Spectacular racing and new course records marked the sixth edition of The Championship with faultless racing from Mathis Margirier (FRA) and India Lee (GBR) earning them ultimate Challenge Family titles in 3:31:29 and 3:58:29 respectively, both breaking the course records previously held by Florian Angert (2021) and Lucy Charles Barclay (2019).
With unseasonably cold weather in the lead up to the race, it was uncertain if a full swim was going to be able to take place due to the water temperature. However, the fears didn’t come to fruition and the athletes took to the new swim course in the Danube Canal for the full 1.9km.
In the men’s race, as expected, it was the strong swimmers, Aaron Royle (AUS) and Richard Varga (SLK) who took an early lead with Royle exiting the water first in 21:40 and Varga only six seconds behind. Only Sven Thalmann (SUI) was able to stick with them and it was another 30 seconds before the large second group exited the water.
Immediately Royle and Varga set a blistering pace, soon dropping Thalmann who was joined by Margierier, Anthony Costes (FRA) and Alessandro Fabian (ITA). Behind them was the third chase group that included at least three race favourites, Pieter Heemeryck (BEL), Clément Mignon (FRA), Thomas Bishop (GBR) and Frederic Funk (GER) with Funk quickly taking control. Conditions out on the fast, flat course were tougher than expected with a strong headwind that seemed to come from all directions. However, Funk wasn’t wrong when he said in the pre-race conference that to win the race you’d need to ride at 50kph. That was the pace that was set by the leaders, at times pushing to 60kph, despite the challenging conditions. With half an hour, Margirier had worked his way up to the front, seemingly unconcerned about the powerhouses of Funk, Bishop and Royle chasing him. While the lead changed between these top four, all observing the 20m drafting zone that Challenge Family races enforces, by the time they arrived at T2, Bishop had dropped slightly behind with Margierier, Royle and Funk all heading off onto the five-lap run around x-bionic sphere together. It didn’t take long for Margirier to take the lead and he never looked back. Throughout the run he slowly but surely extended his lead, separating himself from the rest of the field and taking his first big win of his career and the prestigious title of champion of The Championship 2023 in a new record time of 3:31:29. In the final stages, it looked as though Funk may challenge Royle’s second place, however, he ran out of real estate, finishing just four seconds behind Royle in 3:32:55.
After a run of second places, most recently at Anfi Challenge Gran Canaria, Margirier was thrilled with his win. “When you’re winning the race it’s easier than to finish second or third, that’s why I look so relaxed! The gap was getting bigger and bigger on the run – it was quite hard on second and third lap but then I saw that no-one was catching me. It was really hot and really hard. The bike was hard because I pushed a lot. I ate a lot on the bike and then T2 I was focused on me, I wanted to see how the legs were and I got onto the run and with Aaron and Frederic but I pushed and it gave me the win. This is so much better than second!”
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Fenella Langridge (GBR) led a group of four women out of the water in 24:02 with Rebecca Clarke (NZL) hot on her heels just one second behind and Sara Peréz Sala (ESP) four seconds down and Caroline Pohle (GER) six seconds behind. Out on the bike, Perez Sala and Langridge took turns in the lead while Pohle settled back in third and watched and waited while the battle went on ahead. An hour into the bike and India Lee (GBR) had ridden up to join the top three and she didn’t waste any time to take the lead in decisive fashion, seemingly impervious to the strong headwind and changing the dynamic of the race. In the last kilometres of the ride, Langridge dropped back 30 seconds while Lee and Perez Sala entered T2 together. Immediately, however, Lee took off, putting 20 seconds into Perez Sala within the first kilometre and continuing to extend her lead from that point on. Behind her though, a battle was ensuing. Pohle found second wind and overtook Langridge into third and then Perez Sala into second but Amelia Watkinson was also charging up the field into fourth and looked to threaten Perez Sala’s place on the podium. However, in the end she fell 20 seconds short. The final top three women saw Lee come away with the win, beating Lucy Charles Barclay’s course record in 3:58:29 with Pohle in second in 4:00:17 and Perez Sala in third in 4:00:24.
An emotional Lee said she felt really satisfied with her victory. “This one hit quite hard, I’m not usually emotional but when you work really hard for something so when it goes well it’s really satisfying. It got really hot, the bike was windy and the water was cold so it was quite a mixed bag. I felt pretty solid all day, I just knew that I could do pretty well and that’s what I did. I am definitely looking forward to a beer!”