By Karl Hayes
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Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has the hottest field outside of the Hawaii Ironman World Championship (or maybe even equal to in the men’s side). This is a who’s who of the top long course athletes in the world. In its second running those who stayed away last year have obviously thought that it is not a one hit wonder and the lure of the prize purse is just too much for most.
The interesting thing about this race is that for most it is the first race since 2010 and in many cases since Kona. Everyone’s form is relatively unknown right now and most are using this race as a benchmark race to see how their training is going.
Of the professional triathletes racing in Abu Dhabi this weekend that Trizone spoke to it was refreshing to have a couple of them answer the question â€˜How important is this race in your 2011 calendar’ with â€˜very important because there is a lot of prize money on offer’. These guys and girls do this for a job so I wouldn’t expect them to not be thinking about the prize money even though many are reluctant to talk about it openly. There is a feeling that the age groupers and fans of triathlon would find it a bit on the nose. I go to work each day for the money. I enjoy my job a lot but it is definitely for the money and I don’t see why it would be any different for the pros.
With the exception of a small handful of top guys missing such as Pete Jacobs Abu Dhabi is one of the best guy’s fields you will see. Of course we all know that Chris â€˜Macca’ McCormack and Craig â€˜Crowie’ Alexander are racing. Most of Australia’s (and a few Kiwi’s) other top long course triathletes will also be racing in Abu Dhabi. After missing last year when he broke his collar bone after a bike accident Pete Jacobs doesn’t seem to worried about not racing there this year. Pete has a lot of new plans this year and Challenge Carins is up there along with winning Kona in October.
Trizone spoke to a number of the leading Australian pros, and a Kiwi for good measure, in the lead up to this weekends triathlon.
Josh Rix. Josh has found his triathlon mojo again after a resurgence in 2010. Trizone interviewed Josh towards the end of 2010 and found that he is on a mission to get to the top (Professional Triathlete Josh Rix on the Comeback Trail). Rix has been training full time over the last year and is pumped about 2011. â€œI have been trying to simulate the conditions I will face in Abu Dhabi by doing some of my harder sessions in the mid afternoon heat/sun. This has made me pay close attention to my hydration and nutrition during the sessions and totally reinforced its importance and made it an “exercise habit” to be conscious of my refuelling. Training has been super long and hard for this event as we are planning on using the volume as my main block of high volume for the coming US summer.â€ In addition to focusing on his own triathlon career Josh has been coaching Victoria’s up and coming long distance triathlete Madeleine Oldfield who recently won the 2XU Falls Creek long course triathlon. She will be attempting to back that win up with a win at the Huskisson long course Australian championship on the same day that Josh is racing in Abu Dhabi.
Although Abu Dhabi doesn’t offer any points for Kona or Vegas it does have a very sizeable prize purse and that’s what being professional is about – earning the $$. Josh is well aware of this and he is looking forward to the chance to take on 40 of the best male long distance triathletes in the world and prove that he is a worthy contender. â€œBeing so early in the year also means I can get some positive momentum to build on for the rest of the year. So in short – yeah it’s important because I want to win some $$$ and earn some respect from the top guys in the triathlon worldâ€
Josh spent so many years at the beginning of his pro career riding off the front and then getting run down. â€œHopefully this unique distance will suit my strong biking form and offer me a chance to hold onto any advantage I get over whoever is behind me.â€
I asked Josh who he thinks we should all watch this weekend. â€œThat is such a hard question because it is so early in the season and no one has shown their true form in any races. I think that Macca will probably be a player on the bike and if he’s on his good day Paul Matthews could be a threat with his swim bike combo. But there are so many others – Luke Bell, Joe Gambles, Luke McKenzie (although lacking race fitness). You can never count out Tim Berkel Berkel especially if it comes to a run. Then you also have last year’s top 3 returning chasing the $$. I think everyone of the 40 males are a threat and I am so excited to be competing in this event!â€
After Abu Dhabi Josh will be coming home to move from Brisbane to Adelaide (Matty White may finally have a training partner) and then set himself for Port Macquarie 70.3 and Busselton 70.3. This will be two 70.3 races in 6 days. Josh in now writing for Yahoo!7’s sport portal Banzai. Click here to read his latest posting.
One of Australia’s most successful long distance triathletes last year was Joe Gambles. Joe won or went top 3 in many races in the USA last year. He won the Washington 70.3 and Ironman Wisconsin, he was 4th the week after Washington at the Timberman 70.3, 4th at the Foster Grant 70.3 world championship and 2nd at Lake Stevens 70.3.
