The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has always managed to attract a top pro field thanks to the $250,000 prize purse, but today there were a record 1,855 athletes from 62 countries on hand to also take part in the third running of this unique event held in United Arab Emirates and organized by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority. Denmark’s Rasmus Henning and Australia’s Nikki Butterfield took home the $50,000 winner’s cheques, but despite a tough day for many of the Canadian pros, Angela Naeth managed an impressive runner up finish.
Heather and Trevor Wurtele would both drop out of the race – Heather during the bike (she’s been sick) and Trevor on the run after finding himself fighting the harsh winds well back of the main group of the men’s field after a tough swim. Rachel McBride seemed to have overcome the trauma of only receiving her bike at 11 PM last night quite well as she started the bike close to Naeth, but would eventually fade out of the picture.
With two-time champion Julie Dibens out of this year’s race with a foot injury, the scene was set for an interesting battle in the women’s event. For two years Dibens has ridden away from the rest of the women in the race and cruised through the 20 km run for the win. Today we saw a new style of racing. After Jodie Swallow led the way out of the water, she was eventually joined at the front of the bike by Caroline Steffen, Butterfield and Naeth. Those four would power through much of the ride together, with Ironman 70.3 World Champion Melissa Rollison, who was competing in her first race longer than a half-Ironman, gradually working her way up to the group, too.
With about 50 km of riding to go, Naeth made a move on the group and managed to get clear. Butterfield, a former professional cyclist, bridged up to the Canadian. Naeth was just in the process of asking Butterfield if she wanted to work together to get clear when Butterfield “put her head down and pushed as hard as she could,” leaving Naeth in her tracks.
The Australian super-mom (her toddler, Savannah, joined her in Abu Dhabi this week) entered T2 with a couple of minute lead on Naeth, who was also ahead of Steffen and Rollison. Through the first half of the run it looked like Rollison would possibly run down the women ahead of her, but the long day finally caught up with the Vegas champ. Naeth couldn’t ever get closer than 2:30 to Butterfield, but did manage to run away from Steffen to ensure her runner-up finish. Rollison held on for fourth.
As expected, Clayton Fettell led the way out of the water and quickly moved to the front during the bike. He would eventually be joined up front as two distinct groups formed. A group of four, including Faris Al Sultan, Andy Starykowicz, Paul Ambrose and Fettell managed to enter T2 with a four-minute lead over a group = that included Henning, Eneko Llanos, a decidedly out-of-sorts Chris Lieto, Andi Boecherer, Fraser Cartmell, Dirk Bockel, Luke Bell and Fredrik Van Lierde.
Turns out Starykowicz had fallen out on the bike course and was pulled out before he could start running. Fettell and Ambrose quickly faded, which left Al Sultan, who is the captain of the Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team, out in front with what seemed like an entire Emirate hoping he could pull out the win. Henning found himself chasing a fast-moving Llanos early in the run – Llanos took off so fast that Henning decided he couldn’t afford to take the time to put on any socks and ran barefoot for the first time in a distance race.
The move paid off as Henning eventually caught and passed Llanos, then managed to get passed Al Sultan with a few km to go to take the title.
You can find full results from today’s race here.
Look for a feature on the Abu Dhabi Triathlon in our May issue.