If racing down Ali’i Drive in Kona is the fitting climax to the long-course season then Abu Dhabi is holding its own as a big money bookend.
The total prize purse for the fourth year of this event has now stretched to $230,000 and, as previously, it has attracted the world’s best that tally three previous victories here, 43 world championships, 84 Ironman wins and 192 national titles between them.
Even the Ironman Asia-Pacific championship in Melbourne in three weeks has failed to draw the sting from a field that sees Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierde, Spain’s Eneko Llanos and Australians’ David Dellow and Chris McCormack on the men’s side, with the women’s elite headed by Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen, Australia’s Melissa Hauschildt and defending champion Nikki Butterfield.
There is also a strong British contingent including Phil Graves and Fraser Cartmell and the notable appearance of Alistair Brownlee in the short course, who competes over his favoured 1.5km swim and 10km run, but this time squeezing in a bike leg extended to 100km.
Yet one racer who has slipped in almost under the radar (and was even omitted from some of the early pro start lists for the event) is Jersey athlete and Team TBB member Dan Halksworth.
The former swimmer only turned pro at the start of January 2011 and when he finished 11th here last year he was tackling his “first big bike”. The punishing 200km clearly did not put him off and having stubbornly forced his way on to Brett Sutton’s tri team, he’s intent on carving out a pro career over the long distances.
Relaxed and out for one final warm-up jog before race day, you’d struggle to meet a more genial triathlete than Halksworth.
“Brett asked me if I wanted to take the fast or slow track to being a pro,” he says. “There was only one option.”
It led to a year of low-key 70.3 distance racing in 2011 before he hit the circuit hard last year, starting a mammoth six iron-distance races when the plan at the turn of the year had been just one.
The schedule is a result of Sutton’s autocratic coaching methods where he often makes a late call on where and when his charges will compete, and it’ll be no different this year.
“I want to go to Hawaii and also qualify [to represent Jersey] for the Commonwealth Games,” Halksworth explains. “It’ll be quite cool as I can mix up Olympic-distance tri with longer stuff. I have my path to Kona planned roughly in my head, but when I email Brett suggestions he just says ‘keep training’.”
It’s an approach that served Halksworth well enough to pick up the Ironman UK crown last summer, although with the low prize money and pro points on offer for Hawaii, he’s keener on Texas and then Frankfurt this time around.
“Actually my best performance last year was coming second at Challenge Fuerteventura Half, that was a more talented field than Bolton and I rode at the front with Rasmus Henning.”
Riding at the front was something he also tried last year on the fast Abu Dhabi course, before being dropped midway through the bike and missing any prize money by one agonising slot.
Halksworth is now a stronger athlete though, both on the bike and the run, where, at the end of the triathlon season in October, he even found time to knockout a 2hr 40min marathon back home in Jersey.
“It was a hilly course too and would have been faster if there was any nutrition laid out in the second half of the race,” he adds.
He has also run 32 minutes for 10km off the bike in an Olympic triathlon; not bad for a man from a swimming background who was told by British Triathlon officials he would never run under 40 minutes.
So whilst he agrees with McCormack that Van Lierde is the man to watch in tomorrow’s emirates showdown, after three laps round the Yas Marina Grand Prix circuit don’t be surprised to see this Jersey flyer close to pole position.