The Brits raced within a few miles of the world’s tallest building, but failed to hit the heights after a day of struggles at Challenge Dubai.
With the backdrop of the 830m Burj Khalifa, it was the women who fared best with the highest placing - a commendable fourth - returned by Jodie Swallow.
But that was still one spot shy of the podium she achieved three months ago in the sister-race in Bahrain and failed to meet her own high expectations after finishing the bike leg with only Daniela Ryf in front.
Leanda Cave put in a solid show on ‘home soil’ racing for the new Arab-backed Alameda o.n. Triathlon Team team and Alice Hector, at the start of just her second season back in triathlon, will have taken many lessons from finishing 13th in the half iron-distance contest she described as the ”biggest race of her life.”
It was on the men’s side where the real disappointment came. Joe Skipper was best-placed in 19th after picking up from a 26:07 swim to force his way through the field with a 2:07 bike split and 1:15 run, but was far from content with finishing almost 12mins behind race-winner Terenzo Bozzzone’s 3:41:45.
“I was 20 watts down on the bike and felt s*** the whole way,” he says. “On the run I didn’t even feel that good. Five minutes back was quite a lot out of the swim too, it’d normally be about 2 ½ minutes.
“I felt really unfit swim-wise and that took a lot out of me and I couldn’t hit my power numbers. In an Ironman I’m not swimming at the same intensity so I can bike more to my potential. Racing a half, I’m not fit enough in the water and it impacts the rest of the race.
“It’s just a shame to go home £500 down. You want to race the best people in the world, so do these races but even if I got 10th place I’d have only made £100.”
Skipper was followed in by David McNamee in 21st. The Scot couldn’t have picked a much tougher non-drafting debut after stepping out of the British Olympic programme at Christmas.
He shouldn't see it as a disaster but after emerging from the water on the back of the front pack, he biked 2:15 on a borrowed time-trial bike against a race-best 2:02 before running through the field with a sharp 1:13 split to finish in 3:55:05, 1min 45 behind Skipper. He heads for the regional championship Ironman South Africa next as the baptism of fire away from lottery funding continues.
Probably winning a hard-fought contest for the most dejected though, was Will Clarke. “It was a really crap race, probably my worst ever,” admitted the 2008 Olympian with a frank assessment. “I can’t really complain about the swim, I found it hard but it was ok [Clarke led the second pack from the water, 56secs down on the leaders].
“I just had no power on the bike, I don’t think I passed anyone all day. I had 275 watts average, I can normally push 325, and on the run I just got round and took the workout.
“I think I came here too late and also it was the first race of the year. It’s different to do a hard swim and then ride 2 ½ hours hard and sometimes I think it takes a race to get your legs back. But, yes, I’m pretty disappointed, it’s horrendous. “
Ritchie Nicholls and Fraser Cartmell also struggled on the desert roads, but Nicholls should take some solace from an impressive 1:11 run split – the fastest of the day, and remarkable considering it still only placed him 34th. Cartmell, sporting a black eye, was 42nd and Jersey’s Dan Halksworth pulled the plug after feeling totally drained.
“I aimed for 340watts hit 260 and my heart-rate was at 180 with a max of 186, I just couldn’t get it down,” he said. “I just suffered the whole race on the bike and on the run had absolutely nothing left.
“I was burning too many matches. For my heart rate to get to 180 on the bike! I don’t hit that when I’m doing five-minute efforts. There’s something wrong. The doctor said there is a virus going round Dubai at the moment and he thinks I probably have something.
“I wasn’t particularly well yesterday, but thought that was just nerves. I need to just get over it and do well in the next race.”