Their individual objectives may differ, but the toughness of three Abu Dhabi-backed triathletes will come under scrutiny on Sunday when they tackle a trio of European races - across three different competition distances. Following a strong finish in the International Triathlon Union world championship's last round in Hamburg, Jan van Berkel - currently 44th in the series' official rankings - is optimistic that he can produce another polished performance over the 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run that comprise the Olympic-distance course in London's Hyde Park.
"I have to beat most of the racers who are around me in the rankings," Van Berkel said. "The main challenge is not the distance, but the experienced competitors." Although the championship's 65 leading racers qualify automatically for the 2012 Olympics in London, Van Berkel is eyeing a second consecutive top-20 finish to aid his pursuit of ending the year among the top 30. If he realises that goal, the 24-year-old Dutchman is confident he can climb into the top 16 in time for 2012.
"I'm still young for a triathlete and I have time to develop my swim before the Olympics," he said. "I'm not just participating for fun; there is a long-term plan to peak for London and then again for Rio de Janeiro" in 2016. As the triathlon season gears up for October's Hawaii world championships in Kona, Swen Sundberg will tackle a full Ironman distance event in Zurich, while Rachel Joyce, who tore tendons in her foot in March's Abu Dhabi race, mounts her competitive comeback in the Antwerp 70.3 - a half Ironman format. Both races offer Kona slots to the top four finishers.
"I'm excited to be racing again," said Joyce, 32, who finished an impressive sixth in Kona last year. "I hope it goes well and I will give it my all, but this race will be very useful to highlight weaknesses in my fitness after two months of recovery work. I need to measure my current state to make sure I can address any issues in advance of Hawaii." After two tyre punctures forced Sundberg to retire from the Challenge Roth in Germany last week, he plans to take out his frustrations on the Zurich field.
"I'm hoping to finish in the top three," said Sundberg, one of the original members of the Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team. "I'm still fresh and fit after Roth, so hopefully I can secure a Kona spot nice and early." Sundberg added that the pre-season work the team conducted in the Emirates has boosted their end-of-season prospects. "A top-10 Kona finish is my dream and the winter preparations we had in Abu Dhabi have been very helpful. That work is having a big effect in the European summer; it has helped all of our endurance capabilities."