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© Romilly Lockyer
The BIG Abu Dhabi report
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Monday 14th March 2011


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Abu Dhabi International Triathlon 2011 reaches new heights...

Hotter? Possibly. Harder? Certainly. Higher Quality? Without a doubt.

2010 saw the organisers of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon seek to create an 'Instant Classic' within the sport of triathlon last year. Simple to write, tougher to deliver; but a goal met in most experts eyes and a race today which can only have built upon those already strong foundations. An event rising from the sands to without doubt the most important race of the early triathlon season in just 12 months. Quite an accomplishment.

Long course triathlon watching/reporting can be a tough task in itself. Honestly. Complaining I'm not though but, glamorous it isn't. That said, it was a rather toasty day out there and sweat was pouring off of me from the finish line media centre in the early afternoon after most of the day spent at the Yas Marina circuit - but that would have been a mere fraction of what the athletes had to endure. The number of top Pro's going directly from the finish line to the medical tent and passing the media scrum was significant enough to display the toughness of this race. Actually, perhaps that was a tactic to avoid us...?!

The Swim

As a spectator, triathlon swimming can be a little ...dull. Not only can you see next to nothing from the shore, on plenty of occasions the top athletes invariably swim with similar abilities and all exit together, making the swim impact on the race minimal.

Today was probably the most interesting swim I've seen for a long time. The lead men were quite clearly smashing it. ITU World Long Distance Champion Sylvain Sudrie (FRA), Rasmus Henning (DEN) and Martin Jensen (DEN) were stringing the swim out into a line and gaps were forming. At the halfway (1500m) mark, even the 50m beach run back to lap two was a sprint, and you could see athletes struggling to hang on. Athletes of the quality of Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL), Bjorn Andersson (SWE) and Chris McCormack were left behind, and by the time T1 arrived, they were close on two minutes in arrears. Macca in particular will certainly want (need) to correct that before hitting the ITU World Championship Series race in Sydney next month.

Britain's Stephen Bayliss was at the head of affairs too, and looked set for a solid race after getting up and building his bike at 3 a.m., which for the past three days has been flying around the world to anywhere other than Abu Dhabi. 200km on a borrowed bike would not have been fun, so it was good to see him in relaxed mood at daybreak with his new Quintana Roo racked and ready for action.

The Bayliss bike arrived literally hours before tha race started

The ladies swim followed a more traditional script, in the sense that Dibens lead and Leanda Cave was right with her. An omen for the same one-two finish as 2010? Behind, Rachel Joyce was disappointed with her swim. Having been in the lead pack last year she was close to two minutes in arrears along with Lucie Zelenkova (CZE), Amy Marsh (USA) and Xena / The Swiss Miss a.k.a. Caroline Steffen (SUI).

Leanda Cave had another strong swim and bike, but couldn't match her second place of 2010 finishing sixth this time

The Bike

First casualty of the day was spotted before even getting on his bike. Rasmus Henning, after a great swim and excellent preparation leading up to the race suffered some severe cramping and was seen hobbling through T1. Despite trying to ride, a few kilometres later he was out of the race and left wondering what had happened.

Last year the lack of wind and and early 'detour' on the bike leg conspired to leave a large group together for much of the ride. While the pace was high, there weren't too many fireworks going on. This year, Bjørn Andersson had clearly brought along a large box of dynamite and set the lot off from the get-go. Two minutes in arrears at T1 along with McCormack, Llanos and Vanhoenacker - all noted bikers themselves - by the time he reached the Yas Marina F1 circuit for the first time he was over three minutes in the lead, on his own, and was six minutes clear of that trio... "impressive or stupid" were my Twitter thoughts at the time, given that all of that happened in less than an hour of riding. Speaking to Luke Bell at dinner this evening, he said "he just came past us like a train...I looked down and saw the (high) watts we were pushing, and thought, he must be really cranking it. You just can't sustain that level for the whole ride"

Cyclist ride by, and through the Yas Marina Hotel

While Bjørn was giving it large and built his lead to over five minutes at one point, sooner or later the bubble had to burst. Or indeed explode...

When it did, it was Andrew Starykowicz (USA) who was the next to take on the mantle, escaping from the chase pack and forcing a gap in his specialist discipline to have any chance of a solid finish by the end of the bike leg. Meanwhile Macca's cleat broke/came lose we understand, and he was soon to join Bjorn on the DNF list. Bayliss had by now dropped off of the lead pack "I'm not strong enough just yet, the pace was really high", while Llanos, Vanhoenacker and Tissink were heading in the other direction and making up for lost time in the swim.

The final 50km became attritional, with Frederik Van Lierde and Marino pushing the pace on even further. Around 150km Craig Alexander was gapped and Eneko Llanos put in a huge effort to try and match Van Lierde. Throughout all of this, last years second placer and many peopleS pre-race pick Dirk Bockel was looking sublime.

Starykowicz reached T2 alone, and headed out onto the run - looking tired - but with a six minute buffer over the Bockel / Llanos / Van Lierde trio. Still, it never to me looked like it would be enough though he did hold firm for a top ten spot. In these extreme conditions, that was no mean feat.

Julie Dibens on the Yas Marina circuitThe wind was a far bigger factor this year, featuring a strong side wind; "it didn't matter if you were at the front, middle or back of any group" said Craig Alexander to me afterwards "you just got smashed from the side by the wind..."

