x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

24 world champions among elite triathletes who will compete in Abu Dhabi next month

Elite athletes from all over the world will converge on the capital next month for the second Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. How elite? The lineup will include 24 world champions

Men's elite competitors race into the water at the start of last year's Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. Mike Young / The National
Men's elite competitors race into the water at the start of last year's Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. Mike Young / The National

It may only be the second staging of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon but the event is already a massive hit among the world's elite athletes.

The Abu Dhabi event on March 12 has drawn an impressive line-up that includes 24 world champions including Chris McCormack and Craig Alexander, who have shared the world title between them over the last four years.

Among the 61 elite men and women are also the defending men's and women's champions - Eneko Llanos of Spain and Julie Dibens of Great Britain - in a field whose collective honours haul stands at more than 50 Ironman titles and over 100 national titles.

McCormack and Alexander top the field having together dominated sport's premier event - the world championship in Kona, Hawaii - for the past four years. McCormack won the 2010 and 2007 events and Alexander in 2008 and 2009.

"I love new races in new destinations, especially one with as much mystique as Abu Dhabi," said Alexander.

"This will be my first race of the season and my first competitive race in the Middle East."

The main challenge for the Australian pair will come from the top three finishers from last year's inaugural race - Llano, Dirk Bockel and Rasmus Henning - who are back in Abu Dhabi.

Henning finished third in last year's event and has since had a strong 2010 season, including a win at Germany's coveted Challenge Roth.

"I had a great experience in Abu Dhabi last year and hope to return and improve my third place finish," Henning said.

"The race course is world class which is reflected in the quality of athletes it has attracted this year - there will be a lot of athletes who will want to finish in the top three but will have a hard fight ahead of them."

Dibens, the defending champion and 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and three-time Xterra World Champion leads a women's field that includes Leanda Cave, a past world champion with a string of 70.3 podiums to her name over the 223km course.

Cave said: "It's an epic event, it plays to my strengths of the swim and bike and I love a challenge - which is exactly what this course is. It's not only the race I am looking forward to but also exploring the culture and sites of Abu Dhabi."

The field is crowded with strong contenders including Jo Lawn, the seven-time Ironman New Zealand champion, and Caroline Steffen, who won the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships and was placed second at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

She also won many 2010 Ironman events including Asia Pacific, Switzerland, Singapore and Geelong, Australia.

The field also includes the three-time Xterra Champion Melanie McQuaid, the two-time world Duathlon champion Catriona Morrison and Ironman South Africa winner Sonja Tajsich

Team Abu Dhabi return to the race with a powerful squad - led by 2005 Kona world champion Faris al Sultan. Paul Ambrose, a new addition to the team, joins Jan Van Berkel, Swen Sundberg and Kristin Moeller. Rachel Joyce is back to prove she is in top condition after a shocking accident last year.

Joyce wrote on her blog: "I grabbed my bike and headed to the bike mount area. Unfortunately I didn't make it that far as while I was running with my bike, the back wheel skidded out, my bike fell and the front chain ring caught the top of my right foot. The gash didn't look good and the race medical team, who were ace, sent me in an ambulance to the hospital.

"A few painkillers later I was told that my chain ring had sliced straight through three tendons in my foot. I was operated on later the same day, where the tendons were repaired but the wound was pretty mucky so they left it open to avoid infection and then closed it up a couple of days later.

"My stay in Abu Dhabi was therefore extended by a week, while I waited for medical clearance from the airline."

Joyce said: "As my race came to end rather dramatically in T1 last year, I am looking forward to finishing the race this year and especially having the opportunity to ride on the Formula 1 course."

This year's event will be raced over three distances. The professionals will contest a 3km swim, a 200km cycle and 20km closing run.

The shorter version, for amateurs, at half the length, has a 1.5km swim, a 100km cycle and a 10km run, with both courses eligible for a share of the US$250,000 (Dh918,225) prize purse.

A first for this year's triathlon is a sprint distance as an entry platform for aspiring athletes. The event consist of a 750m swim, 50km bike and 5km run. The sprint course is aimed at boosting participation from novice racers across the Arabian Gulf and can be raced as an individual or as a team.