This weekend saw some of the world’s best PTO athletes toeing the line as the middle-distance season got underway in style at Ironman 70.3 Texas and continued apace in Australia at CHALLENGESHEPPARTON.
With athletes finally untethered to show their form at a 70.3 event in the USA, there was plenty of action to secure Collins Cup points and the attention of team captains in Galveston while Australian powerhouses vied for Team Internationals recognition down under.
Challenge Shepparton 2021 Race Results
The only Challenge event in Australia, Shepperton was back after a two-year hiatus and provided more competitive racing action with top PTO athletes going head-to-head.
Ellie Salthouse (INT #4) once again dominated to take four wins in a row while Max Neumann (INT #25) put in an outstanding run to secure victory.
Max Neumann (INT #25) – 3:42:37 (swim 24:37 / bike 2:04:52 / run 1:10:23)
Josh Amberger (INT #21) – 3:46:14 (swim 23:25 / bike 2:04:15 / run 1:16:14)
Steve McKenna (INT #12) – 3:47:07 (swim 24:37 / bike 02:07:36 / run 1:12:33)
Ellie Salthouse (INT #4) – 4:09:13 (swim 27:11 / bike 2:18:53 / run 1:20:24)
Penny Slater (INT) – 4:14:02 (swim 28:33 / bike 2:18:13 / run 1:24:11)
Grace Thek (INT #13) – 4:15:33 (swim 27:13 / bike 2:26:52 / run 1:18:34)
THE BIG STORIES
Trent Thorpe (INT #24) and Josh Amberger (INT #21) were the first to sprint from Victoria Park Lake, the young Kiwi once again edging ahead of Amberger to signal his place as one of the sport’s finest swimmers – a fact that’s sure to resonate with Collins Cup captains.
Once on the bike, however, Amberger hit back and revealed his game plan – go all out. Riding away from Thorpe, who would later DNF, he powered ahead to a minute’s lead while Max Neumann (INT #25) chased hard into second place.
Amberger’s 2:04:15 bike split was the best of the day, giving him a lead of two minutes as he began the run – backing up his credentials as a swim-bike powerhouse and his potential worth to Team Internationals at the Collins Cup.
Neumann’s terrifying pace out of T2 quickly chomped away at the deficit while 70.3 Geelong winner Steve McKenna (INT #12) – who had dislocated his toe coming out of the swim – moved into third.
Having cruised past Amberger into first, Neumann didn’t let up for a moment, his 1:10:23 run six minutes faster than his compatriot. The current Ironman Asia-Pacific Champion crossed the line in 3:46:14 with a comfortable winning margin of over three-and-a-half minutes to Amberger, who just managed to stay clear of McKenna, besting him by less than a minute.
“Long few months between one of these but happy to get the first win of 2021,” posted Neumann afterwards. “Tough old day out and 20m draft rule made for some ‘everyman for himself’ sort of racing… Onwards to Cairns in June.”
In the women’s race, Ellie Salthouse (INT #4) underlined her position as the middle-distance athlete of the moment with a wire-to-wire win in Shepparton – and further cementing her chances for automatic Collins Cup selection.
Leading from the water in 27:11 with Grace Thek (INT #13) in tow, Salthouse was soon up the road in solo mode. Penny Slater, sixth out the water, made the biggest in-roads on the bike and would go on to ride the day’s fastest split. By T2, Salthouse had one minute on Slater, almost three to Renee Kiley (INT #22) and over eight minutes on Thek, who had dropped down the rankings on the bike.
Imperious as she’d been in her previous three victories, Salthouse put in a strong, unchallenged run to cross the line 4:09:13, almost five minutes clear of second-place Slater. Behind them, Thek’s ferocious running pace saw her pass Kiley, her 1:18:34 split the day’s fastest and rewarded with the final spot on the podium.
“Feeling relieved, excited, proud and pretty exhausted after today’s efforts,” posted Salthouse after the race. “So happy to have been able to continue my 2021 streak and hold the banner above my head again… I think it’s time to put the legs up and have a bit of a break.”
Steve McKenna might’ve been seeking a second win after 70.3 Geelong, but a 1:12 run split with a dislocated toe shows both athleticism and grit that would make any Collins Cup captain take notice!
Caleb Noble once again showed he’s a weapon on the run, the Australian champs bronze medallist clocking the day’s fastest split of 1:09:57.
Grace Thek’s bike time, which she described as “let’s-not-talk-about-it”, might have been a little slower than we’re used to seeing but the day’s fastest 1:18:34 run was simply sensational, outdoing Salthouse by 1:50.
Ironman 70.3 Texas Race Results
The flat, fast course at 70.3 Texas often rewards pure power, but with such a deep, strong field turning out, there was plenty of action to keep up the intrigue.
