ABU DHABI // After winning his first prize in more than 18 months on the international circuit, Rasmus Henning has set his sights on the pinnacle of triathlon - the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in October.
The 36-year-old Dane won the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon in record time on his third attempt on Saturday and said the victory has given him the belief he can be a strong contender on the world circuit.
"This win means a lot for me," said Henning, who has participated in two Olympics (2004 and 2008) and won five World Cup titles.
"It gives me the feeling that I have got myself back in to competing against the best in the world. I think now I can build on this confidence and look ahead to the Ironman World [Championship] in Kona later in the year."
Henning's performances have been continually hindered by cramps since he won the Challenge Roth in Germany two years ago.
"I was really happy not to have suffered any cramps [in Abu Dhabi] because it has been one of the worrying factors for me since winning my last prize in Germany," he said.
"And, because of that, I haven't been able to put up a good performance in more than a year-and-a-half.
"I conserved my energy on the bike and it was not until the last 50km that I began to take some responsibility because I could see the guys in front taking advantage. Then I pushed myself along with them before we got on to the running stage."
Faris Al Sultan, the captain of the Abu Dhabi Triathlon team, was leading the pack until the final two kilometres of the gruelling race, which involved a 2km swim, 200km of cycling, and a 20km running stage.
"When I started running, I thought four minutes was a bit too much [of a gap] against Faris. So I pushed myself into an attacking position until I joined him in the final 2km, from which point I knew I had the race within my grasp," Henning said.
Al Sultan said a second-place finish was a good result for his sponsors at their home event after a couple of disappointing results in the first two years during which he finished out of the podium places.
"I did work hard and led for more than 100km of the race but, at the end, Rasmus had a bit extra to win the race," said the son of a German mother and Iraqi father.
"I think we can be proud of this result and look at the season ahead. We have been winning abroad for our sponsor but haven't done well on our home race, so this is a good result. I hope I can raise one more level and then we are there for the Ironman in Kona."
The first 10 athletes in the men's race to cross the finishing line broke the course record. Less than half a minute separated the top three and the top 10 were 12 minutes apart. Eneko Llanos, the winner of the inaugural event in 2010, finished third ahead of Andreas from Germany and Frederik van Lierde, the defending champion from Belgium.