Bermuda’s Tyler Butterfield nabbed the biggest win of his career today at the Abu Dhabi International Long Distance Triathlon, as Aussie Melissa Hauschildt took her second consecutive title after a grueling 20K run battle with Dutchwoman Yvonne van Vlerken.
Butterfield’s win came over the most impressive field ever assembled in Abu Dhabi. While there were only 12 men competing in the long distance event, the group included four top-11 finishers from last year’s Hawaii Ironman, including reigning world champ Frederik Van Lierde, three-time Xterra world champ Eneko Llanos and South African James Cunnama.
The lead pack remained tight throughout the 3K swim leg, with Van Lierde exiting the Arabian Gulf first and Llanos, Butterfield and Cunnama only a handful of seconds behind. Butterfield was the first to leave transition, but it was Cunnama who became the aggressor during the opening miles of the bike.
“The bike ride was an interesting one because James [Cunnama] set a frantic pace early,” Butterfield said after the race. “But I was happy about the pace. I felt confident in my bike coming into this.”
As he did a year ago, Van Lierde ramped up the pace shortly after the halfway point of the bike and Butterfield, Llanos, France’s Sylvain Sudrie and Dutchman Bas Diederen did their best to keep pace.
“Freddy [Van Lierde] was the strongest on the bike,” Butterfield said. “He raced like a world champ. He didn’t win, but we all saw who was out there pushing the pace the most.”
Van Lierde lead the group of five into T2, but it was clear from the onset of the run that he didn’t have the turnover that delivered him to a title last year. Butterfield and Sudrie moved to the front and easily pulled away from the reigning champ in the opening kilometer of run, and after a few minutes of running side by side, Butterfield dropped Sudrie and began to extend his lead.
“There might have been five of us off the bike together, but I was still worried about someone coming up from behind,” Butterfield said. “There were some really solid runners off the bike behind us so I just kept looking back to see if someone was making up ground.”
Butterfield glanced over his shoulder at least a dozen times throughout the final 5K of the run, but his fear of being caught would remain just that. He broke the tap to celebrate the biggest win of his 17-year career, and joined his wife, Niki, as an Abu Dhabi champion (she won the women’s long distance race in 2012).
Dierderen turned in the surprise result of the day, finishing just 46 seconds back to take second, while Sudrie rounded out the podium. Belgium took fourth and fifth, with Van Lierde finishing fourth and Bert Jammaer coming across the line in fifth.
There would be no runaway win in the women’s contest. As is typically the case, Hauschildt and Van Vlerken were forced to play catch-up after the swim, exiting the water more than six minutes back of early leader Jodie Swallow of Great Britain. Swallow remained strong throughout the first third of the 200K bike leg, before heading off course for more than 10 minutes and relinquishing the lead to Michelle Vesterby of Denmark. By the time Vesterby assumed the lead, Hauschildt was only a few seconds behind, and within a few minutes the Aussie was alone at the front and pulling away.
Hauschildt’s lead heading into T2 was less than a minute over Van Vlerken and Vesterby, and during the opening miles of the run it appeared she would run away with the win in her typical fashion. As Vesterby faded, Van Vlerken surged and began to close the gap on Hauschildt near the halfway point of the run. Once the Dutchwoman made contact with the leader, the pair exchanged the lead five times as both women dug deep for an advantage. Hauschildt finally proved she had the best legs of the day and pulled away throughout the final 5 kilometers to win by just 23 seconds.
“When [Van Vlerken] caught up to me I thought for a minute ‘it’s over,'” Hauschildt said. “But then I had to tell myself that she was suffering too and that it would stay with me all season if I just gave up on this race. It was the toughest win of my career.”
Vesterby rounded out the podium, finishing over six minutes behind Van Vlerken, with Swallow battling back to finish fourth.
Abu Dhabi International Long Distance Triathlon
3K swim, 200K bike, 20K run
1. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 6:43:01
2. Bas Diederen (NED) 6:43:47
3. Sylvain Sudrie (FRA) 6:45:06
4. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 6:46:12
5. Bert Jammaer (BEL) 6:50:48
1. Melissa Hauschildt (AUS) 7:24:50
2. Yvonne van Vlerken (NED) 7:25:13
3. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 7:31:39
4. Jodie Swallow (GBR) 7:45:35