Butterfield takes place among royalty
Tyler Butterfield defied the odds to reach his defining moment as a long-distance triathlete in the United Arab Emirates on the weekend.
Having given the world glimpses of his potential last year with a host of stellar performances, including seventh at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, the 31-year-old virtually got out of his sickbed to run a stellar field into the ground at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon.
“I have to admit I was a little surprised I was able to pull it off,” said Butterfield, who spent most of yesterday on a succession of flights to be back with his family in Boulder, Colorado. “I said to my wife the night before the race that I wouldn’t be surprised if I did something, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up off the podium.
“My training has been really up and down. Of course, I got in some really good training days to be able to win, but they were interspersed with a bunch of days off being sick a lot in my preparation for this.
“It’s hard to stay healthy in the Colorado winter, especially with our three-year-old, Savana, bringing home every germ possible from pre-school. I just had to keep telling myself I was making the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time, and not second-guess myself. As they say, ‘You can only do what you can do.’ The inconsistent training seems to work for me.”
And work for him it did. The Bermudian crossed the line in an elapsed time of 6hr 43min 1sec, almost a minute clear of his nearest rival to provide the perfect start to the new season on the professional circuit.
The two-times Olympian was towards the back of the group of eight that exited the swim together in 37:49, but, after a fast transition he started the 200km bike in second place.
James Cunnama, who was fourth at the Ironman World Championships, set a hard tempo early on the bike, which ensured that Eneko Llanos, the most consistent triathlete in 2013, did not make the lead group after a slower transition. Frederik van Lierde, the Ironman world champion from Belgium and winner of this race last year, was the strongest throughout the rest of the bike, showing why he is a favourite whenever he lines up. But, by now, Butterfield was in front after a 4:44:24 cycle.
The transition resulted in the lead switching hands yet again, with Van Lierde, who had a sensational 4:44:10 bike, setting out for the run a few seconds ahead of Sylvain Sudrie and Butterfield, with Bas Diederen, the ultimate runner-up, another 18 seconds behind. Cunnama, meanwhile, was spent after his early exertions and withdrew when finishing the bike almost 20 minutes behind the front-runners.
Butterfield and Sudrie were quick to show that they were running the best on the day. The pair ran together until the five-kilometre mark when Butterfield gradually opened a gap on the Frenchman.
The Bermudian ultimately had comfortably the fastest 20km run split in the field, 1:16:24, his surges taking too much out of Sudrie, who slipped to third in 6:45:06 behind Diederen, the Dutchman clocking 6:43:47 to finish 46 seconds behind the new champion.
Butterfield’s time was an improvement by more than four minutes on last year, when he took 6:47:49 to finish third behind Van Lierde and Llanos, of Spain. who never threatened and was sixth in 7:01:28.
The win was particularly poignant because wife Nikki won the race two years ago and got to carry an infant Savana across the finish line. Tyler was not so fortunate with Savana thousands of miles away, but “the germs” that she passed on to Dad and the sleepless nights that followed the birth of son Walker nine weeks ago left a legacy of their own.
“To win this race today was a huge honour for me,” Butterfield said. “The field had so many well-respected guys who’ve proven year after year they’re the best. Last year here in Abu Dhabi, I was like a puppy — wanting to show I was strong on the bike, trying to take equal turns with the big boys, attacking, and generally being aggressive.
“This year my wife kindly reminded me that no one cares who pulls the most turns; it’s about who crosses the line first.”
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