Kacper Stepniak and Julia Skala dominating Challenge Gdansk

Kacper Stepniak taking the day at Challenge Gdansk (Picture: Challenge Family)

A day of exciting racing in Poland today delivered wins for defending champion Kacper Stepniak (POL) and Julia Skala (GER) at Challenge Gdansk.

It was close racing from the start in the men’s race with Ognjen Stojanovic (SRB) and Stepniak exiting the water neck and neck in 23:29, closely followed by Svensson (SWE). Leaving T1, Stepniak quickly took ownership on the bike, putting in a 400m gap between and Svensson, Stojanovic and Kurt McDonald (AUS) who had exited the water in fourth. However, by the time they exited the tunnel for the first time, Svensson and McDonald had closed the gap, dropping Stojanovic in the process. These three maintained their positions for the remainder of the bike, staying within 20m, as per the Challenge Family 20m drafting rule that was supplemented by Race Ranger and holding speeds of up to 45kph. In the final 15km, Svensson made his move, taking the lead from Stepniak. However, all three came into T2 neck and neck with chasers Finn Große-Freese (GER) and Stojanovic just under three minutes behind them. Stepniak resumed his position at the front of the field heading out onto the run and there he stayed, extending his lead over the 21km to take the win for the second year in a row in 3:40:28. Behind him, Große-Freese caught Svensson in the final stages, taking second in 3:42:46 while Svensson rounded out the podium in third in 3:44:17.

“Super happy about my performance today,” said Stepniak. “I didn’t have a good race last weekend so I came here to show my best. It was my fastest half marathon I’ve done so super happy I won and showed a strong performance.”

The women’s race saw intense competition, with the top five athletes closely matched throughout the event. The lead four women all came out of the water together, led by Maaike Vooren (NED) in 26:08, followed by Rosie Weston (GBR) and Claire Hann (GBR), just a couple of seconds behind. As they headed out onto the bike, Weston’s initial lead was taken by Vooren, a position she held for the until the final 20km when Hann made her move to take the lead while Weston held onto third a few seconds further back. The top five women all came into T2 within 40 seconds of each other, led by Hann, setting the scene for an exciting running race. Hann and Weston were the early leaders but Skala had other ideas and by the 5km mark and taken control. She went on to celebrate her first professional win, crossing the finish line in 4:18:45. Weston finished in second place with a time of 4:22:51, followed by Hann, who took the final spot on the podium in 4:25:07.

“It was a great day out there, I’m very happy,” said Skala. “I’m a very bad swimmer but I think it was one of my best swims, not fast, but good for me. On the bike it was my first time with Race Ranger, the conditions were great and my legs too!”