ABU DHABI // Eniko Llanos and Julie Dibens enjoyed their victories in the inaugural Abu Dhabi International Triathlon so much 12 months ago that they are both hungry for more glory when the gruelling event is staged for the second time tomorrow.
But both defending champions are aware that the quality and quantity of the opposition is far greater than a year ago and a repeat title will call upon their phenomenal stamina at maximum use.
"We are racing along such a spectacular course it is impossible not to enjoy competing in this event," said Llanos, a Spanish "Ironman" and runner-up in the 2008 world championships. "The fact I won it last year makes it even better."
Dibens, from England, has been counting down the days to the defence of her championship. "Last year, considering that it was a first-time race, the organisers did such a fantastic job that I was always going to come back," she said. "I can't wait for the race to start.
Dibens was asked to give her view on the likely outcome of the men's race and she emphasised the strength of the line-up before suggesting that the Australian duo of Craig Alexander and Chris McCormack would figure prominently in the battle for the US$50,000 (Dh183,652) first prize.
Alexander, the Ironman world champion in 2008 and 2009 who did not take part in last year's race as he felt he was below peak fitness at the time, said: "I heard nothing but good things from the other athletes about the experience and it has for a long time been an entry in my diary for this year.
"The race has gone up to another level, though. When you look at the entry list you see how much talent is going to be on that starting line, and it's going to be really tough to come out on top."
McCormack, the Ironman world champion in 2007 and 2010, was a regular visitor to the UAE in the 1990s for smaller events and is relishing putting his all-round athletic skills to the utmost test in classier company.
"A lot will depend on conditions on the day in terms of tactics," he said.
Abu Dhabi has a team of seven in the race, led by Faris Al Sultan, a German of Iraqi parentage, who has been working in an advisory capacity with the race organisers.
"It is great to see so many locals taking part in the amateur races this year," he said. "It is to be hoped that such a high level of enthusiasm eventually produces an Emirati capable of competing at the highest level."
Most of those local competitors are registered for the newly introduced sprint race: a 750m swim, a 50km bike ride and a 5km run.
Like their professional counterparts, they will assemble at the Emirates Palace hotel at 6am tomorrow. Depending on the heat and wind, the winners of the elite race are expected to cross the Corniche finishing line six or seven hours later.