Frederik Van Lierde of Belgium and Australia’s Melissa Hauschildt take the honours in the Abu Dhabi Triathlon long course.

Frederik Van Lierde Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Frederik Van Lierde returned to add a second title to his 2011 win

Under the glow of the warm Arabian sun, 2011 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon champion, Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierde, clinched his second win in the UAE capital as Melissa Hauschildt of Australia kept her cool to snatch her maiden title.

Leading the men’s charge on Abu Dhabi’s pure power 223kms flagship distance, Van Lierde finished ahead of 2010 champion, Spain’s Eneko Llanos, to take the crown, whilst Tyler Butterfield, husband of 2012 women’s champion, Nikki, who withdrew mid-race due to cramping, rounded out the top three.

“I felt really strong from the beginning. I pushed the pace early, it was a risk, but I told myself it was no problem. I felt strong, really strong, but had to be patient on the bike, as everyone is strong at first. Not everyone comes to the front and leads, I took my responsibility with long stretches at the front, and the last 30kilometres I put the hammer down,” said Van Lierde, who finished with a total time of 6h41m02s, four minutes ahead of Llanos and 6m45s seconds of Butterfield.

“In the run, the first few kilometres, weren’t good, it’s something I have to work on but maybe it’s a natural break before I get into it. It’s great to win; I keep coming back here because I love it, it’s such a great city.”

And in the women’s field, Brisbane’s Hauschildt, who only made the switch to triathlon after an injury forced her out of steeple chasing, was electric on the bike as she brought her ‘A’-game to the heart-pounding final leg, to leave Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen still chasing her first Abu Dhabi win.

Living up to her moniker as one of the sport’s top cyclists, Hauschildt took the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) organised race by the horns in the final run, as the ‘Swiss Miss’ Steffen, faded in the closing stages to take second – three-and-a-half minutes behind the Aussie champion.

Melissa Hauschildt Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Australia’s Hauschildt snatched her debut Abu Dhabi win

“It was the toughest race I have ever done, during the run my quads were seizing up; literally in the first five kilometres I couldn’t even move them. I wanted it so much; so I turned myself inside out to catch Caroline on the bike. I first caught her at 80kms, I was giving it everything, then I lost her again, before catching up again at 185 kilometres. I then started cramping, so lost her again, before catching up in the run,” said Hauschildt, who had triple 70.3 successes last year in Australia, Phuket and Augusta.

“Every time I rounded a corner in the run, I had to look behind me to see if she was there. This was my A race, this is what I really wanted, so yeah I’m stoked. I wanted to win Abu Dhabi badly.”

Against blue skies and ambient UAE winter temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius, competition for one of triathlon’s richest prizes was always going to be hotly contested affair, as a stellar field boasting three previous Abu Dhabi champions and 43 world championship titles, 84 Ironman wins, 103 Ironman 70.3 nods and 192 national titles between them vied for Abu Dhabi glory.

First in the water was the men’s elite grouping, and it was Great Britain’s Daniel Halksworth that stamped his authority early on in front of thousands of spectators. The 27-year-old from Jersey, who took top honours at Ironman Bolton last year on his home turf, led the pack into the bike leg, just three seconds ahead of Scotland’s Fraser Cartmell and six seconds ahead of Van Lierde.

Not be outdone, it was a lung-bursting opening cycle from 33-year-old Van Lierde, who drew on his four time Abu Dhabi event experience to regain the lead going into the first bike leg marker, just three seconds ahead of Llanos.

With just 10 seconds separating the lead men’s pack of Llanos, Cartmell, Van Lierde, Butterfield and South African powerhouse, Conrad ‘Caveman’ Stoltz, for much of the bike leg, the titans of triathlon jostled for best spot going into the final 20kms run leg.

Yet it was the ever reliable Van Lierde who made it his own, completing the run in 1h12m47s, to take his second Abu Dhabi title in three years.

Eneko Llanos Abu Dhabi International Triathlon

Spain’s Llanos narrowly missed out on his second Abu Dhabi win

Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, the female elites put in a lung bursting opening 3kms swim leg off Abu Dhabi’s blue flag certified beach, with Canada’s Tenille Hoogland taking early honours, making it to transition 1 in a time of 38m14s – just six seconds in front of the chasing pack of Michelle Vesterby, Steffen, Svetlana Blazevic and Hauschildt.

Living up to her pre-race favourite tag, Steffen took the reins on the opening bike leg to open up a 1m34s lead at the first marker – which she held on to for most of the opening 100kms. Yet, Australia’s super cyclist Hauschildt proved her class on two wheels to make up the deficit by the half way point to wrestle back the lead, which the two continued to jostle over until the final bike section.

From there, it was all about Hauschildt as Steffen began to tire, and the 29-year-old Aussie made sure of it with minutes to spare as she crossed the line with arms aloft.

A record-breaking 2,050 athletes from 76 countries signed up for the biggest Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, with world elites and first timers going shoulder-to-shoulder on a course that started with a sunrise swim in the Arabian Gulf’s shimmering turquoise waters before weaving through the closed roads along the Abu Dhabi Corniche beach, up to the spectacular Yas Island and around the Yas Marina Circuit – home to the annual Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – before returning to the heart of the capital.

For the first time since the event began in 2010, sign up from across the Arabian Gulf has outstripped international, signalling the sport’s growing prominence on the regional stage.

The event also saw huge growth in the event’s feeder ‘sprint’ distance – which comprised a 750m swim, 50kms bike and 5kms run – with more first timers and amateurs making the leap into the sport – one of the fastest growing worldwide.

“Anticipation for this event has been building across the emirate for the last week and it didn’t disappoint. At the top end of the race, the world’s best delivered a nail biting performance that captivated spectators and the global audiences that tuned it to watch the broadcast live. What has been especially encouraging is the sheer number of people who are competing for the first time and who have travelled thousands of miles to be with us this weekend, meaning world of mouth of this event continues to spread,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Director of Events Bureau, TCA Abu Dhabi.

“Many athletes with us have been training across the emirate in the build up to the race, taking full advantage of Abu Dhabi’s ever growing number of top-class sporting facilities as well as our stunning natural landscapes, which is a real testament to our ongoing pursuit of establishing the emirate as a leading and safe winter training base.”

Since the event’s debut in 2010, Abu Dhabi has seen a surge in the number of training facilities and triathlon clubs across the emirate, further pressing its case as a leading winter training destination. Full details of training centres and clubs, can be found at www.abudhabitriathlon.com

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