It was a three-peat for Frederic Funk (GER) at today’s Challenge Kaiserwinkl-Walchsee, taking the hat trick at his hometown race in 3:41:20. Imogen Simmonds (SUI) took out the women’s title after changing the race on the run in 4:13:42.
Sven Thalmann (SUI) led a group of three out of the swim in 23:13, along with Tom Bishop (GBR) and Jan Stratmann (GER) with defending champion, Funk, over a minute down in seventh. By 25km, Funk had made clear his intention, riding through the field to take the lead from Stratmann. Despite his best efforts in testing wet conditions on the alpine roads, he was unable to shake the rest of the lead group of Gregor Schreiner (GER), Stratmann, Thalmann and Bishop until the last 30km when his local knowledge of the course came into play. He quickly extended his lead ahead of Schreiner who now led the chase group, coming into T2 with a 2:51 lead after strong ride in the final stages of the bike. Setting off at a blistering pace, it soon became clear his main contender on the run was Bishop who quickly ran from fifth to second and slowly but surely reduced the gap to Funk’s lead. However, Funk proved too strong and took the win in 3:41:30, ahead of Bishop who crossed the line in 3:43:00, a result that put him into the lead of the Challenge Family Pro Athlete World Bonus. Behind them, there was a fierce battle for third, first between Thalmann and Stratmann, and then Tom Hug (SUI) coming into play in the final kilometres, ultimately won out by Stratmann who took third in 3:44:23, despite Hug posting the day’s fastest half marathon in 1:09:02.
Funk said he felt a lot of pressure coming into the race. “Coming here as a two-time winner I had a lot of pressure from the outside but also from myself and a lot of expectations which is never easy,” he said. “Unfortunately my swim didn’t go as planned, nor my first transition so I went onto the bike course with a bigger gap than I wanted. On the bike I had pretty good legs and on this course I can really play out my strength. I caught up to the front and rode with them until I could create a gap with about 30km to go. I was pretty confident in my run shape so I was hopeful the three minute gap I had coming into T2 was enough but you never know what happens. Tom was catching up and it’s always brutally hard here, especially today with these weather conditions but in the end I was just really relieved and happy to get the hat trick and third win in a row here at Walchsee.”
There were no surprises in the women’s swim with Lucy Buckingham (GBR) exiting the water in 24:05, a clear two minutes ahead of Simmonds and Lucy Byram (GBR). Buckingham held a strong lead throughout the first half of the bike but Simmonds was slowly chipping away and reduced her lead by half by the end of lap one. Despite a brief surge by Buckingham to put more time into Simmonds, by the time the pair came into T2, there was just 43 seconds between them with Grace Thek (AUS) four minutes down on the lead in third. Buckingham headed out of T2 fast and strong but by the 8km mark, Simmonds had run her down, and the lead changed for the first time in the race. Behind them Thek was flying, reducing her four minute deficit to one and a half minutes by 9km. At the end of the third lap, disaster struck for Thek, with an apparent hamstring injury reducing her to a walk, opening the door for Byram to take the final spot on the podium. Simmonds was untouchable for the final half of the run, running strongly for the win in 4:13:42. Buckingham held on for second in 4:15:04 with Byram rounding out the podium in third in 4:18:52, maintaining her lead in the Pro Athlete World Bonus.
“Lucy shot off first out of out of the water like she was at the Olympics, like I knew she would!!” said Simmonds. “I knew I had to put my head down and do as much as I could while taking the corners carefully on the bike because of the conditions. I had to push hard on the run and hope to bring it home while being chased by two incredibly fast ladies. Thank you so much to everyone and what a spectacular day!”