Commonwealth Games team members Ashleigh Gentle and Jake Birtwhistle used their exceptional leg speed to shut down all challengers and record stunning victories in the 35th running of the iconic Noosa Triathlon.
Gentle made it four Noosa titles in a row and five overall, equalling Emma Snowill’s record, while Birtwhistle had his breakthrough race, improving on his third and second places of previous years.
The ‘stacked’ men’s and women’s fields ensured that the pressure was on from the gun and the thousands of supporters lining the course were treated to an amazing display by the cream of Australia’s triathletes.
Gentle’s fifth title had far more significance than her previous wins and she dedicated her race to her longtime supporter and friend, the late Garth Prowd.
“I looked up to the heavens because Garth was here with us no doubt and he will still be out there until the last person crosses the line. Garth will always be a part of Noosa tri and I am so happy that I was able to race well and race for him as well.”
Natalie van Coevorden smashed the bike leg intent on making everyone hurt and with a 1:20 lead onto the run, threw down the gauntlet to the chasers Gentle and World Duathon champ Felicity Sheedy Ryan.
“Natalie rode really hard and was aggressive on the bike so I just wanted to maintain the gap and be close enough so that I could run her down,” Gentle said. “She was really giving it a go on the bike and I also knew that Felicity who I was riding with is an extremely good runner. So I knew that I had to be running fast.”
“I felt good going into the run and I got a split in the first couple of kilometres and it was down to 47 seconds, so I knew I was making positive inroads. I train with Nat and I knew she wanted to push the pace and play to her strength. I was really pleased she was able to hold onto third. Felicity took the run out pretty strong and I was just finding my legs but I got her in the first few km on one of the tiny little hills across the bridge. It hurt all day and I just thought just keep going, be strong, it will be over soon. I got to the finish line thankfully.”
Gentle and Emma Snowsill share a great respect for each other and it was only fitting that the Olympic champ was at the finish line to share the moment with Australia’s up and coming superstar.
“All credit to Ash she has really come through and like a lot of us in Australia we have used this race as a platform to the international stage. Ash has shown that this year being number two in the world, qualifying for the Commonwealth Games team and coming away with her fifth win at Noosa. There is really nothing else she could be doing at this stage. I am very happy for her and I have seen the work she has put in over the years and I think it is fantastic,” Snowsill said.
Gentle will return in 2018 to defend her title but she said that for her racing at Noosa is not about breaking records.
“Emma loves this race and it is a huge honour to have my name up there with hers. It is always nice to see her familiar face up here every time I come back. It is really great to win but I just come here to do my best race. It is not about beating people’s records. If it happens next year that is fantastic but it is not something that is motivating me. Everyone wants to win Noosa tri and every time I come back as defending champion I have a target on my back and people want to beat me.”
After making the podium for the past two years, Birtwhistle’s victory was very satisfying and a childhood dream come true.
“My first race at Noosa was four years ago at the end of a long year and I was still a junior and it wasn’t that great but since then I have gone three, two and one which is pretty cool. This is definitely one of the biggest races I’ve won.”
“Noosa is a race that everyone wants to do and everyone wants to win. Especially for us Aussies who grew up watching it and idolizing the champions of this event. In the early days watching it on TV it would have been the likes of Craig Walton and Courtney Atkinson who were the winners in that era and they are two guys I look up to in the sport. It is amazing to be here and finally add my name to that list of amazing champions of the past.”
Birtwhistle’s win didn’t come easy and he had to call on all his resources to hold off challenges from former winners Aaron Royle and Dan Wilson, and Olympian Ryan Bailie.
“We were all a bit wrecked after the bike, it was pretty solid out there. Everyone was trying to push the pace to get away and split it up but we came into transition pretty close and it meant that we were going to be running together for the first part. Everyone had a bit of sting in the legs and played it a bit tactical early on. But with a kilometre to go I did a little surge and was able to break them and hold on and hang tough until the finish line.
“It was good conditions but a bit hot for a Tasmanian. I have been training in jackets and long tights for the last month and a bit at home so it is a bit of a shock to the system getting out in the sun. But I was happy to hold it together. This was the most stacked field I have raced in at Noosa, a quality field and that makes it all that sweeter to get the win.”
“Commonwealth Games is my focus now and I will take a bit of time off. I do take a bit of confidence from this and I am ready to prepare for early next year on the Gold Coast,” he said.