Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Why? For many, it’s the first race of the year. For many, they’re coming out of winter. For some in the Southern Hemisphere, they’re coming into the race at year’s end. Who’s ready to go? Good question.
“That’s the exciting thing,” said Rasmus Henning (pictured below). “Nobody knows how anyone else is doing. And it’s the first race of the year for me—I don’t even know how I’m gonna do!”
Yvonne Van Vlerken of the Netherlands said it’s not about worrying about anyone else other than yourself. “I feel rested, and I felt like this before setting the world record,” she said. “I know the course is made for me—but that’s on paper. I don’t know what will happen outside.”
Then you’ve got folks that are playing their fitness down, maybe sandbagging a bit. “People are playing it down like ‘aw, we’ll see how it goes,’” said Trek/K-Swiss Aussie Joe Gambles. “But when that gun goes off, it’s going to be on. As soon as this race was announced last year, people would have put this on their front burner—forget back burner.”
Being the first race of the year, there are so many variables that I don’t think many are considering….like:
Who’s coming from Southern Hemisphere? Raynard Tissink (South Africa), Bryan Rhodes (New Zealand), Leon Griffin (Australia)
Who’s coming from heat? Tereza Macel, Rebekah Keat (Thailand) Faris Al Sultan (Abu Dhabi), Yvonne Van Vlerken (Fuerteventura), Eneko Llanos (Lanzarote)
Who’s coming from cold? Rasmus Henning (Denmark), Bjorn Andersson (Sweden), Rutger Beke (Belgium).
If this was Kona, we’d all know where everyone was; at either heat (Kona camp, Canary Islands) or altitude (Boulder). But with everyone converging from their personal Bermuda Triangle, this one’s gonna be interesting to say the least.
Friday marked bike check-in for all athletes, (preceeded by a splash in the Arabian Sea for most folks) and gave us journos a good first look at athlete race rigs for 2010. Take a look at some goods from today’s check-in.
Belgium's Rutger Beke racks up for Saturday's race.
Dutch pro Yvonne Van Vlerken get in for a splash.
Locked and loaded are Phillip Graves' Specialized Shiv, and Julie Dibens' Trek Speed Concept.
Canadian Sam McGlone practices her beach start entry Friday morning.
Australian Joe Gambles is one of the other few Trek/K-Swiss pros lucky enough to have an early version Speed Concept.
Gambles (far left) chats with fellow competitors on the shuttle from T1 to the hotel Friday.
This caught our eye; Simon Billeau of France figures that the course is flat enough to run a single large chainring, using a custom-fabricated chainguide. Note the absence of a front derailleur shifter on the aerobars. For all that attention, he has a frayed rear derailleur cable, absent a cap.
Leanda Cave's Pinarello sports a set of the new Easton EC90 race wheels.
Change is here. Saturday marks the debut of the inaugural Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, and by all accounts, a new event, in a new venue, with new distances is being very, very well received.
Absent is the pre-race stress, the uptight, the cards-close-to-vest aspect. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s March and Kona isn’t until October. Maybe it’s the nice, warm temps and the hospitality that this first-year event is putting forth for the 800-plus athletes taking part in Saturday’s long-distance and short distance races. Thursday morning at the hotel restaurant resembled a class reunion as athletes from across the globe re-united after a winter off.
“This is the way for me—to be relaxed,” said Hawaii Ironman third-place finisher Virginia Berasategui of Spain. “I like it that way—things like Lava Java, things like that that help me enjoy the race."Great Britain’s Philip Graves echoed the sentiment: “It’s been grim at home—it was negative 6 (Celcius) when I left for here,” he said. “To get here, it’s the first time we’re all seeing people again. It’s great to come here and hang out.”
Of course, with a $115,000 pro prize purse on the line (including a cool $50,000 going to the mens and womens race winner) we can be sure that demeanor will change Saturday. It’s what drew arguable the finest, deepest pro field outside the Hawaii Ironman to Abu Dhabi. “Baring a few ex and current world champions, it’s the toughest field of the year, no question,” said South African Raynard Tissink.
Certainly, it’s great to see new investors in our sport, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is to thank. With German Faris Al Sultan as a catalyst (as someone who has spent tons of time training in the area) as well as the success of a recent success of a race that Richard Ussher won here, the tourism authority’s Faisal al Sheikh (above) has taken the sport into an arena that is accustomed to hosting Formula I racing, horse racing and cricket on a much larger scale.
“We’ve always created an initiated diversive, exclusive events in Abu Dhabi, and triathlon is a mass event that can be seen worldwide. We believe in this kind of sport,” said al Sheikh. “We firmly believe that triathlon, set against the backdrop of Abu Dhabi, will be a wonderful platform to showcase our city to the world.”
For Al Sultan’s part, he’s enjoying seeing a world-class collection of athletes on what is, in effect, his second home. “It was 11 years ago when I first came here to train and race,” he said. “It was my dream to have a world-class race in the emirate of Abu Dhabi."
The athletes have been nothing short of impressed.
