ABU DHABI // Frederik van Lierde, a Belgian ironman, was acknowledged yesterday as a worthy winner of the second Abu Dhabi International Triathlon by his closest pursuer and compatriot Marino Vanhoenacker.
The outcome to the gruelling, seven-hour battle on possibly the hottest day of the year so far might have been different, though, if Vanhoenacker's challenge had not been impeded by encroaching spectators.
"I don't want to be seen as somebody making excuses because the strongest man won the race," Vanhoenacker said after crossing the finishing line on the capital's Public Beach 17 seconds in arrears of Van Lierde's winning time of 6hrs 43mins 14secs.
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"My aim was to come here to win and I'm disappointed not to have done so.
"One thing I'm angry about was that some people jumped out of a bus and almost knocked me over. It meant I lost a lot of ground on the first lap of the run so that meant I could not catch him."
The run that the runner-up referred to was the mere matter of a 20km fight to the finish line after the stamina-sapping effects of a 3km swim and a 200km bike ride along the Corniche and the Sheikh Khalifa Highway over Saadiyat and Yas islands.
"It was tough to keep going until the end, knowing that I wasn't going to win, because the conditions were really hard out there.
"I felt my lights slowly going out on the bike but I was determined to get the job done."
Vanhoenacker knew that there was no scope for simply accepting second place because Luxembourg's Dirk Bockel was closing the gap between them on the home stretch from the final turn at the Heritage Centre flagpole.
He managed to keep Bockel at bay by a margin of 11 seconds with Bockel in turn withstanding the late challenge of South Africa's Raynard Tissink by a further five seconds.
The triumphant Van Lierde, who finished fifth behind Spain's Eneko Llanos in the inaugural race here last year, agreed that conditions made it as hard as ever for these versatile athletes but pointed out that winning always eases the pain.
"I'm exhausted but I won, so it doesn't matter," he said as he analysed what he described as a perfectly executed strategy throughout the three disciplines.
"The race went pretty much as planned.
"I was trying to keep up with the pace on the bike but not break away because it takes too much effort out of you if you are out on your own.
"I kept a lot in reserve for the run, went slowly into it and then built up the speed. It went perfectly for me."
While Van Lierde had to wait until the final lap of the run to take the lead from the fading American Andrew Starykowicz, who held a six-minute advantage over the chasing pack as they dismounted from their bikes, the women's race was dominated from start to finish by the defending champion Julie Dibens.
The Englishwoman suffered after her emphatic victory, however, and needed to be rehydrated by intravenous drip.
"It's awesome to win again," she said after being allowed to leave the medical centre.
"The race was almost perfect for me until the last 100 yards when I started vomiting.
"I did feel solid all day, although on the last 40km of the bike ride I was struggling to keep down my liquid. It is a great event. I will definitely be back next year to try to make it three in a row."
Her winning time of 7hrs 14mins 23secs was over five minutes faster than that of the second-placed Swiss athlete Caroline Steffen.
"Julie was just too strong," Steffen said. "I tried on the bike but I couldn't catch her. To finish second behind Julie makes me more than pleased.
"It was not a perfect day for me because of the nutrition problems out there. I had to push myself to get the calories in. It was really hot out there but I suppose everybody is saying that."