Butterfield hoping to defy illness & repeat last year’s Abu Dhabi glory

James Burton 13/03/2014
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Podium finish: Tyler Butterfield was third in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago.

Tyler Butterfield is aiming to shake off a recent illness and start his season with a bang at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon.

Butterfield, 31, enjoyed an outstanding 2013, with a seventh-place finish at the iconic Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, establishing him as one of the leading triathletes in the world.

Fourth for a large part of the race, it was a performance that caught the imagination of not only his native Bermuda but the triathlon world, and it also equalled his dad Jim’s finish back in 1981.

Butterfield finished third in the UAE last year with an eye-catching display but admits the build-up to this year’s race has been far from perfect.

A virus and a heavy cold forced him to ease off training for two weeks, while he has also had his hands full in a far more enjoyable way after his wife Nikki – a past winner at the Abu Dhabi event – gave birth to their second child.

It all means Butterfield, who is based in Boulder, Colorado, is realistic about his chances of returning to the podium but believes the race mileage he clocked up in the previous year will benefit him.

He said: “It’s a great race. It doesn’t always get as much publicity as it should out here in the US but it’s one of the races that really supports the triathlon community.

“They fly a lot of athletes out there and put us in nice hotels and there’s good prize money (Dh146,922 for the winner).

“The race has been a huge help to our careers in making our sport professional. It’s a big race and it attracts the top triathletes in the world.”

The long-distance Abu Dhabi course is flat, fast and includes three loops around the Yas Island Grand Prix circuit. Throw in the potentially-crippling heat of the desert and Butterfield admits it’s a brutal start to the season.

He said: “It’s a tough course — people say you do it once and don’t go back!

“Some guys don’t do it because they think it’s too tough for an early season race. It’s dead flat, so it’s fast, but you are in an aero position for five hours, which is really hard on your lower back.

“So it’s a tough course because it’s pancake flat.”

Taking on the 3km swim, 200km bike and 20km run in the long distance event is an elite collection of athletes. Frederick Van Lierde, who won Kona and Abu Dhabi last year, is back for more, while South African James Cunnama, who was fourth in Hawaii, will also be at the start line.

Butterfield said: “It’s a very select professional field. They all have the talent, the work ethic and the results to back it up. It comes down to who has done the best work and the preparation.

“I have to say my preparation could have been better – I’ve been sick a couple of times, I’m just getting over a cold, had a virus as well that meant I had to take a couple of weeks easy. “But this year is all about Kona and trying to improve on last year.

“However, I really want to go [to Abu Dhabi] and improve on my third place last year and it would be extra sweet to win because my wife Nikki has won it — she’s always had that against me!

“But realistically I am looking to put in a solid performance to see where I am. I’ve had a lot of racing since last year — three Ironman and I’ve got last year’s Abu Dhabi in the bank so my body should remember.”

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Abu Dhabi Tri inspiring Shaikh Saqer’s plans for Bahrain race

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Delighted to be back: Shaikh Saqer's will be racing his second Abu Dhabi Tri.

A member of the Bahrain ruling family is hoping to draw inspiration from the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT), as his nation accelerates plans to host their own elite-level event.

Shaikh Saqer bin Salman Al Khalifa is coming to Abu Dhabi this weekend to take part in the short-distance race for the second-successive year.

The 34-year-old got into the sport after being diagnosed with diabetes five years ago. He has since competed around the world, and in December was named President of the Bahrain Triathlon Association.

“If we want to do something in Bahrain in the near future, there is already an incredibly high bar set in the region by Abu Dhabi,” he told Sport360°. “We are currently in advanced talks with sports organisers and companies. The plan would be to hold a race that would occur each December.”

For the third-successive year, the ADIT is running a ‘Local Heroes’ programme, in which previous participants are challenged to bring on-board a first-timer.

Shaikh Saqer was the first to confirm his spot in the 2014 initiative, and has enlisted Bahraini amateur May Al Haji.

