Thrilling finish at Challenge Riccione sees Thomas Steger and Sarissa de Vries claim victories

After a thrilling finish, Austria’s Thomas Steger has just won Challenge Riccione. For a long time it looked as if Spain’s Pablo Gonzalez Dapena would win but, after an incredibly strong run, it was Steger who took over in the final kilometers. In the women’s race Sarissa de Vries won by a large margin – after a strong second-place finish at Challenge Gran Canaria, she’s shown that she belongs on the highest step of the podium.

While the athletes remained close together during the men’s swim, it was Pieter Heemeryck who was first back in the transition area. After 26:31 he put on his bike shoes, knowing that strong athletes like Pablo Gonzalez Dapena (+10), Mattia Ceccarelli (+14), Thomas Davis (+17) and Frederic Funk (+33) were close behind. The biggest absentee from the leading group was Sebastian Kienle, who was three minutes behind after the swim. Because of the corona measures, the pro’s started with a rolling start, which meant that the differences were slightly distorted.

On the bike, a six-man breakaway quickly emerged. In addition to Heemeryck, Dapena Gonzalez, Michael Raelert, Andi Boecherer, Giulio Molinari and Mattia Ceccarelli were in the front group. While the pace was quite high, there was still a gap of around two minutes on the first chasers, and even contenders like Ruedi Wild, Thomas Steger and Sebastian Kienle were unable to reduce this difference.

After a second lap, just before the end of the bike leg, the situation had changed again. Ceccarelli, who won the race in 2019, was clearly in good form and had gained a minute’s advantage over his five chasers. At that point Frederic Funk had also joined them, so six men were chasing Ceccarelli. Kienle continued to lose time and was almost four minutes behind.

During the final kilometers on the bike Ceccarelli managed to extend his lead a little more and so began the final run with a lead of about one and a half minutes. The chasing group remained the same, although Dapena Gonzalez lost a few precious seconds during the transition.

However, that did not stop the Spanish athlete from starting the run very strongly and taking over the lead of the race after the first five km. From that moment on, he passed Ceccarelli, although Heemeryck, Funk and Raelert remained close to the 2018 ITU long distance world champion. At this stage of the race, it was still anyone’s race.

The action really go going from there. At first Gonzalez Dapena seemed to be running comfortably to victory, but suddenly Steger seemed to have found some extra energy and quickly made up the lost ground to catch up to the Spaniard. At the same time, Kienle was also advancing up the field, moving to third position with three km to go.

In the final kilometers Steger proved to be faster than Gonzalez Dapena. Steger finished in 3:52:34, 1:10 ahead of Gonzalez Dapena. Kienle took the bronze three minutes later.

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Kienle, Steger and Dapena Gonzalez.

Sarissa de Vries shows her skills

In the women’s race Zane Ilaria was the fastest swimmer of the day, finishing the swim in 28:50 and was the first to get on the bike. India Lee followed in second 25 seconds after the leader. The Netherlands’ Sarissa de Vries came out of the water in third place, eight seconds behind Lee. One of the main favorites, Germany’s Carolin Lehrieder, followed in fifth place.

On the bike, however, Ilaria quickly lost her lead and it was De Vries who took the lead, holding a fast pace. After the first of two bike laps, De Vries had taken over the lead in the race and Ilaria was already three minutes behind, but Lee, who was in second place at that point, was still in the mix, just fifteen seconds behind the race leader. At the same time, Lehrieder and Alexandra Tondeur – both considered favorites for the win – struggled to keep up with De Vries’s pace, coming through with more than four minutes to spare.

During the second bike loop, De Vries managed to increase her lead to over two minutes on Lee. The rest of the field followed more than six minutes behind, with the Dutchwoman seemingly in an excellent position to start her half marathon.

This proved to be the case during the run: De Vries continued to run hard, and did not see her lead ever in jeopard. In the end, she won the race in 4:23:16 and, with that time, she was minutes ahead of her pursuers. Lee came second in 4:29:03. After an exciting race for third it was Marta Bernardi who claimed bronze in 4:33:29.