We’re live in Abu Dhabi for the elite athlete press conference ahead of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon.
Erstwhile Ironman commentator, Don Ryder, is in control of proceedings, with the top triathletes in attendance including the local’s favourite and Captain of Team Abu Dhabi, Faris Al Sultan, Britain’s Julie Dibens and Phil Graves, Yvonne Van Vlerken, Bjorn Andersson, Raynard Tissink and Ironman Hawaii podium athlete, Virginia Berasategui.
As Don states in his intro, it’s “one of the best fields you will see out of Hawaii.” And while it’s easy to believe the hype when the event organiser’s have just bought you breakfast (hummus, pitta and lahme balls – answers on a postcard as to what they are), you’ve gotta admit, with the aforementioned athletes set to be joined by Rachel Joyce, Eneko Llanos and Fraser Cartmell, the man Don has a point. It’s time to believe.
Without further ado, we’ll start proceedings…
Faris Al Sultan on his race: I’m presented here as the local as, even though I’m not local, a good deal of my success has been while I’ve been based here. I first came here eleven years ago and now a good deal of my time has been spent training in the very good conditions to prepare for the race season every year.
I’m very glad this race is going to happen as it’s been my dream since I’ve been here in the beautiful Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Before we take credit for a race that we’ve haven’t seen so far, we hope everything will go as planned. What you’ve seen so far shows the determination and spirit that has gone into providing this event. Even if something hasn’t gone to plan this year, you can be assured it will be the perfect race next year. The course will be tough because it’ll be hot and windy. Even though we won’t be able to see the magnificent mosque, we’ll still have the F1 course. There’s also a huge crop of pro athletes that we haven’t mentioned.
Don: Faris, given your heritage, how does it feel to host here?
I feel very relaxed as, because I live here, it’s not like in Kona where I’ll hop on the plane and be ready for the race. I hope the race feeling sinks in soon!
Don: Julie, coming off XTERRA and the 70.3 world champs, how you feeling these days?
Dibens: It feels a long time ago already. It was great to win both those world titles and it’s been an exciting challenge for me to be stepping up in distances. I’m excited to be here.
Don: Bjorn, you are looking really fit.
Bjorn: I’m feeling pretty good. It feels like I’ve been waiting my whole career for a race like this with a short run! I couldn’t be more excited and I’m in good shape.
Don: Is this a match up with Phil Graves after IMUK 70.3 last year?
He’s a young man so I don’t know how much he’s improved, but I think we’ll have a strong group of guys out there of the bike as it’s a field with some who aren’t the best runners. Hopefully we can work together a bit and produce a fast bike.
Don: What do you think of the distance?
It’s not like Hawaii where it’s quite hilly, it’s flat and is going to be really, really fast. It could work out on nutrition or be like Clearwater last year where I didn’t do that well but it was great for my development being in a big pack of cyclists for a long race.
Don: Raynard, you’ve been in the sport a long time and have travelled plenty. What do you think of the distances in this race?
It’ll be my 20th anniversary this year in the sport. It’s interesting to be now racing in a different culture and different part of the world. As for the race itself, I’m really glad to have a short run and a really long bike. I look at it as a bike race with a little bit of a swim and a run. Whoever can run after 200km is going to do pretty well. Without a couple of Australian champions and ex-champions (Craig Alexander and Chris McCormack) it’s the biggest and best field we’ve seen out of Hawaii.
Don: Yvonne, you’re always fit and always fast. How you feeling?
Yvonne: I feel really confident and really well. I’ve had the off-season enjoying all the wonderful things Austria has to offer, and my form has been good. I had an injury and had to take some days off and for that I now feel rested and strong. I felt like this before I broke the Ironman World Record so maybe I’ll have a good day on Saturday!
Jay Prasuhn of Lava: How will you approach the bike?
Bjorn: As the run is shorter we’ll have to take more chances on the bike, tactics will definitely come into play.
Herbert of Slowtwitch: Who’s responsible for the course?
Faris: When IMG was presenting their ideas I suggested that we should prolong the swim in order to stretch out the field a little. I think it’s good to extend the swim course in order to combat the drafting problem (Abu Dhabi is a non-drafting event). As this is a bike focused race we should do everything we can to make this a fair race. We finally came out with these distances, it’s never been done before and we’ll see how it works.
Herbert: Julie, you’ve never raced this far before.
Dibens: I’ve never even ridden this far before. On paper I may be a favourite but really I’m using this race as a big learning experience for Kona, which I aim to race this year. My goal is to go out there and ride as hard as I can and enjoy myself. I’m in good shape for this time of the year but it’s going to be exciting to race against some girls I’ve never raced before like Yvonne.
220: Yvonne, how would you prepare your nutrition strategy for a race like this?
With the 200km bike, I’ll be looking to make changes in the last hours of the bike. But in this environment – with the wind and heat – I’ll generally be looking to use the same pattern as I would for Ironman racing.