“It’s certainly a great place to race,” said Team Trek/K-Swiss Aussie Joe Gambles. “I’ve never been to this part of the world, and it’s amazing to see the area, and see all the best athletes here. They’ve done a great job pulling this together as a first-year race.”
What’s the race going to be like? Being the desert we can expect to see lots of sand, and it’s fairly flat on the bike and run. But what we do have that is going to shake things up is a long two-lap 200k bike, preceded by a two-lap, 3k swim, and followed by a short 20k (two-lap) run. This is certainly a cyclist’s race, and it has some licking their chops.
“I’ve been waiting for a race like this my whole career, with a short run—I can’t be more excited,” said bike specialist Bjorn Andersson of Sweden. “Between me and Philip Graves, I think we’ll have a strong group at the front of the bike, and for those of us that aren’t very good runners, we need to build a gap on the bike.”
For starters, the swim will likely be under a light fog layer. This morning, a layer of cool fog blanketed the city. By 9:30 a.m. it had burned off, exposing a fairly harsh sun and temps in the upper 80s F. That should be good news for early starters on the bike, who may take advantage of the cool temps to nail in a solid gap to open the 200k bike.
It’s that long 200k bike, followed by short 20k run, that has everyone suggesting “what-if’s.” What if Phil Graves and Bjorn Andersson strike out to an unassailable lead on the bike and make it a two-man battle to survive the runners over the 20k run? What if the runners like Eneko Llanos is keeping things close? What if the short swim puts poorer swimmers like Yvonne Van Vlerken and Heather Jackson to the front of the bike in front of the likes of Sam McGlone and Julie Dibens? Or what if Tereza Macel’s heat training with TeamTBB in Thailand turns into her ace-in-the-hole?
Yes, there will be one constant: heat. “You won’t have an advantage by riding the course; your advantage comes from training in the heat, and that can be anywhere you can get it.”
Said Tissink: “I expect a lot of walking, and maybe some tears out there.”
Considering that many athletes here are coming out of their winters, one of those guys who did some heat acclimatization was Spaniard Eneko Llanos, and he’ll likely be one of those who aims to stake his claim on the run. The question is, there be enough real estate to reel in any potential runaway riders?
“It’s great to have a race this big, this early in the season,” Llanos said. “It’s a new format for everyone, and for me, I don’t know what to expect. There’s a lot of strong cyclists and maybe the run is not long enough. But it won’t change my race. I’ll ride my pace, stay as close as I can to them.”
Who’s gonna win? Check in tomorrow for a look at why all the oddsmakers with the various online publications are wrong, and every one should be “PK” (Well, that’s my bet anyway.)
Scot Fraser Cartmell of the Trek/K-Swiss Tri Team does some late checks over his Trek TTX on Thursday.
The swim venue for Saturday's race has been foggy and cool in the morning, as athletes test the waters at the foot of the opulent Emirates Palace (in right background).
Great Britain's Leanda Cave prepares for a Thursday dip at the Emirates Palace Hotel beach.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The lion's share of race staff and athletes are staying at Park Rotana. Running into my homeboy Herbert Krabel from Slowtwitch at the airport, we taxied to the hotel, checked in, and went straight for food.
Food? No surprise to find athletes around that. Virginia Berasategui, Hillary Biscay, Heather Jackson, Sam McGlone and Rutger Beke were all milling about after a meal. Seems Sam's bike is AWOL, as is that of Leanda Cave and Julie Dibens. And to think we pay premium for the chance to have the idiots in baggage not only toss our fragile rigs around, but toss them on to flights points unknown. Don't get me started about my recent run-in with TSA, who took Donna's Zipp VumaQuad crankset out of her bag, and forgot to put it in.
Signing off for now. Tomorrow morning, race organizers are taking several press members to the swim start to check it out and stretch out with a swim.. perfect post-flight activity. That will follow with a late morning press confererence. Check in later with a report from the conference.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Im'ma keep this short and sweet since I have an early morning flight, but watch this space for some updates, news and images from the Abu Dhabi Triathlon in the coming days. Since my new venture (yes, my NEW new venture) with LAVA Magazine, doesn't have a website live yet, the next best thing is to deliver you some behind-the-scenes content here, as well as at our Twitter locale, twitter.com/lavamagazine
Arriving Wednesday night, keep an eye out Thursday as soon as we get on the ground and see the middle east for the first time. Experiencing new cultures will certainly be a wonderful experience, race aside.
A huge thanks to the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority for hosting LAVA; we appreciate the opportunity to cover this truly exciting race with a twist on distances (2k swim/200k bike/20k run) that may shake up how the pro mens and womens races shake out, and see a pretty exciting, progressive part of the world at the same time.
And fret not, you'll certainly hear from me about Yas Marina Formula I race track (part of the race course for the tri) and Ferrari World. You'll be sick to death of it, in fact. Especially if they decide to shut things down to let me do a hot lap in their two-seater F1 car. You'll never hear the end of it. Whatever. I don't know if visiting the track is on my itinerary, but I'm going there anyway.
Check in with you later. سلام