Kiwis eager to defend title

Team New Zealand has confirmed its return next month to compete in the gruelling Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.

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ABU DHABI // Still hungry for victory in what has been billed as an elite, world-class endurance trial, Team New Zealand has confirmed its return next month to compete in the gruelling Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge. The six-day, multi-discipline race will run from Dec 12-17 and involves mountain biking, rope works, kayaking and hiking through the emirate's most stunning geological features.

The captain of the Kiwi quartet, Richard Ussher, said his co-ed squad was eager to defend their title as champions. "None of us had raced in conditions anything close to those in the Liwa desert and we didn't know what to expect," Mr Ussher said of last year's inaugural race. "Obviously, it was demanding. Coming through that sort of endeavour as winners was the moment of the year for the team." The Kiwis, who will compete this year as Team Desert Islands, will be among at least 34 squads from around the world.

That number surpasses the 29 teams that registered last year, with six weeks still remaining until the event. This year's 400km route has been altered, with the addition of more urban areas and a new course through the Arabian wildlife reserve, Sir Bani Yas Island. "We can't wait. The more we get to see of Abu Dhabi the better," Mr Ussher said. Competitors will have the chance to see the nature reserve close up and to kayak along the coast.

Organisers with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) disclosed yesterday that 18 countries were represented so far in the event, including the UAE, US, France, Poland, Turkey, Britain, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, Slovenia, Andorra, Sweden and Germany. This year's total prize pot is ?173,000 (Dh858,100), with ?40,000 for the winning team. The Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, under the patronage of Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, was created as an opportunity to promote the variety of terrain in the emirate.

The course was designed to take participants through some of the UAE's most beautiful natural scenery - from the capital's Corniche to unspoilt wildlife islands and their surrounding seas, to the Empty Quarter's dunes and the rocky Jebel Hafeet. Ahmed Hussein, the deputy director general of the ADTA, said the challenge is "fast becoming the most popular adventure race of its kind" and that the 2009 edition "is set to build on the event's reputation as the world's most international adventure race".

"We currently have teams from six continents registered, which is really quite remarkable," Mr Hussein said. "They will contest a route which has been designed to profile the UAE capital's eclectic mix of terrains." Registration is still open and will not close until the week before the race. The cost to register a team is ?3,500 (Dh17,550).