Despite the fact that American Chris Lieto has never raced at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, his strong bike skills have him positioned as one of the favorites to win on Saturday. Triathlete’s Aaron Hersh caught up with Lieto in Abu Dhabi two days out from race day.
Triathlete.com: How much do you know about the course?
Chris Lieto: Nothing, besides seeing a couple of pictures and hearing about the Formula 1 track. I heard it was really hot and windy last year.
The bike course, being 200k, I think is substantially longer than 180k (the Ironman bike leg distance). Ironman distance, you know what that’s like, you know how hard it is, but 200k is substantially longer in my eyes. I don’t even know what it’s going to be like. I’ve ridden that far in training rides, but that’s why the last two years, I haven’t committed to coming here. One, it’s super early in the year, and two, it’s 200k, you have to take it seriously. You can’t be like, “Oh it’s only a little bit longer, it’s not that big of a deal.” But that last 20k, I think that’s when you fall off everything.
Triathlete.com: Why are those additional 20ks so important?
Lieto: I think it takes a different style of training. You have to put in those hours. That last 20k your body is already getting tired, it’s already broken down, you’re not getting as much nutrition. You see 200k in some bike races, but you’ve got a lot of support, you’re sitting in a group, but you don’t see those kinds of distances in a time trial, so it’s pretty uncharted territory. In this race, everyone has me down [as a favorite]. They say, “The course is built for you, we’re super excited to have you here.” I have no expectations to say I’m going to win this race. I’m going to go out and do my best and have fun, but this is my first time here. There are guys that have been here two years, they key on this race as the most important of their year. I put in the training. I’m fit, but I’m not as fit as I am in October. So I’m not sure what to expect but I’m going to go out and have fun. I think it’s a great venue, a great course and having a long bike is fun and unique.
Triathlete.com: Do you have a plan for how you’re going to ride the course?
Lieto: Maybe, I can’t tell you. (Laughs) It’s new, there are a lot of good guys here, a lot of guys that are strong and know the course, so I’ll have to see what they’ll be doing. For me, I think it does come down to the second half of the bike. Everyone can ride well the first half, then people fall apart that last bit. You’ve got to dose your effort, get your nutrition in right and that second half of the bike is when people fall apart, but like I said I haven’t experienced it yet, so it’s going to be new.
Triathlete.com: Do you have a plan for the run? Will you approach it with caution?
Lieto: I’ll approach this race as I do all my races, I don’t think about the run until I get off the bike and I start running because you don’t know what you’re going to feel like. You don’t know how much gas you’ll have left. Hopefully if I ride well and feel good, then I’ll have good legs. It being 20k run, I’d like to run fast. It’s a good distance for me to run well. It’s early in the year, but I think I can still run well.
Triathlete.com: What do you have to accomplish on the racecourse for this year to be a success?
Lieto: I don’t feel I have to accomplish anything for it to be a successful year. I think it will be a success no matter where I finish, where my results are because I know I’m going to be there with a good mindset, focus and a good attitude and will be racing my heart out. Where I finish depends on where everyone else is and conditions and circumstances, so my year will be a success, I feel. At the same time, I’m going to go to Hawaii and I want to win. I’ve gotten close a couple times. It’s just the way it unfolds. You’ve got to roll those dice. Last year was frustrating. The dynamics of the race, the conditions, made it very difficult for me so I want to go back and do well. I want to race well in some half-Ironmans this year as well.
More important is the charity we started, More Than Sport. It’s really starting to get some traction and I really want to give back to the communities we race in. I want to see us athletes join in and race with a purpose and give back along the way. It’s impacting the communities and rallying the athletes to be aware of what’s around them and give back financially or with their time or with their hands to build. Whatever it is. We want More Than Sport to be a movement, not my charity. A passion of what athletes focus on.
Triathlete.com: Are you recruiting more athletes to be part of More Than Sport this year?
Lieto: Always. We had 30 athletes in Panama that came and built houses after the race. Every race we go to, we want athletes to be a part of it. We’re also inviting athletes to join the team and race for a cause. You can find it on the website, Morethansport.org.