Andrea Hewitt paid an emotional tribute to fiance Laurent Vidal after winning her first ITU World Triathlon Series in six seasons at the 2017 season-opener in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Vidal, a former triathlete who finished fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, died of a heart attack aged just 31 in November 2015.
The Frenchman, who had been forced to retire in April 2014 after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest during a swimming training session, instead turned to coaching partner Hewitt – who has also featured in the triathlon at the last three Olympics where she has finished seventh (2016), sixth (2012) and eighth (2008).
“I’m definitely dedicating this to Laurent,” the 34-year- old Hewitt said of Vidal – who she had been due to marry in early 2016.
“Laurent always told me I had everything. I had the dedication, I had integrity, I had talent, he told me probably the one thing I was
missing was emotion and I didn’t show it most of the time. There was so much emotion (today). Coming here and winning, I’ve got no words.”
It was a first time on top of the podium at a WTS race for Hewitt since the 2011 Grand Final in Beijing – a result that saw her claim second place overall. She was also runner-up in the 2015 series and has finished third three times too (2009, 2012, 2014).
Despite suffering such a personal trauma, the Christchurch native stated that competing has helped her cope.
“I love triathlon and this is what I do,” she added.
“To keep going, for me, that was the normal route. There was no talk of giving up, there was nothing else for me to do.
“I have to pay tribute to (training partner) Maddie Dillon who’s been beside me the last year and knows exactly what I’ve been going through, so I just want to say thank you to her as well as my friends and family.
“There were so many changes last year. I had a lot of support though and I’m really thankful to the people around me.”
'If I was going to lose to anyone I'm glad it was to Andrea and a sprint finish!' @jodiestimpson congratulates the 2017 champ @andreahewittnz #WTSAbuDhabi #InAbuDhabi #triathlon #unitedbytriathlon #swimbikerun #worldtriathlon#weekend #UAE #fitspo . " إذا كنت سأخسر أمام أحد فإنني سعيدة أنها آندريا" - جودي ستيمبيون تهنئ بطلة ٢٠١٧ . #في_أبوظبي #ترايثلون #ترايثلون_أبوظبي #ترايثلون_يجمعنا
Hewitt claimed a breath-taking triumph at Yas Marina Circuit, digging deep in a pulsating sprint finish to burst past reigning Abu Dhabi champion Jodie Stimpson in the final 10 metres.
The veteran kiwi was around 15 seconds down after emerging from the swim – two laps on two separate legs around Yas Marina.
Spain’s Carolina Routier led at the that point but was quickly swallowed up by the likes of Hewitt and Stimpson.
As the field headed onto the iconic Formula One track for the 40km cycle, a breakaway group of nine started to form, led by Stimpson and Australia’s Gillian Backhouse.
Nine became four as they swapped the saddle for their trainers, with the winner looking like it would come from one of Britian’s Stimpson, Hewitt, Austria’s Sara Vilic or Rachel Klamer of the Netherlands.
Klamer eventually fell back during the final four laps of running, with Hewitt triumphing in thrilling fashion ahead of Stimpson, while Vilic was able to reflect on a first-ever WTS podium seven seconds behind.
“It was such a close race with Jodie, we were neck and neck out of the water and rode really well together and we were side by side in the run too,” added Hewitt.
“I think she was quicker on the uphill but as we came into the flat we were side by side. I’ve always got confidence I can win. I didn’t know how Jodie was going to go. She led from 400m to go and I just hung on and timed it perfectly.”
Congratulations to the 2017 ITU WTS Abu Dhabi champion @andreahewittnz as well as @jodiestimpson and @saravilic and all the elites racing today. What a gripping day of racing! 🏊🏼♀️🚴🏻♀️🏃🏻♀️ نهنئ بطلة سباق سلسلة الترايثلون العالمية في أبوظبي 2017 أندريا هيويت ونهنئ كذلك جودي ستيمبسون وسارة فيليتش اللاتي فازتا بالمركز الثاني و الثالث في سباق النخبة ونهنئ معهما جميع الرياضيات اللواتي شاركن في سباق النخبة اليوم. ياله من يوم مذهل!
Stimpson, 28, was upbeat with her performance despite being pipped on the line.
“Maybe I went too early, I don’t know. That was all I had, I had nothing else left to give, there was no more speed left in my legs. Second was all I had and I’m happy with that,” she said.
“I was stronger on the uphill but Andrea was the stronger on every lap coming into the flat section and I know she’s renowned for her sprint.
“I was at full stretch when she came past and I had no chance. If I was going to lose to anyone in a sprint finish today I’m glad it was Andrea because we worked really hard on our bikes.”