It’s not often that you get the reigning Olympic champion, Olympic bronze medalist, Ironman 70.3 world champion and Ironman world champion at one event. Saturday’s Abu Dhabi International Triathlon boasts a pro field that includes the best triathletes in the world across all distances, and with $250,000 on the line, the competition promises to be furious.
The long distance race, the weekend’s marquee event, will feature Ironman Hawaii champ Frederik van Lierde of Belgium defending his Abu Dhabi title from a year ago. He’ll be up against three other top-11 finishers from Kona last year, including Spain’s Eneko Llanos, Bermuda’s Tyler Butterfield and South African James Cunnama. The dark horse in the mix is Denmark’s Henrik Hyldelund, one of the strongest swim/bikers in the sport. With high winds expected throughout the 200K bike leg and a relatively short 20K run, it looks to be a good day for the stronger cyclists.
Melissa Hauschildt of Australia is the returning women’s champion in the long distance race, but also returning is last year’s third-place finisher, Michelle Vesterby of Denmark. Vesterby is back in Abu Dhabi to kick off her 2014 campaign after a career year in 2013 in which she finished eighth in Kona. Rounding out the favorites in the women’s long distance race is Britain’s Jodie Swallow, the 2010 Ironman 70.3 world champ, and long-course veteran Yvonne van Vlerken of the Netherlands.
While the long distance race is the gem of the weekend, this year’s short distance race is garnering most of the pre-race hype thanks to Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee, who represent two-thirds of the London Olympic podium. It’ll mark the first time that the brothers have squared off in a major non-drafting race, and it’ll also be the first time Jonathan has raced longer than the Olympic distance. It won’t be a walk in the park for either Brownlee, however, as the short distance race features a deeper field than the long distance this year. Also gunning for the short distance title are ITU veterans Tony Moulai of France and Ruedi Wild of Switzerland, as well Belgian Bart Aernouts, who finished eighth in Kona last year.
Aussie Annabel Luxford is the odds-on favorite in the women’s short distance race, but she’ll be challenged by a handful of athletes making the jump from the ITU circuit. Germany’s Svenja Bazlen and France’s Jessica Harrison figure to be in the mix, as does Czech long-course veteran Lucie Zelenkova.
In only its fifth year running, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has grown into one of the biggest destination races in the world. After starting with only 800 athletes in 2010, this year’s event is sold out with 2,400 athletes representing 67 different countries.