The inaugural Challenge Denmark kicked off this morning with a pro field featuring many familiar names – Mary Beth Ellis and Dirk Bockel among them – alongside a sold-out age group field. Perhaps it was the calm swim in Fuglsang Lake, the flat, fast bike course that partially overlaps with the 2012 Giro d’Italia course (with favorable winds, providing the potential for PR-setting bike splits) and the equally flat, fast spectator-friendly multi-loop run that takes athletes around a horse racing track that attracted so many athletes. Or maybe it was the promise of Legoland at the end.
Also garnering attention? Three big names forming a “dream team” relay. While the relay division is more often the forgotten stepchild of triathlon (falling somewhere on the attention-radar after “aquabike”), an exception was certainly granted for the trifecta of Macca, Luc Van Lierde, and Thomas Hellriegel. Van Lierde tackled the swim before handing off the Hellriegel on the bike, while Macca ran them home.
A real honor to bring the run in on this relay team! Two of my childhood heroes growing up and bothâ€¦ https://t.co/shOIVdtavo
— Chris McCormack (@MaccaNow) June 13, 2015
The half distance women set off, and Catherine Jameson led Mary Beth Ellis out of the water by 40 seconds, with Michelle Vesterby 1:10 back. Athletes met with wet conditions on the bike, and coming into the run it was Jameson leading Vesterby by 2:00 and Ellis by 4:00. Vesterby took the lead on the run and held on for the win in 4:19:32. Pre-race favorite Mary Beth Ellis finished in 2nd, with Catherine Jameson rounding out the podium in 3rd. In a post-race interview with Bob Babbitt, on winning in her home town, Vesterby stated “I’m really happy about winning here, it means something special to me…I definitely feel like a runner now.” Coming off this win, sounds like Vesterby’s already looking ahead to her next race, Ironman Frankfurt, where she’ll be looking for Kona points (“Half distance is really too short for me,” she said).
Ellis’s second place finish may not have been the win she was hoping for, but her race was hampered by several snafus that remind us the pros are human, too. First, she received a 4 minute penalty on the swim for the leaving the legs of her wetsuit hanging out of her bag post-swim. Then on the bike, Mary Beth recounted that while cornering in the wet conditions, she went “straight up the curb onto the grass and hit a wooden post”. Oops. Happens to the best of us, MBE. Fortunately, she was able to pull off a strong run, getting by Great Britain’s Jameson to take second place without further incident.
In the men’s half distance field, a group including Thomas Strange, Paul Schuster, and Dirk Bockel emerged from Fuglsang Lake in 24:21-4. Martin Jensen, Markus Fachbach and Thomas Strange pushed the pace on the bike, (Bockel reported seeing speedometer 46 km/hr on his speedometer at points – “Tour de France pace!”) After a hard-fought battle through “typical Danish Viking weather” amongst the three throughout the bike and run, Bockel took the win in 3:51, with Strange in 2nd in 3:52:12 and Fachbach in 3rd. Bockel reflected on his win today to Babbitt, stating “I’d say [I was] 20 lbs overweight over the winter and debating am I going to come back or not, and I guess I proved today I’m back. It took a lot of effort to come back, probably 10 or 12 months of very dedicated work…it was a great check-up, it was a great comeback.” So for all of you who got packed on pounds over the winter, never fear, you too can go out and win a Challenge race in a year’s time.
Meanwhile, the full distance race began with Eva Potuckova first out of the water, chased by Jessie Donovan over 5 minutes back. The men’s field stuck together through the swim, with nearly the entire pro field coming out of the water within 30 seconds of each other – between 52:28 and 53:01, with Marin Koceic of Croatia and Peter Seidel leading the way.
Chris Fischer and Carolin Lehrieder led the bike and then the run. Fischer came off the bike in 5:23:43, 5 minutes up on Christophe Bastie and Peter Seidal. Lehrieder was followed by Beate Goertz, while Jessie Donavan sat a little over 11 minutes back. Fischer and Goertz – after passing Lehrieder late in the run – ultimately topped the podium in 8:23 and 9:22, respectively. Goertz was followed by Lehrieder in 2nd just 1 minute back (9:23:29) and Donavan in 3rd 10 minutes later. Grabbing 2nd place for the men was Dirk Wijnalda in 8:31:08, 6 minutes up on 3rd place finisher Anders Christensen (8:37:04).