Switching from M-dot to Challenge Family for 2021, the inaugural Challenge St. Pölten provided an action-packed race with race-starved athletes turning out in force for Collins Cup rankings, a slice of the €19,000 prize purse and the chance to put a marker down towards Challenge Family’s €150,000 bonus payout at the end of the season.
Frederic Funk (PTO #48) dominated the men’s race, showing his strength on the bike and holding strong on the run to make a statement with a victory margin of over four minutes to Jan Stratmann and Maurice Clavel (#42).
Anne Haug (EUR #2 / PTO #3) had to dig deep to hunt down Imogen Simmonds (EUR #7 / PTO #22) but timed her awesome running pace to perfection to take the win and show she’ll make a fearsome matchup at the Collins Cup.
In the men’s race, Germany’s Timo Hackenjos put in a swift swim to earn a 36-second lead by T1 over his pursuers. His time in front of the cameras was limited however as within 20km, Magnus Ditlev (EUR # 6 / PTO #17) had made up 16 places to take the lead.
While seeing Ditlev power to the front has become a regular occurrence, it was a surprise to see him quickly overhauled by Frederic Funk (PTO #48), who stormed ahead at 25km and didn’t look back from there, creating a lead of 4:45 on Philipp Bahlke, 5:19 on Jan Stratmann and 5:40 on Maurice Clavel (PTO #42) by T2.
As Funk used his first-place position to fuel a solid run pace, the rest of the race became about the remaining podium spots. Stratmann and Clavel battled hard for much of the run, but it was Stratmann who managed to edge away in the closing 5km while Pablo Dapena (PTO #28) was quickly reeling in Clavel.
Funk crossed the line in 3:44:49 to take an emphatic win, his first major victory since 70.3 Lanzarote in 2019. Stratmann was second, 4:35 behind, while Clavel secured the final podium spot 21 seconds later, staying clear of Dapena by just eight seconds. Challenge Riccione winner Thomas Steger (PTO #46) rounded out the top-five with another scorching run, his 1:07:54 split the day’s fastest.
Collins Cup Considerations
Frederic Funk might be well down on Collins Cup points, but his hugely capable performance in St. Pölten won’t pass by the Team Europe captains unnoticed.
As wildcards go, Thomas Steger is quickly making a name for himself as one of the sport’s premier runners – perhaps the only Team Europe athlete who could challenge Matt Hanson (USA #3) on the final leg.
Magnus Ditlev, 11th, suffered a puncture on the bike that cost him podium contention in St. Pölten but his improving swim and new run PB of 1:09:58 continue to show the Dane’s astonishingly rapid improvement. Collins Cup captains are surely asking themselves just how much faster he could be by August.
Sebastian Kienle (EUR #10 / PTO #22) finished ninth in St. Pölten and while his sights are set on peaking in August and October, he’s now in desperate need of a big result to shoot him back up the European rankings ahead of the Collins Cup.
In the women’s race, Anna-Lena Best-Pohl led from the water in 28:41 with Lisa Norden (PTO #37) and Imogen Simmons (EUR #7 / PTO #22) both within 30 seconds and Maja Stage-Nielsen and Anne Haug (EUR #2 / PTO #3) another 40 seconds back.
On the bike, Simmonds and Norden rode hard together, creating a lead of over two minutes before Simmonds pushed ahead on a solo mission. Riding faster than anyone, Haug initially ate into Simmonds’ lead, but the Swiss athlete put on the afterburners in the final 30km to give herself a gap of 2:20 by T2. Her advantage was then given another boost when Haug was handed a one-minute penalty for not using the correct changing area in transition.
By the time Haug hit the road, she had 3:46 to make up – but as ever, her pace was the most ferocious on course. Giving a masterclass in running form, the diminutive superstar shaved time off Simmonds’ lead and finally got the Swiss athlete in sight in the final few hundred metres. Haug went into a full sprint, a knowing grimace from Simmonds as the German passed at speed and flew to the win in 4:20:17, just 14-seconds clear.
There was another close call nine minutes later, Maja Stage-Nielsen managing to hold off a fast-closing Laura Siddall (PTO #40) by just 10 seconds to secure the final spot on the podium.
Collins Cup Considerations
Anne Haug put in a staggering 1:14:07 run to underline her credentials as the sport’s pre-eminent runner, but it’s her continued bike improvements that make her an ever more threatening proposition at the Collins Cup. However the match-up goes, she’ll be nigh-on unbeatable.
Imogen Simmonds also reinforced her position as one of Europe’s best. While this second-place finish won’t necessarily see her jump up to automatic qualification, there’s no doubt she’ll be on the minds of Team Europe captains Chrissie Wellington and Normann Stadler when they come to make their picks.