Abu Dhabi: The world’s elite triathletes converging in the UAE for the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon 2014 this weekend will have their task cut out due to the unseasonally cloudy and windy conditions.
The weather is set to add an X-factor to the gruelling sport besides the tough men and women who are here to take up the challenge.
Around 2,000 competitors from 68 countries are taking part in the event that offers a prize purse of $200,000 (Dh734,462).
Athletes will start with a 3km swim, followed by a 200km bike ride up the corniche to the Yas Marina Circuit and a 20km run around the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race track.
England’s Alistair Brownlee is looking to defend his title in the men’s short course event, but he will be up against his brother Jonathan, the 2012 world champion, and a host of the sport’s best.
The Brownlee brothers were amongst the first competitors to arrive in the UAE and underwent rigorous training sessions in Al Ain.
“We got here on Monday and had a few days of interesting training. I enjoyed it last year and so I’m back,” said Alistair adding: “It is the first race of the year and it is important to start well. I’ve had a bit of a change in my training and a change in focus. I had a disappointing season last year, so it is nice to come and start afresh.”
For Jonathan, bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympic Games, this is an uncharted territory, but he is looking for more than just test the waters.
“It is a new experience for me as the course is completely different. It is a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it. I wanted to change things a little bit on my calendar. That’s why I’m here,” he said, adding that the first race of the year is a bit of a “form-finding” event.
The Brownlee brothers will be facing a stiff challenge from two-time ITU winner and 2004 Olympian Greg Bennett and professional Egyptian triathlete and the UAE crowd favourite, Omar Nour, who is also the brand ambassador for the event.
Nour, who has been training in the UAE for the past three months, was of the view that the event has grown tremendously in the last five years and said he is very much looking for the challenge.
“In the region, the sport is really growing. This event is the jewel of the Middle East. Having a good result here would be amazing because it would echo in the region to lead a healthy lifestyle. I was 105 kgs six years ago when I started,” said Nour.
Bennett is also making his debut in Abu Dhabi and therefore said he is not sure what to expect. He said: “I don’t really know what’s coming my way but, from what I have heard, the course is amazing. This year’s elite short course includes some of the world’s most talented triathletes, and so it’s definitely going to be a challenging and exciting season opener,” he said.
The women’s elite start list is just as strong, with Bennett’s wife, two-time Olympian and four-time ITU medallist Laura, Australian multi ITU medallist Annabel Luxford, and five-time French champion and two-time Olympian Jessica Harrison, set to test themselves on the championship course.
In the men’s long course, 2011 winner Frederik van Lierde, Eneko Llanos and Tyler Butterfield will be the ones to watch out for.
“That’s an experience I already have. Won here before and it’s a great race. I’ve done every race since 2010. So for me, it’s a great event to start. And it works really well for me,” said Van Lierde.
Llanos too acknowledged the strong field. “I have raced here since the first year. It is an amazing race and an amazing country. It’s good to start the season like this. I don’t know what to expect on race day, but I would love to compete.”
Reigning champion Melissa Hauschildt, of Australia, will be looking to defend her title in the women’s long course. Her main competitors will be Dutch ace Yvonne van Vlerken and Michelle Vesterby of Denmark.
“I’m feeling good and I went for a ride this morning and the wind was strong. I’m contemplating what wheels to use. It is going to be tough. This is one of my favourite races of the year; the organising, the whole set-up. Though I come from a running background, I like the bike leg,” said Hauschildt.
Friday, March 14: Abu Dhabi Junior Triathlon starts in the morning at around 8am and goes on until about lunchtime.
Saturday, March 15 – Abu Dhabi International Triathlon kicks off at 6.30am and goes on until the early evening.