The titans of male triathlon have thrown the gauntlet down for next month’s US$230,000 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon as the world’s best are ready to contest one of the sport’s richest prizes against the event’s strongest ever field.
Returning champions – Eneko Llanos and Frederik Van Lierde – will line up against triathlon powerhouses, Conrad ‘The Caveman’ Stoltz, Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack and Bryan ‘Rhodesy’ Rhodes – who have dominated the sport over the last decade – as they vie for the coveted Abu Dhabi crown on March 2nd.
With an enviable pedigree of countless podium places, ITU titles and Ironman world championships between them, the ‘famous five’ will be the ones to beat for Abu Dhabi’s pure power 223kms flagship race.
Hoping to score big on his Abu Dhabi debut, South African stalwart Stoltz has an international reputation as one of the world’s most multifaceted endurance athletes. With a professional career spanning over 20 years, Stoltz remains a force to be reckoned with on the elite circuit and is chomping at the bit to make his mark in the United Arab Emirates’ capital.
Last year alone, the 39-year old raced 18 times, winning two world titles (ITU Cross Tri), and his tenth Xterra USA Series title, as well as 10 other victories and six podiums. With 50 Xterra career wins, 10 Xterra series USA titles and four Xterra World Champion nods – he will be one of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) event’s dark horses.
“‘Pure Power’ and ‘Caveman’ goes together like ‘desert’ and ‘sand’! The Abu Dhabi triathlon is a new challenge for me, I like the long bike leg and shorter run. It will be interesting for me to see what I am capable of,” said Stoltz, who has raced ITU for 15 years and Xterra for 12 years.
“I ‘m an Xterra athlete which has a total race time of around two-and-a-half hours, so this is all new to me. Call me the rookie. I guess race day will be a surprise for us all.”
Though the distance is new, Stoltz has the edge in the warm Arabian weather and is ready to pounce on any of his competitors’ slip ups.
“I like tough conditions and I ‘m hoping for high wind and moderate heat. I am a pretty big guy at 83kg but I’m also used to training in the African heat. The foundation for victory will be built on the bike leg, but running a fast 20km after a 200km ride has to be tough. I ‘m just the rookie so all I know is ‘it aint over till the fat lady sings!’”
Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack needs no introduction to the triathlon world. The Aussie holds ‘legendary’ status having won the Ironman World Championships twice and is the only man to hold Olympic distance ITU and ITU World Cup Series wins at the same time. Adding to a long list of credentials, his incredible speed is set firmly in the history books as the only man to break eight hours in an Ironman distance four times – his closest rival only reaching the milestone twice.
The heat got the better of him in 2011, forcing his early race retirement, so the 39-year-old from Sydney has been training hard in the winter break for that much needed upper hand against the stellar field.
“My last outing in Abu Dhabi was not quite what I was hoping for and last year this event clashed with the Olympic trials for me so I am now returning this year for another go at this distance. As I have aged in this sport I look for events that are both challenging and interesting and also offer unique experience. Abu Dhabi delivers all of this for me,” said the ITU Long Course World Champion.
“I think the physicality of the race is challenging but more so the mental demands of a race of this duration and terrain style make it a tough, tough day. For me I will be a patient racer. This event plays out to the ones who bide their time. Experience pays dividends here.
“You will lose this on the bike but not necessarily win it. Obviously you run for money and titles but you will need to survive this bike ride to keep yourself in the hunt for the title. The race will begin at 160km of the bike ride. This is where you will need to be strong,” added the Olympic and long distance triathlon veteran.
Bryan Rhodes originally made a name for himself as a swimmer in his native New Zealand almost 20 years ago and has since competed in numerous half and full Ironman on the US and Canadian circuit. Looking to excel in the opening 3km swim leg, the Christchurch-native is hoping to build up a defensive lead going into the energy-sapping 200km bike, which takes athletes around the Yas Marina Circuit – home to the annual Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – before returning to the heart of the UAE capital.
“My strategy is going to be different to past years as I ‘ve been very patient but if there is an early break I ‘m going to make sure I ‘m up there. In the past years I ‘ve changed my preparation but this year I ‘m just sticking to the more normal training and putting in a few more track running sessions,” said the four time Abu Dhabi racer.
“The heat in Abu Dhabi affects everyone but I hope with my years of experience racing there and also liking the hot races I will have an edge on my fellow competitors.”
Triple Abu Dhabi top-10 finisher and 2010 champion, Spain’s Eneko Llanos, will draw on his expansive ‘local’ knowledge to become the first male challenger to lift the Abu Dhabi trophy twice.
“It is good to know the race so well and to know the feeling of winning such an important race because you then want to have that feeling again – I am coming back in 2013 because I want to win this race again.”
Due to the unique distance of the race, with a longer cycle and shorter run leg, making it an ideal season opening event, Llanos is tailoring his training in preparation. “The bike is longer than what we are use to so it is important to get some extra miles on the training bike rides. For the run I work a bit harder on my speed because the pace is always very high on the 20k run.”
And according to Eneko the wind and the heat will likely play a major role in who will stand atop the Abu Dhabi podium next month. “If it is windy a good gap can be made on the bike and it can lead to a final win. I think the bike will do a big selection of the group but the race will be won on the final 20k run.”
Rounding out the fearsome five, 2011 champion Van Lierde will draw on his hard-earned Abu Dhabi experience to topple his rivals.
“It’s great to come back to a race that you know for sure you can win. I know that my win in 2011 came from the experience I gained in 2010. The experience to win it, what happened on that day, how the race went, the conditions, circuit… you can’t buy or read that somewhere,” said the Belgian, who recently snatched third at the 2012 Ironman World Championships.
“In a race like this anything can happen right up until the last minute. Look at the close finishes in the past. The best thing to do is ‘read’ the race then decide what to do. You can win the race with a strong bike but you can also win the race with a very strong and fast run. It’s unpredictable.”
Other athletes returning to the pro field are Sylvain Sudrie of France who finished fifth in 2011 and Andi Boecherer from Germany who finished tenth last year. They joinTEAM GB’s gold medal winning Olympic triathlete and back-to-back European Triathlon Union champion, Alistair Brownlee, who heads up the 111.5kms ‘Short’ course line up. More returning athletes and new names to the international circuit will be announced in the coming weeks.
The 2013 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon starts with a sunrise swim in the Arabian Gulf’s shimmering turquoise waters off Abu Dhabi’s Blue Flagged public beach, before weaving through closed roads along the Corniche Beach, up to the spectacular Yas Island and back to the city centre finish line.
The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon offers three course distances; the 223km ‘long course’ (3km swim, a 200km cycle and 20km run), the half-length ‘short’ course (1.5km swim, a 100km cycle and a 10 km run) and the sprint course (750m swim, a 50km bike and 5km run). Both the ‘short’ and the ‘sprint’ can be run as a team relay.
Organisers have frozen athlete registration fees for the fourth year in a row. Athletes interested in entering should visit www.abudhabitriathlon.com and, after clicking on the ENTER NOW link, simply follow the instructions. Entry fees for the long and short distances are US$190 (AED 695) and US $130 (AED 475) respectively, while Sprint course rates are US$75 (AED 275) for individuals and US $120 (AED440) for a team. The fee for the team relay is US$280 (AED1,022).