Joe told Trizone at the end of last week that he is has had a lot more structure this January and February than normal. â€œI feel like I am in good enough shape to be competitive. This race format should suit me. If I can stay with the front group on the bike my 70.3 racing experience should suit the 20km run. With $50k up for grabs for the top spot this in one important race and I am going in to it thinking that I can be there at the end.â€ Joe also sees this race as a good opportunity to see where he is at against the guys he will be racing in Vega and Kona later this year.
Joe’s pick for the race is Crowie if he is there at the end of the bike leg. We will see Joe in Port Macquarie in May this year racing in the 70.3.
Another Australian doing the Port Macquarie and Busselton double header in just over 6 weeks is newly engaged Tim Berkel. We haven’t seen Tim race since last November and he is a bit nervous. â€œTraining has been going well but I am a little nervous as I haven’t raced since for a few months. Having said that I am looking forward to it and am hoping for a good result. As it is my first race of the season it is a bit of an unknown, but with a good result it could set me up for the rest of the year so it is an extremely important race for me.â€
Tim isn’t sure how he will go at this race distance. After Port 70.3 and Busso Tim’s next race is Challenge Cairns which he will be heavily focused on once back from Abu Dhabi.
Matty White has been doing 3-4 training sessions a week at a simulated 3000m after partnering up with Altitude Technology Solutions. He says the improvements have been amazing. I have been on holidays from work for the last 6 weeks and have logged some consistent kms. I won the South Australian Olympic Distance champs by 7:30min and most of this was on the bike. The signs are good and overall I am the fittest I have ever been and most of all I am injury free. This race is really important to me as there is no better measuring stick than racing the best in the world. I know I am fit at the moment and I really want to see how I line up against the big hitters of the long distance world. Basically this race is another Kona with the quality that is racing.â€
Matty has been testing himself by riding to and from a holiday home 160kms from Adelaide and including some swimming and running over the three days that he did this. He rode the 160kms as TTs. â€œI was surprised with my strength and power output so I know I have it there for Abu Dhabi.â€
Matty thinks that Crowie is the man to watch as he believes he has a point to prove after Kona. â€œAlong with Crowie you can throw in Bockel, Henning and Lanos. Macca might be a bit underdone as he is prepping for Sydney ITU but you can never write off a champion like him. He could come out and smoke everyone…â€
Matty has a good head start on his points needed for Kona with a 4th in Cancun last September and a 2nd at Busselton in Ironman WA. â€œI am doing Port Mac and Busselton 70.3 next. I hope to get most of my points before July so that I can focus on Challenge Cairns.â€.
2010 Ironman Louiseville winner and new Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team member Paul Ambrose is really pumped about racing next weekend. Ambrose has been training just outside of Abu Dhabi for the last month. â€œI have been based in Al Ain which is a rural area in the desert approx 1.5hrs from the city of Abu Dhabi. It’s got all the essentials for training and a good team to keep my on track with training. I am typically looking for an easy distraction to get myself out of training so this new environment has been perfect for me.
I asked Paul where this race sits in his calendar in 2011 and beyond. â€It is a new race so I can’t exactly say I grew up wanting to do this event, but I can say that I am happy it’s around now. It is great for the sport of triathlon and it gives to triathletes an opportunity to expand their horizons and test out their abilities in a whole new concept. So for me it’s definitely a key race for me now, as it is not only giving me a chance to test out my bike abilities, but to test a field which could possibly be even stronger than Kona.â€
Abu Dhabi would typically be a perfect race for Ambrose. A long bike ride and a relatively short run would be his dream race.
Like Matty White Ambrose also believes that Crowie will be out to prove a point after Kona. â€œEneko Llanos has to be in the top picks as you can’t count out the “defending champ”. I’ve seen this guy in Europe and he is tuff. Craig Alexander will also be out to prove something after a bittersweet Kona. The field is the crÃ¨me of the crop and you really can’t count out most of these guys. This will definitely be one of the most competitive fields of the year.â€
And the final word goes to Kiwi Graham O’Grady. O’Grady won the New Zealand half ironman in January this year. This race plays to his strengths and he is going to Abu Dhabi to compete. â€œSwimming and Biking are a strength of mine but the distance is unknown, I am confident that if I can race smart I will be there or there at the end of the bike. Coming from ITU racing I have some speed but you have to be fresh off the bike to run well.â€ O’Grady was forced to pull out of the recent New Plymouth half ironman in New Zealand but is on track for a good race this weekend.
O’Grady says he has recovered well since his last race. â€œMy training has been going well land the long sessions I have been doing should be enough. I am excited about racing in a field as good as this and this race should set me up for my ironman debut midyear. After Abu Dhabi I will be racing Oceanside and New Orleans 70.3’s then Challenge Cairns in June which will be my ironman debut.â€
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