ABU DHABI // The pit lanes at Yas Marina Circuit, usually reserved for the bulking hulks of petrol-heavy Formula One machines, were yesterday occupied by an army of bicycles, hundreds of shoes - both running and cycling - and an array of swimming goggles and coloured towels, some folded, some discarded, some emblazoned with emblems such as the Three Lions of England's national football team or the motif of a participant's local sailing club.
The first Tri Yas, billed as the first triathlon held at an F1 circuit, attracted 590 participants of ranging ages and fitness levels as the capital's primary motorsport venue made its first foray away from what it knows best, automobile racing.
Four categories of racing were organised and open to anyone over the age of 17. They range from Olympic standard, which saw athletes endure a 1.5km swim in the marina, a 40km (seven-lap) cycled circumnavigation of the F1 track and a 10km run round the venue's outer perimeter, to the novice team relay, which had three participants each complete one of the three legs: 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run.
Jasper Blake, a 37-year-old Canadian who won his native Ironman triathlon in 2006 but was competing in his first race since last July, was fastest round the circuit on Yas Island, clocking a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes, 4 seconds.
The British pair Andy MacRae and Paul Miles finished second and third, respectively, at Olympic level.
Courtesy of a staggered start that sees participants begin in groups called waves the first to pass the finish posts yesterday was McCrae, who had started in the first wave. "It was nice to come in first, but I knew there would be some fast lads coming in behind me who would probably beat my time," he said.
Blake, who was absent when the Perspex trophies were being presented immediately after the final athlete crossed the line, later said he was excited to learn of his win.
"I feel great to have won," he said. "It's a funny event because there are many waves and I was in the third one, so I never really knew where I was throughout the whole race. I didn't even know I had won until just now."
Connie Bouverot was fastest in the female category at Olympic level, completing the three legs in 2hrs25mins 23secs.
"It was fantastic," said the 41-year-old Australian. "I am new to triathlons, but in terms of endurance it was fine. I don't come from a swimming background, so that was probably most difficult, but I never considered giving up. Absolutely not."
The venue, with its barbecue stands and entertainment stalls providing a family atmosphere, earned praise from all competitors.
MacRae, who has competed across the globe, admitted he was "sceptical when I heard it would be run at Yas Marina Circuit. However, as soon as I did my first lap on the bike, I loved it.
"It's a sensational venue. I have run triathlons all over the world and this maybe beats anything."
Blake went one step further, urging organisers to build on the success of yesterday's event and pitch for a leg of the International Triathlon Union World Cup.
"It's an awesome event," he said. "They should hold a World Cup here. It is hands down one of the coolest venues I have ever seen. Honestly, to go round that track, which is brand new and so spectacular, is just incredible."
The ITU World Cup - which requires each host city to provide a minimum purse of US$100,000 (Dh367,300) - has held legs in the Middle East before. Eilat in Israel, Aqaba in Jordan and the Qatari capital of Doha have hosted events in the series in the past six years.
Local interest is already growing. Eight Emiratis took part in yesterday's Sprint Distance category with Faruk Mahmud finishing third from a field of 184 and Ahmed al Haj finishing in fourth.
Standard (Olympic) Distance Individual
Men: Jasper Blake (Canada) – 1hr, 59mins, 4secs
Women: Connie Bouverot (Australia) – 2hrs, 25mins, 23secs
Sprint / Novice Distance Individual
Men: Roy Nasr (Lebanon) – 1hr, 10mins, 34secs
Women: Jane Westley (Britain) – 1hr, 13mins, 16secs
Standard (Olympic) Distance Team Relay
The Team With A Runner – 2hrs, 11mins, 1sec
Sprint Distance Team Relay
Team LPN – 1hr, 15mins, 21secs
Sprint Distance Team Relay (Women only)
Disahe – 1hr, 30mins, 13secs