Bright start for Kiwi champs

ABU DHABI - Kiwi triple champions, Richard and Elina Ussher, started where they left off 12 months ago in the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge 2010 prologue on Friday, as teams from across Europe and Australasia kept up the pressure on the New Zealand endurance stalwarts.

With a record 49 teams from 18 countries lined-up in the UAE capital, including many of the world’s top endurance racers, competition was always going to be tough at the new-look six-day multi-discipline race.

Yet it was the Ussher-led foursome that made the lightest work of the opening Adventure Challenge 21.7km prologue leg, clinching a lung-bursting time of 2h14m23s – nearly seven minutes ahead of second placed Thule Adventure Team Europe from France.

“It was very good today although we had a bit of disadvantage because we had to start from the rightmost end while having to paddle towards the first buoy at the left side of the course. It is still a long race. The key to our success is that we are all on the same level,” said Ussher, captain of Thule Adventure Team.

“It’s always nice to take the lead from the first day but with a new course and a very strong field, this is still wide open and there are a few teams out there we need to watch out for.”

In perhaps the biggest surprise of the day – which saw close to 200 athletes swim, run and canoe along the UAE capital’s sweeping Corniche – was that three Swedish teams were in the fastest 10, with rookies Netcompetence, one of a record 30 newcomers entered this year, placing highest with a decisive third place finish.

Led by Swedish adventure racing champion Per Vestling, Netcompetence was less than seven minutes behind Ussher’s team, and two minutes behind second placed Thule Adventure Team Europe, led by two-time Adventure Challenge runner-up, Jacky Boisset.

“The triathlon prologue was really good for us,” said Vestling. “Now we will fight harder in the next days to get closer to the team of Richard Ussher.”

Rounding out the top 10 were fellow Swedes, Team FJS powered by Saab, in fourth; Aussie outfit, Giddiup, in fifth; Switzerland’s Team Wenger in sixth; France’s Vibram Lafuma 1 and 2, in seventh and eighth; the third Swedish outfit, Silva Gerber Adventure, in ninth and Denmark’s Jotun Paints in 10th. Only 14 minutes separate the top 10, and only four minutes meant the difference between third and 10th.

Billed as one of the world’s toughest and hotly contested endurance races, the Adventure Challenge continues to attract a growing number of athletes to emirate. Domestic interest in the event also continues to grow, with a record nine UAE-based teams entered in the fourth edition – running until 15th December. However only eight started as Team Al Moughamiroun was forced to retire at the 11th hour as one member fell ill.

Leading the charge on the domestic front was Team 2XU Blackberry, which finished 27th overall on day one – more than 25 minutes ahead of the nearest other UAE team, Eco Racers, in 39th.

“It was a very tough race. We are not that experienced in paddling but we are very proud to be best UAE team so far,” said Team 2XU Blackberry captain, Darryl Chiles of Great Britain.

Also making their debut at this year’s race were two women-dominated teams from South Africa and Russia. At the end of the adventure triathlon prologue, Team from South Africa, led by Lisa de Speville, came in at 44th position — 14 minutes behind the Russian team, Arena Craft, which took 37th.

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