x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

New Zealanders set adventure challenge pace

Richard Ussher's team won the 2009 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, and the New Zealand foursome is back on top of the standings after the first day of this year's competition.

Members of the Thule team in action yesterday. Sammy Dallal / The National
Members of the Thule team in action yesterday. Sammy Dallal / The National

Richard Ussher's team won the 2009 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, and the New Zealand foursome is back on top of the standings after the first day of this year's competition.

Now racing as Thule Adventure Team, Ussher and his three partners led the field by almost 10 minutes after yesterday's opening events in the six-day competition.

Ussher, along with Elina Ussher, Mercel Hagener and Nathan Fa'Avae, took the lead in the first event and held it throughout the afternoon.

Thule Adventure/Europe, from France, is second, followed by Team Explore and FJS Powered By Saab, both from Sweden.

"You can't win this race on the first day, but it's a great start for us," Ussher said.

The competition started with a canoe/run/swim event along the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.

The first test was a 2km race in red inflatable canoes, which are difficult to manoeuvre. Thule Adventure were first out of the water, followed by Thule Adventure/Europe, who lost time when one member dropped his electronic tag and had to retrieve it.

Next came a 4.2km run along the Corniche to the Emirates Palace hotel. "We made some good technical choices, notably running with our life jackets on to save time," Ussher said.

Three athletes from each team then swam 1km across the bay as one carried the team's gear to the swimming exit point. The New Zealanders maintained their lead over the French team after the swim, followed by Giddiup (Australia).

From there, the teams ran 4km back to the beach then raced 3.4km in canoes to Lulu Island. The Thule Adventure teams held on to the top two spots, followed by Team Explore, FJS Powered By Saab and Giddiup.

Next, the teams transferred by bus to Al Ain for a 28.7km bike race to the flats behind the Jebel Hafeet. As they sped along the roads towards the mountain, a group of around 20 teams broke away from the pack, and by the halfway point, gaps had opened up among the 50 teams.

Several teams trailed relatively far behind, victims of early mechanical failures or punctures.

By the finish of the stage, in a canyon after a short off-road section, 30 teams were within 10 minutes of the lead. Thule Adventure remained on top, followed by Team Explore. Abu Dhabi Triathlon (Germany), led by former Ironman champion Faris al Sultan, were in third.

The order reshuffled again in the final event of the day, a 6.3km "adventure run" from Jebel Hafeet Valley to Jebel Hafeet Flat.

The race continues today with a 20km mountain bike race and a 9.8km mountaineering competition, which combines orienteering and rope activities.