He said: “I wanted to bring someone who would inspire people. She [Al Haji] is a mother of two, who is into sport and has just finished her first marathon. Her entry will hopefully get Arab females into the triathlon. It helps send out a positive message to the region.”

Shaikh Saqer has especially fond memories of last year’s ADIT race, and was determined not to miss out on Saturday’s competition.

“When I finished last year, I said to myself I do not want to miss this race again,” he said. “I have been around the world, but to do one in a country close to my own, and which speaks the same language as I do, has a different feel. It was like a party inside my own house.”

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All eyes on the Brownlees at Abu Dhabi Triathlon

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Sibling rivalry: Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee cannot wait to get the defence of his Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (ADIT) short-course title under way.

Alistair, 25, and his brother Jonathan, 23, are part of the 2,400-strong field for the sold-out fifth running of the event on Saturday.

Alistair will have fond memories of the 2013 revent when he smashed the short-course record, despite taking a wrong turning and adding two kilometres to his race.

“It is fantastic to be back,” London 2012 winner Alistair said. “I really enjoyed it last year, and that is why I wanted to do it again.

“It is a good way to start the season, with something a little bit different and I am looking forward to getting started.

“It feels really hot here, so I hope I will be alright.

“I would like to beat him [Jonathan]. But you never really know until you start.”

The Brownlees are the star names in the short-course race, which will see competitors swim 1.5km in the azure waters off the Corniche, tackle a 100km bike course which includes several laps of Yas Marina Circuit, and finish with an energy-sapping 10km run as they make their return to the city.

Those figures are doubled for the long-distance – a challenge which holds no fear for Belgian reigning champion Frederick Van Lierde (below).

The 34-year-old’s glorious 2013 campaign was bookended by a second triumph in the UAE this time last year, and a dominant victory in October’s prestigious Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

For Van Lierde, the contest in Abu Dhabi provides the foundation for future success.

“To start the season with a long-distance race here under my belt is the perfect preparation for the season ahead,” he told Sport360°. “It is a great feeling to be back for my fifth time in Abu Dhabi.”

As ever, the fields for the long, short and sprint events will include a mix of elite professional athletes and amateurs. Racers of all abilities from 68 different countries have registered to compete, with first-time entrants coming from as far afield as Algeria, China, Ethiopia, Iceland, Norway, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago, Ukraine and Vietnam.

But much of the focus will be on the Brownlees. The English siblings have dominated the triathlon scene in the last four years, taking gold and bronze at London 2012 and exchanging wins on the Triathlon World Championships circuit.

This run came to a halt in September’s Grand Final in London, when Spain’s Javier Gomez outsprinted Jonathan to lift the International Triathlon Union title. That performance saw the ailing Alistair, who dropped back because of a long-term ankle injury, label his brother a “tactical numpty” – an English slang word for an idiot.

Speaking at an Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority kids masterclass session on Wednesday (pictured below), Jonathan joked about the fraternal rivalry that is spurring the pair on as he prepares to make his ADIT debut.

“I have talked to him a lot about that [the ‘numpty’ comment],” he said. “I will try not to be a tactical numpty, I suppose.

“There has been a bit of friction about that… But only good friction.”

The brothers have spent the off-season training in the hills of their native-Yorkshire, as well as in Spain.

They arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday to prepare for a race which will see them cycle for more than double their usual distance, and not be allowed to rest in each other’s slipstreams as no drafting is allowed.

With the circuit also being completely flat, Alistair insisted those factors meant the brothers would have to look out for themselves at the weekend.

“It is a completely different race on the bike for us, as it is non-drafting and more than 100km,” he said. “It is an individual thing basically, you have to have your own pacing strategy and ride it as you want to ride.”

Anyone wanting to see how the Brownlees and the other competitors get on can head to the fans village on the Corniche East Plaza. In addition to the race action, there will also be opportunities to win exclusive prizes and take part in a number of different activities.

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