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We’re now less than one week before the inaugural Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. A star-studded line-up with world champion caliber athletes will vie for one of the largest prize purses in the sport at $230,000 USD.
Two distance formats are being contested this Saturday, March 13th with the highlighted race, the Long Distance Course, featuring a 3k-swim, 200k-bike and 20k-run.
This first-of-its-kind format is unique as it is a shorter swim and run than an iron distance event with a longer bike. Only time will tell if the extra 12.4 miles on the bike portion and the shorter run will allow an uber-cyclist to emerge as the winner, or if – like in iron events – the winner will emerge from the lead chase pack of cyclists bidding their time to unleash a deadly run split.
Noticeably absent from the line-up in the luxurious Middle Eastern Emirate is two-time Ironman champion Craig Alexander. Alexander is on the start list for Singapore 70.3 attempting to become a 3-time winner of the race. Also absent is Kona runner-up Chris Lieto, who blazed to the fastest bike split on the Big Island, and held onto the lead for 21-miles of the run. Other top cycling triathletes not on the starting list include: Normann Stadler, Chris McCormack, Andrew Yoder, Chris McDonald, Matt Reed, Oscar Galindez, David Thompson, Tim O’Donnell and Marino Vanhoenacker.
Still, the list is a long one with many top contenders packed onto the starting line to take a stab at early season glory and a chance for bragging rights at the seasons most highly anticipated new race.
Today, we’ll look and the men’s field and what we believe are their odds to take the title. Check back tomorrow for our odds on favorite to win the women’s title.
Faris Al Sultan, 32, GER – 7-2 (4-1 fastest bike split)
The 2005 Hawaii Ironman Champion, who resides in the United Arab Emirate city Al Ain, is the foundation and team leader of a newly debuted pro team, Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon. A quick look at the long course race distances show a course catered to this affable, bearded, Speedo and bandana wearing hometown star. Faris has won a handful of races with similar conditions to what we could expect to see in Abu Dhabi – a flat bike course, very hot and humid conditions with fierce crosswinds – similar to courses he’s conquered at Ironman Malaysia, Ironman Arizona and Kona.
Rasmus Henning, 34, DEN – 4-1
One of the top performing draft legal triathlon performers in the past decade, Henning is known for producing his best races when big money is on-the-line. He won back to back Hy Vee Triathlons in Des Moines, Iowa in 2007 and 2008 and the $200,000 top prize – along with a Hummer H3 (which the Dane declined to take back to Denmark due to the heavy taxes). After a 7th place in Athens 2004 and 8th place in Beijing, Henning turned his attention long distance racing and debuted with a dominating win at the sweltering Ironman China – including a 4:29:53 bike split. Henning placed 5th in his first trip to Kona despite racing with a fractured right hand. The only question we have is whether Henning’s off-season dedicated to Nordic skiing will transfer into power on two wheels.
Rutger Beke, 32, BEL – 5-1 (7-1 fastest bike split)
Fresh off his November 2009 Ironman Cozumel victory, Beke is back to his winning ways. He has finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th at the Ironman World Championships and this is largely because of his strong bike and fleet-footed run legs. He has also proven himself tough enough to win races with difficult bike courses like Monaco 70.3 and Ironman Arizona. However, his recent win at Cozumel is a course with similar characteristics on paper to what Beke will face on Saturday and he aced that test with a race-best 4:34:27. The Belgian is known to attend early season training camps at Club La Santa in Lanzarote which means better fitness than if he stayed back in his native Leuven, Belgium.
Eneko Llanos, 34, ESP – 5-1
Spain’s two time Olympian, 2008 Hawaiian Ironman runner-up and 3x Xterra World Champion could be the most balanced athlete on the starting line. An athlete both Craig Alexander and Chris McCormack consider their toughest competitor in Kona, Llanos handles tough racing elements in perfect stride.
Ronnie Schildnecht, 30, SWI – 6-1
The two-time Ironman Switzerland champ has spent the last two weeks in the Canary Islands on Gran Canary with the Swiss Tri Team and also at a training camp in Lanzarote earlier in January. That mean he is focused on redemption, and Abu Dhabi is target, to avenge his 18th place finish in Kona last year – after placing 4th in 2008.
Bjorn Andersson, 31, SWE – 7-1 (1-1 fastest bike split)
This Swedish cycling powerhouse has a swim/bike combo that makes him the overwhelming favorite to arrive into T2 in the lead. The question will be how long he can hold off his competition during the half-marathon. The Swede posted a 4:23:13 at the 2007 edition of Ironman South Africa along with numerous fastest bike splits at races around the globe. His victory against professional cyclists at the 2007 Tour of Belize time trial and a podium finish at the Swedish National Time Trial Championships makes him a contender for the fastest bike split next Saturday.