The ladies bike was a Julie Dibens Tour de Force "she's an animal on the bike!" - meant as a huge complement - said Rachel Joyce. With no puncture issues this year, Dibens steadily built a lead of almost nine minutes before reaching for her K-Swiss running shoes in T2. Caroline Steffen did well to keep the gap under ten minutes, as there were huge gaps behind to Leanda Cave (18 minutes), Angela Naeth (19 minutes) and Cat Morrison/Rachel Joyce (23 minutes).

It is interesting to see the differences between the men's and ladies races; fewer (almost no) 'groups/pacelines' together for the ladies, and a much greater requirement to keep focused without the mental and physical stimulation of your competition in close proximity. Oh, and trying to ignore supporters shouting "great job, you're only 22 minutes down on Dibens..." is a good asset to have.

Emma-Kate Lidbury finished tenth

The Run

With Starykowicz losing time from the start of the run, who would move forward for the win? The American lead for more than half of the run, but Bockel and Llanos had started strong, and had the experience on the top two spots last year, so surely one of them could take it? Llanos was starting to suffer with stomach problems and while Bockel was putting together a fantastic race, it was Belgian Frederik Van Lierde (fifth last year), that was setting the pace and hit the front somewhere around the 13km mark. We'd tipped Van Lierde as our 'outsider' to watch, but hadn't quite expected him to go this well.

First four athletes on to the 20km run

With 5km to go there was less than a minute separating the first four: Van Lierde, Vanhoenacker, Bockel and Raynard Tissink (RSA), and while that proved to be the finishing order there were only 33 seconds between first and fourth. $50,000 for first, $10,000 for fourth... so that proved to be more than $1000/second. Vanhoenacker just ran out of road to close the gap and while he made it a Belgian one-two, he was certainly as frustrated with not winning as he may have been pleased with gaining second place. A 7:52 Ironman athlete sets himself high standards and he only had one thing on his mind for this race. He'll be fired up for Ironman South Africa next month, a race he won in 2009.

Frederik Van Lierde with winners trophyITU World Long Distance Champion Sylvain Sudrie (FRA) took fifth, and despite suffering from cramps in the late stages Craig Alexander managed to win the 'Australian sprint' with Luke Bell to edge the sixth spot. He was generous in his praise for those ahead of him; "like I said before the race, I'm not in Kona shape...but I'm not that far off either. The guys at the front deserved it today. Frederik was doing a lot of work on the bike, he had a great race. I've got no excuses - you want to win every race of course, and I wouldn't have travelled for 15 hours and seven hours time difference if I wasn't serious about it. It was may first race of the year - but that was the case for a lot of the guys. I'm happy with my performance, suffered with some cramps but that's racing. It shows how competitive triathlon is now - if your one percent off, then you risk being beaten. There are a lot of positives to take away for me from this race and I'd like to come back again."

Stephen Bayliss was able to move up from 18th to 13th during the run, a decent effort after a stressful week of wondering what bike he may actually be riding.

With much bigger gaps at T2 for the ladies, holding strong rather than blistering speed was likely to be the order of the day and the way to success. Dibens did lose time to Steffen over the course of the run, about four minutes, but was never truly threatened. Ironically, though she made it look easy it was clearly anything but. Managing to raise her arms for the finish tape photo shot was impressively professional, she was immediately then bent over double and clearly suffering for her brilliance today. Off to the medical tent, where she stayed for a several hours, make no mistake that this was a hard earned $50,000 and a second straight Abu Dhabi title. She promises to be back to try for a third...

Julie Dibens smiles (once recovered!), as do Cat Morrison and Rachel Joyce

Morrison and Joyce were able to leapfrog Leanda Cave and Angela Naeth on the run to move to third and fourth respectively, with Rachel having a race of two halves after "forgetting how to ride a bike for the first 100km, but then getting it together". Cave will be disappointed not to have matched her second position of 2010, but with Emma-Kate Lidbury taking tenth, the GB ladies took half of the top ten positions in the race.

A tough race, amazing quality field and extreme conditions. A Classic indeed, bring on 2012.

Results

Pos Men Women
1st Frederik van Lierde (BEL) 6:43:14 Julie Dibens (GBR) 7:14:13
2nd Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) 6:43:31 Caroline Steffen (SUI) 7:19:45
3rd Dirk Bockel (LUX) 6:43:42 Catriona Morrison (GBR) 7:31:02
4th Raynard Tissink (RSA) 6:43:47 Rachel Joyce (GBR) 7:31:59
5th Sylvain Sudrie (FRA) 6:45:49 Angela Naeth (CAN) 7:32:24
6th Craig Alexander (AUS) 6:46:46 Leanda Cave (GBR) 7:34:10
7th Luke Bell (AUS) 6:46:52 Lucie Zelenkova (CZE) 7:36:24
8th Faris Al Sultan (GER) 6:48:22 Joanna Lawn (NZL) 7:47:50
9th Timo Bracht (GER) 6:49:40 Belinda Granger (AUS) 7:48:49
10th Andrew Starykowicz (USA) 6:50:23 Emma-Kate Lidbury (GBR) 7:51:20

Julie Dibens - pleasure and pain


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