dhabi and many hotels will exchange money and travelers cheques. ATM machines are also available throughout the city.
Time Zone: The UAE is four hours ahead of GMT
Chris Lepik is the photo editor of Triathlon Magazine Canada. He finished the short course event in Abu Dhabi.