Phillip Graves, 22, GBR – 9-1 (5-1 fastest bike split)
At age 21 Graves became the youngest athlete to win an Ironman when he pushed out a 4:57:23 bike at Ironman UK en route to his 8:45:52 victory. Winning on the challenging half and full Ironman courses in 2009 showed Graves is a future contender in long distance non drafting races. Despite winning the 2009 Timex bike prime in Kona, Graves’ best cycling performance is still the 3:37:41 he clocked in the National 100-mile, an annual time-trial in Great Britain. His fearless approach to racing off the front could have the youngster flying at the front of the race for most of the day.
Leon Griffin, 29, AUS – 10-1
Fresh off a runner-up finish at the Geelong 70.3 to Craig Alexander, Griffin showed promise for a top finish at the Clearwater in 2009 with the second fastest run of the day. Unfortunately, he was forced to serve four minutes in the sin bin after being called for a penalty in the final mile of the bike. Griffin won the 2006 Duathlon World Championships with a bold breakaway on the bike and won the Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 in 2008 after a strong bike. Griffin is a strong enough cyclist to exit T2 with the lead chasers, and if he does, he has the foot speed to chase down the uber-cyclists.
Dirk Bockel, 33, LUX – 10-1
Bockel led off the bike at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but that was a 40 kilometer effort. In 2009, he took 3rd at Ironman New Zealand with the fastest bike split and 7th place in his first trip to Kona. Most fans might best remember Bockel for donning a set of Mickey Mouse ears en route to capturing the win at Florida 70.3 in a close battle with Luke Bell last May.
Oliver Marceau, 37, FRA – 10-1
The 2000 ITU World Champion is best known for his daring bike breakaways on the ITU circuit that propelled him to podium finishes at world championship events – including gold in 2000 and bronze in 2003. Last year, Marceau place 2nd behind McCormack at Challenge France. His strong cycling abilities allowed him to become one of only a few athletes who have raced in all three Olympic triathlons.
Jordan Rapp, 29, USA – 11-1 (7-1 fastest bike split)
Last year was Rapp’s coming out party with wins at Ironman Canada and Ironman Arizona. His 4:22:31 bike split en route to his win in Tempe last November was one of the fastest 112-mile bike splits of the year. He is known for his even pacing on the bike so we can expect to see him work his way through the field of pro men as the race miles tick on.
Joe Gambles, 27, GBR – 12-1
Gambles had a breakout season in 2009 with wins at Vineman 70.3 and Lake Stevens 70.3. In both races, he took the lead on the bike and never looked back. The question remains for the 2008 Timex bike prime winner in Clearwater how he will fair over 200-kilometers on the bike.
Bert Jammaer, 30, BEL – 15-1
The fire fighter from Belgium excels on the toughest race courses in the sport as he showed with his back to back wins at the 2008 and 2009 Ironman Lanzarote. Jammaer, like his fellow Belgian countrymen, spends ample time training in the hot temps and crosswinds in Lanzarote.
Ain-Alar Juhanson, 34, EST – 25-1 (3-1 fastest bike split)
The 6 foot 5 inch, 216-pound watt pushing giant would be an easy pick by many to blast his way to the fastest bike split in Abu Dhabi – that is, if Andersson decided not to toe the line. He showed he can outbike the best, with his 4:26:14 fastest bike split in Kona in 2008. Like some of his fellow Europeans, Juhanson spent time in training camps in Lanzarote in his build up to this upcoming Saturday.
Raynard Tissink, 36, RSA – 25-1
Six-time Ironman winner, Tissink has won races on the toughest courses in the most difficult conditions. His comeback victory at Ironman Wisconsin last September – one week after finishing 3rd at Ironman Louisville – show how tough of a competitor the South African is. He should be coming off a solid season of training so look for him to be in the mix for a top ten finish.
Maik Twisiek, 30, GER – 30-1
Surrounded on a team of uber-biker – at Team Commerzbank – Twisiek was faster than even two-time Hawaiian Ironman champ Normann Stadler on the Queen K Hwy last year. His 4:28:34 bike split was second to Chris Lieto’s. Twisiek could possibly challenge on the bike, but has not shown the ability to out run the big dogs despite his dominating win in Lake Placid last July.
Compiled by the editors.