Challenge’s The Championship is attracting a stronger line up of athletes each year as it reflects the increasing standard of competition in non-drafting races. With stars from ITU racing such as Alistair Brownlee, Jan Frodeno, Javier Gomez and Anne Haug making names for themselves in the longer distance format of racing, others are either looking to make a move or adding different races into their calendars. With The Championship being a half distance race, it is a perfect balance between speed and endurance, allowing Ironman athletes to come up against the Olympic stars of short course racing. We have also seen an influx of younger athletes that have entirely bypassed ‘ITU type’ racing. The enforced 20m drafting rule allows uber-bikers to make their mark on the race. The swim provides a buffer for those not as competent on the bike, and the run is where it all unfolds... The huge prize purse of €150,000 has added to the attractiveness of this race, bringing in athletes wanting to make a name for themselves.
The men’s race started with one athlete's name on peoples lips… Richard Varga (SVK). The HUUB athlete racing on home soil made easy work of what seemed a relatively tough swim. His split of close to 25 minutes suggested a long or challenging swim. It was certainly evident that winds and currents were affecting the swim, which made for some interesting time splits to the key players. Favourites going into the race were 2017 champion and runner-up, Lionel Sanders (CAN) and Sebastian Kienle (GER). The gap to Sanders coming out of the water looked insurmountable at 4.23! Kienle was slightly better off, but still had a deficit of 2.52 to Varga. The only positive thing to take was that it was just Varga out front with the main pack around one minute back.
Throughout the bike, the lead changed a few times before Florian Angert (GER) took hold of the race and established a lead of two minutes on the lead pack of Maurice Clavel (GER), Sam Appleton (AUS) and Pieter Heemeryck (BEL). Kienle and Sanders were the fastest men out on the course and narrowed the gap to Angert to one that was certainly bridgeable. Kienle, with HUUB’s Anthony Costes (FRA) in tail, made it up to the chasing trio with around 10k to go on the bike, Sanders was a bit further back, therefore, leaving it to the run to decide on final positions. With Sanders being 3 minutes back on Angert and in seventh place it was certainly chase mode for the Canadian powerhouse. It took him until 17km to eventually claw back Kienle who had taken the lead from Angert. Once together it became a game of cat and mouse which looked to exhaust both athletes. In the end, it was Sanders who prevailed, leaving Kienle to hold on for second place. Early leader Angert utilised his two-minute advantage to finish third. Fastest run of the day went to long distance newcomer Adam Bowden (GBR) who ran himself up to 8th place.
Lucy Charles (GBR) came to Samorin as defending champion, and you would have been hard-pressed to find someone that would bet against Lucy to not be leading from the gun. Similar to Varga, she made use of her swimming prowess and opened up a gap of nearly two 2 minutes to the next group of athletes which included a whole bunch of big names, Annabell Luxford (AUS), Ellie Salthouse (AUS), Radka Vodickova (CZE), and Emma Pallant (GBR), as well as super strong cyclist Kimberly Morrison (GBR). Morrison took charge of the chase and managed to narrow the gap on Charles slightly. She looked to be the only one to make any inroads into the rising long distance star. The athletes behind formed two groups. The first of which was the pair of Heather Wurtele (CAN) and Radka Vodickova who would end up entering T2 around 5 minutes down on Charles. The next group and potentially the danger group included Anne Haug (GER), Emma Pallant and Kaisa Sali (FIN), however, at over 7 minutes to the front of the race, the win looked unlikely even if Pallant and Haug could pull off the runs of their lives.
Haug did put together a phenomenal run split (1:15:56), a time that would out-split a lot of the men's field, but Charles looked comfy and had established a good enough lead over the swim and bike. Haug ran herself into second place with Radka Vodickova finishing off the podium places. Emma Pallant would also run herself up into 4th place, but such a deficit is hard to run down on anyone over the 21.1km run.