The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon is one of the highlights of the triathlon season and the 2014 race will prove no different.
A host of world-class competitors - along with hundreds of amateur athletes - will line-up at the start in the UAE capital on Saturday striving to get their hands on one of the most lucrative prize money cheques in the sport.
Here, Sport360° profiles six competitors - three male and three female - who we expect to be in the mix for top honours.
ENEKO LLANOS (ESP)
Spaniard Llanos is a veteran of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. The Basque competitor is a regular podium finisher in the UAE, winning in 2010 and finishing second behind the dominant Frederick Van Lierde in 2013.
“I like to kick off my season with the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon as it is arguably the most picturesque triathlon course in the world” he said. “Narrowly missing out on the top spot last year has made me all the more determined to go for gold at the season opener.”
In a long and successful career, Llanos has qualified twice for the Olympics and triumphed in the Asia-Pacific Ironman in Melbourne, Australia. He has also claimed second places in the prestigious Ironman World Champi- onships and ITU World Championships.
JAMES CUNNAMA (RSA)
Cunnama has quickly established himself as one of his nation’s finest ever triathletes. The Stellenbosch native comes into the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon in good form, after winning the Ironman 70.3 South Africa title in January.
His fourth place in December’s Ironman World Championships in Hawaii was the best ever performance by a South African at the gruelling event.
Cunnama is guaranteed company on the airplane over to Abu Dhabi, as girlfriend and fellow triathlete Jodie Swallow is also competing in the UAE.
He does have an unusual training diet, however, which can include helpings of fried chicken. This has not held him back, as he is currently third in the Ironman world rankings.
OMAR NOUR (EGY)
Nour is on a mission to become the first Egyptian Olympic triathlete in history. Entry into his second Abu Dhabi triathlon is another step on his journey to a place in the record books.
Last year, in his first attempt at the short course, Nour finished inside the top-10, a credible 15 minutes behind race winner and Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee.
Nour has lived a fascinating life, moving from Cairo to Switzerland as a child. He then went on to study in the United States, with a successful business career getting in the way of his plans to go to medical school.
After committing himself to a healthier lifestyle, he turned professional for the 2010 ITU season. Since then, he has finished on the TriYAS podium twice, without winning it.
JESSICA HARRISON (FRA)
Harrison is dusting off her running shoes for Abu Dhabi, after announcing her retirement from regular international triathlon competition after September’s 2013 ITU World Triathlon Series.
She was born in Sheffield in the United Kingdom, but switched her international allegiances to France in 2005 after living across the English Channel for six years following the completion of her degree.
Harrison has dominated the French triathlon scene since, winning numerous individual titles and contributing to the nation’s success in the team events. She has also competed in the previous two Olympics for her adopted country, finishing 12th at Beijing 2008 and a dogged ninth at London 2012.
JODIE SWALLOW (GBR)
Swallow has enjoyed great success in triathlon in more than a decade at the top level. The highlight of her career thus far came in 2010 when she claimed the Ironman 70.3 World Championship title in Clearwater, Florida.
There, she completed the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run in 4 hours 6 min 28s to finish six minutes in front of the chasing pack. Swallow also earned herself a place at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where she finished 34th.
She is certainly looking forward to another strong run this weekend, saying: “The Abu Dhabi Triathlon attracts the best competitors of any race at this time of year and it’s a different and unique format.”
YVONNE VAN VLERKEN (NED)
There will be few tougher triathletes racing around the picturesque Abu Dhabi course this weekend than Van Vlerken.
The most remarkable achievement of an outstanding career is her status as the only female athlete in history to have held the world record for both the half-Ironman and the full Ironman.
Nicknamed ‘The Flying Dutchman’, she is also one of only a handful of female athletes who have recorded three or more sub-nine hour times over the Ironman distance.One of those times came on her debut attempting it at the Quelle Challenge Roth in 2007.
Van Vlerken will be racing in Abu Dhabi for the third time this weekend, but is yet to taste victory here. Her formidable record ensures she is one of the contenders for the crown.