ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon saved the Swiss champion Caroline Steffen from dropping out of the sport, she said yesterday.
She won US$10,000 (Dh36,700) from her fourth-place finish in 2010, and that was enough to continue "living my dream", she said.
"I needed the cash then because I was new as a professional. In this sport you need to earn a lot of cash to train and practice, As well as that you need to race a lot to pay your bills," said Steffen, who is the top seed for this year's race, scheduled for Saturday morning.
"I was told about the Abu Dhabi race and that there is big money so I decided to come here and try to finish well so I can earn some money and live my dream.
"I got fourth place, and that's what actually saved me at the start of my career," she said.
Steffen went on to claim the International Triathlon Union long distance world title in 2010, and she was second in last year's Abu Dhabi Triathlon.
A total of $230,000 will be handed out to the top 10 men and women competitors this year, making the 223km triathlon one of the richest races in the world.
Steffen has played down the pressures of being the top seed in the competition.
"In the first year there was a lot of pressure for me because I needed the cash to continue in the sport," she said. "However I have been training hard and pushing myself, even despite this sounding typical but I am here to do my best.
"Therefore, I am not feeling any pressure. I'm just here to give it my best effort and if another girl trained harder or ran faster and won, it would be because she gave it her best."
Julie Dibbens, the defending women's champion, has pulled out of this year's competition because injury.
A dislocated toe injury, suffered in 2004, has compounded over the years and has caught up with her over the last nine months, said Dibbens, the winner in Abu Dhabi each of the last two years.
"My last competition was in October and I started training for Abu Dhabi aggressively in December so my injury compounded," she said.
Dibbens, who has come to Abu Dhabi as an ambassador for the sport, said that she is disappointed at not being able to compete.
"I had deeply mixed emotions about coming back and I was torn on whether to compete or not," she said. "There are going to be ups and downs on the day.
"I expect at times I would want to jump in and join the race and on others I would be glad to be comfy while I see them suffering."
Meanwhile, Team Abu Dhabi have thrown down the gauntlet ahead of the third staging of the competition.
“Unfortunately we have not been doing good in our own competition in the past couple of years,” Faris Al Sultan, the team captain, said. “Therefore this year we are doing better than the last few years and we are here to compete for the top spots.”
Al Sultan, the 2005 Iron Man champion, said he expects tough challenges in the men’s competition.
The field includes the defending champion Frederik Van Lierdre of Belgium, the two-time Abu Dhabi podium finisher Dirk Bockel of Germany, and the five-time World Cup winner Rasmus Henning of Denmark.
Other top men include Eneko Llandos of Spain; Luke Bell, Leon Griffin and Clayton Fettell of Australia; Andrew Starykowicz of the US; Fraser Cartmell of Scotland; and James Cunnama of South Africa
Making his first appearance in the race will be Chris Lieto, the American known as the “fastest man on a bike”. He has 80 triathlons and 15 victories to his credit, including three Iron Man wins and three top 10 championship finishes.
But Team Abu Dhabi “are looking for a top three finish”, Al Sultan said.
He is expecting Abu Dhabi’s Australian member Paul Ambrose to perform well, along with Switzerland’s Jan van Berkel.
Van Lierdre said he is expecting an open race.
“This year we have different sorts of competitors to the previous years,” he said. “Many of them are excellent on the bicycle while last year we had athletes who were on a high level on all three discipline.”