Readers of 220’s Twitter (www.twitter.com/220triathlon) will be aware that I (James Witts, editor) have had the hapless task of being shipped out to Abu Dhabi for the most extravagant and opulent press launch in my nine years on 220. Well, after much conjecture from our host and PR supremo Ryan Bowd, I can reveal that the Abu Dhabi Triathlon will take place on Saturday 13th March 2010.
Much conjecture pre-launch centred on the race distance – would it go long, middle, Olympic? I plumped for middle. I was wrong. It’s actually a brand-new format that takes in 3km of swimming, 200km of biking, before finishing off with a 20km run. There’s also a shorter version – 1.5km swim, 100km bike, 10km run – which can be run as a relay.
The salubrious setting of the Shangri-La Hotel provided the elegant backdrop to the launch, which was led by Adu Dhabi’s Tourism Authority’s Faisal Al Sheikh, operations director Jon Hazan and 2005 Ironman Hawaii winner Faris Al-Sultan, who heads up Team Abu Dhabi (www.teamabudhabitriathlon.com).
"It’s fantastic a world-class long-course triathlon has come to Abu Dhabi and the UAE," said Al-Sultan. "Though flat, the course will have its unique challenges with the length of the bike and the heat."
And that unique bike (or more correctly shorter run) is the big sell of the race. Whereas the Ironman-distance marathon blasts your legs for weeks, nay months, the 20km run will ensure many athletes won’t have to disrupt their long-course calendars to fit in the event. Being in March ensures many can use it as a training race, too… though that B-race status may swiftly receive promotion to A when the elites see there’s a prize purse of $250,000, making it one of the most financially rewarding triathlons in the world. Split is equal between men and women with the respective winners pocketing $50,000 each, more than the majority of Ironman races around the world. (You can already hear athletes like Chris Lieto, Julie Dibens and Phil Graves licking their lips with the two-wheeled bias race!)
The race is organised by IMG, sports marketing behemoths who make such a success of London and Blenheim, to name but two. Like those two – the two most populated races in the UK – this will be a mass participation event, with the target in the first year for 1,000 entrants. That figure could easily be surpassed when you look at the fiscal rewards – there’s a $20,000 prize purse for age-groupers, unheard of in global triathlon. Coupled with the surprisingly light entrance fees – US$150 for long, $96 for short if apply before 31 December; US$180 and US$123 from 1 January 2010.
As for the course, the swim takes place in the lagoon of the grandiose Emirates Palace (www.emiratespalace.com). The bike passes many of Abu Dhabi’s iconic sights including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, before moving onto Yas Island, home of the recent F1 Grand Prix. And yes, the bike course takes in the impressive Grand Prix course before heading back to T2 for the run through the Heritage Village to the west of the city.
The flat nature of the course and reasonable temperatures – the mercury ranges between 17 and 28°C at this time of year – should ensure some frighteningly fast times. But it’s that prize purse that will hold huge appeal to the world’s best long-distance athletes, though appearance money will not be released to tempt the likes of Chrissie and Craig. You can rest assured, though, business flights and potential accommodation, where us pauper journalists are staying (www.shangri-la.com – I feel like Compo (me) has just been dropped into Buckingham Palace), could provide a very tempting dangling carrot.
And that bike could also tempt many of the Olympic-distance elites to sign up. At that time of year, the likes of Al Brownlee, Javier Gomez et al will be knocking out high training volumes in some warm climes. This could be a true clash of the Olympic-distance best vs Ironman’s finest. Craig Alexander vs Javier Gomez? Watch this space…
More on the race at www.abudhabitriathlon.com