Top male and female elites, Spain’s Eneko Llanos and the UK’s Julie Dibens, made history in the United Arab Emirates’ capital as they clinched the maiden US$250,000 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT) in emphatic fashion.
Llanos – one of the interview stars of the incoming issue 246 of 220 Triathlon -came from behind to win the 223kms ADIT – which is organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) – after beating a host of world favourites to finish with a combined time of 6h34m37 – nearly a minute ahead of second placed Dirk Bockel from Luxemburg. Whilst Dibens – the current Ironman 70.3 and Xterra Triathlon World Champion and 70.3 distance world record holder – dominated to clinch a wire-to-wire victory in the female category, her longest ever race.
Speaking on the finishing line, an ecstatic Llanos, said: “This is my first time here and everything along the course was stunning from the Emirates Palace to the Yas Marina Circuit. The distance was a big challenge and I can’t believe I am here today in first place. I will be coming back next year for sure.”
And, an overjoyed Dibens, added: “I am very, very happy and exhausted! The course was great but the distance was too long for me really, which combined with the heat, made things a little bit difficult. The organisation of the race was great and I am definitely looking forward to coming back next year.”
With the daunting prospect of the 223kms ‘pure power’ course ahead of the elite field, the ADIT was always going to be a hotly contested affair. And despite being 51 seconds behind in sixth place at the end of the 200kms city-wide cycling leg, Llanos dug deep in the finishing 20kms running section to sweep past the tiring field.
In the opening stages, Llanso was not thought to be a major contender as fastest out of the blocks in the men’s elite long course category was New Zealand’s Bryan Rhodes, who notched up an impressive time of 35m26s in the 3kms swim sprint. And with only two seconds between Rhodes and second and third placed Belgium duo of Bret Jammaer and Frederik Van Lierde, it was all to play for going into the gruelling 200kms cycling leg.
The pre-race hype surrounding the ADIT was that the event was going to be decided on the bike and it looked like it wasn’t going to disappoint.
Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon captain, Faris Al Sultan – widely regarded as one of the world’s top cyclists and favourite to win – lived up to his reputation as he put in the fastest time at Bike Turn 1, just two seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Ronnie Schildknecht.
However, a bike technical issue for Al Sultan saw him lose nearly a minute on the pack as Germany’s Maik Twelsiek and Schildknecht set the pace on Bike Turn 2.
Yet it was fellow Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon stalwart, Andi Boecherer, and title rival Rasmus Henning from Denmark, who continued to jostle for the lead in the remaining 100kms as the athletes made their way around the stunning Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before heading back to the sweeping city Corniche for the final running leg.
And with many of the elites starting to tire in the Arabian sun, Llanos seized his opportunity to open up his lead with a storming finishing display. He was followed in second by Bockel, Henning in third, Fraser Cartmell in fourth and Van Lierde in fifth, with Al Sultan clawing back to finish in sixth, 3m16s off the pace.
Bockel, despite missing out on top spot, was happy to be in the emirate and said he would be returning next year: “The course is very unique and the distance is longer than the races I usually compete in. It is my first time here and I love the city and the organisers should count me in for ADIT 2011. It is a tough challenge and I am glad I participated.”
Henning was also full of praise for the debut event, and hoped to see it become a permanent feature on the international triathlon circuit: “The course was fantastic! The organisers did a great job and the hospitality was excellent. It is definitely a race that will be around for many years to come and I will be around for it every year hopefully. Abu Dhabi has the resources and ambition to create such a successful event and I am happy to be a part of that. I can’t believe I was on the Yas Marina Circuit, I am a huge fan of motor racing and since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, I wanted to come down and check it out.”
Dibens was more confident in her assault on the Abu Dhabi event and never looked like giving up the lead she so deserved. Despite being tipped as a hot favourite for the ADIT, Dibens played down her chances before the event, citing the distance as a major hurdle.
However, after building up a six second lead over fellow countrywoman Leanda Cave, Dibens continued to exert her dominance in the adrenaline-pumping cycling leg, stretching her lead to 3m15s over the chasing Briton.
And going into the final running discipline, Dibens looked uncatchable as she powered home to finish 3m58s ahead of Cave and 9m58s in front of Spain’s Virginia Berasategui Luna in third.
A tired Cave said: “The course was crazy hard especially the bike leg which is where I really had to push myself through. Abu Dhabi is beautiful though and even though we were exhausted, I still enjoyed the course. Thank you Abu Dhabi for having me and see you again next year.”