While Lionel Sanders (INT #1) and Skye Moench (USA #4) proved themselves the event’s class acts, last-moment shake-ups of the podium in both the men’s and women’s races kept us guessing right to the line.
Lionel Sanders (INT #1) – 3:42:20 (swim 26:36 / bike 2:01:44 / run 1:11:11)
Ben Kanute (USA #6) – 3:43:21 (swim 24:59 / bike 2:03:47 / run 1:12:06)
Sam Long (USA #4) – 3:43:26 (swim 28:26 / bike 1:59:58 / run 1:12:32)
Skye Moench (USA #4) – 4:10:01 (swim 29:06 / bike 2:17:08 / run 1:20:43)
Jeanni Metzler (INT #10) – 4:11:18 (swim 27:40 / bike 2:24:52 / run 1:15:27)
Sophie Watts (USA) – 4:13:00 (swim 27:15 / bike 2:22:31 / run 1:19:45)
THE BIG STORIES
In the men’s race, a fast swim from Ben Kanute (USA #6) meant a 10-second lead onto the bike, which he began to extend as the flat, fast bike course got underway. Pre-race favourite Lionel Sanders (INT #1) was down by 1:44 when he rolled out of T1 with Sam Long (USA #4) 3:28 from the front.
With plenty of strong bikers and a tailwind for company, Sanders began to rip through the field, pushing to the front of a small, powerful group after the halfway turnaround. But the Canadian star wasn’t the only one showing his bike prowess. Sam Long – 22nd onto the road – was lighting it up and closed the gap despite the buffeting headwind to take the lead by T2 with a 1:59:58 bike split, the day’s fastest.
Once on the run, it took only a couple of kilometres for Sanders to overhaul Long and take the lead while Kanute quickly established himself in third place. Sanders’ unconventional running style proving astoundingly effective, the Canadian stormed onwards, increasing his lead towards the tape to take a convincing win in 3:42:20.
With his improved swim, colossal bike power and outstanding running, Sanders once again backed up his position as Team Internationals’ strongest athlete and a fearsome competitor for any Collins Cup matchup.
Behind Sanders, the podium seemed established – but Kanute refused to settle for the bottom step. With around 5km to go, he ratcheted up the pace just as he did in Miami. Giving us a thrilling finish, Kanute got Long in his sights with just 1km to go. Utilising his fast finish – and perhaps Long’s tiring legs after that mammoth bike effort – he edged past his compatriot to take second, a minute behind Sanders and just five seconds ahead of Long.
Lauren Brandon (USA #15) was first from the water with an impressive 41-second lead but once on the bike, it was all about Kimberley Morrison (EUR #21). The British time trial specialist made short work of wresting the lead and then extending it.
Behind, Skye Moench (USA #4) started to slice time off her 2:25 swim deficit, pushing past defending champion Jeanni Metzler (INT #10), to move up into third.
A fast transition gave Morrison a 2:04 lead onto the run course, which Moench immediately began to chip away at. By halfway, Moench had made the front while 70.3 rookie Sophie Watts moved into third with her sights on Morrison.
Despite ceding 6:30 to Moench on the bike, Metzler found her comfort zone on the run. Clocking a stupendous 3:28/km pace, the South African flew up the rankings and into the podium placings with less than 5km to go.
There was no stopping Moench though, the 2019 Ironman European Champion showing indomitable strength to take the win in 4:10:01. It was certainly a complete performance, outdoing everyone to prove herself the top Team USA competitor in a stacked field.
“SO grateful to cross the line first! Breaking the tape is something special,” posted Moench. Then referring to her finish line photo and reflecting on the shattered elbow that she sustained in a bike crash in September 2019, she added: “Looking at this pic, I can’t help but see my bent elbow, but it’s a sweet reminder of what I’ve overcome since the last time I won a race.”
Behind, Metzler continued her charge, the day’s fastest run split of 1:15:27 easing her into second by the line and marking herself out as a serious weapon in the final discipline. Meanwhile, Watts showed great promise to round out the podium in her first-ever 70.3.
True to form, Matt Hanson (USA #2) was once again the fastest mover on the run course. His incredible average pace of 3:11 per km (5:08 per mile) resulted in him cutting his deficit from 3:25 to 1:15 by the time he crossed the line in fourth. He’ll certainly be a match-up to fear in the Collins Cup this August.
Showing laudable commitment to performance, Joe Skipper (EUR #5), who was shown a penalty card on the bike, decided to test himself against the best and be DQ’d rather than sit out for five minutes. He was eighth across the line and is surely in with a good chance of a captain’s pick given he’s both Europe and world #5.
It might have been a debut long-course race for Sophie Watts, but this strong all-around performance means she’s certainly one to watch in future events and a name we’re likely to see rising up the PTO World Rankings.Next article