Desert-bound: Bermudian Tyler Butterfield is busy training ahead of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. *Photo supplied
Desert-bound: Bermudian Tyler Butterfield is busy training ahead of the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. *Photo supplied

Tyler Butterfield aims to shake off recent illness and start his season with a bang in the desert at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon on Saturday, March 15.

Butterfield, 31, enjoyed an outstanding 2013, with a seventh-place at the iconic Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawai’i, 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 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 performance 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.

Realistic expectations

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 2013 will benefit him.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “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 ($40,000 for the winner).

“The prize money is a little bit down on last year and I know some of the top guys are a little disappointed but 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 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.

“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 Hawai’i, 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 and see how much I have lost from being sick. 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.”