The French Riviera delivered world-class racing today at the inaugural Challenge Fréjus with Bart Aernouts (BEL) and Magda Nieuwoudt (RSA) taking out the inaugural titles in 4:06:24 and 4:46:13 respectively.
The day dawned with perfect race conditions, and it was Ognjen Stojanovic (SER) who led out of the two-lap swim in the Mediterranean, just two seconds ahead of Australian newcomer, Charlie Quin with Baptiste Neveu (FRA), five seconds further back in third. One minute back was Cyril Viennot (FRA) leading the next group out of the water and then two minutes from the lead were Sebatian Kienle (GER), Aernouts and Thomas Davies (GBR).
The race made the most of the spectacular cycling terrain in the foothills overlooking the Gulf of St Tropez with a 101km course, pushing the athletes to their limits with the extra distance. Quin quickly took charge, holding off any threats to his lead for the majority of the bike. However, behind him the German powerhouse of Kienle was slowly but surely picking off athletes, bringing with him Viennot and Aernouts. At the final aid station at 77km, he pounced, taking the lead and working hard to put time into the followers. As the leaders hit the fastest and most technical part of the course, experience won through with Quin dropping off the pace while Kienle, Viennot and Aernouts tackled the technical downhills at speeds of up to 70kph. But then disaster struck Kienle when, on arrival into T2 alongside Aernouts and Viennot, he had to sit out an unexpected five-minute penalty and he could only watch as the others disappeared off onto the run. From that point on, it was Aernouts’ race to lose as he consistently increased his lead over the four laps with Viennot never a threat. He took the win in 4:06:24 with Viennot 4:40 behind in 4:11:04 and Stojanovic rounding off the podium in 4:11:27.
“I’m really happy to finish a race like this, and to win the race. For me it started in the swim, sometimes I really struggle in the swim, especially in the last years but today was good for me. I was I think about two minutes behind, together with Sebi and a few others. On the bike, it was a really hard course and bit longer than other races at 101km and it took out quite a lot of energy from the legs! I was together with Sebi the whole bike. He was really strong and really pushing and unfortunately he got a penalty in the beginning, it was not fair but there is nothing you can do. It’s bummer as I’d have been really happy to battle with him on the run. I was trying to run really solid from the beginning and not look back too much and it was enough for the win, I’m really happy!”
In the women’s race, Julie Lemmolo (FRA) led out of the water together with Lilli Gelmini (ITA), a clear two minutes ahead of Nieuwoudt in third. Iemmolo retained her lead for more than half the bike with Neiuwoudt just biding her time but then at about 10km before the climbs, Nieuwoudt decided to attack and try to make a gap which worked out well for her. She came into T2 with just over a minute’s lead which by the halfway point of the run was five minutes and by the time she crossed the finish line to take the win in 4:46:13, she did so nine minutes clear of Aurélia Boulanger (FRA) in second in 4:55:14 with Lemmolo taking third place in 4:56:17.
“I was super impressed by the views out there, it’s my first time racing in France and the swim was beautiful and much smoother than I’m used to! I absolutely enjoyed the bike it was good climbs but just enough to not tire you too much. It was a bit technical out there so had to really focus. I liked the four-lap run, it’s the first time I’ve done four laps and it’s a bit different, you just tick them off one by one which was good for the mind – it was just a perfect day and the spectators our there were really good too! This race has huge potential to grow really big!”