It was a wonderful day in Austria for Frederic Funk, as he won Challenge St. Polten with overwhelming force. In the women’s race it was insanely exciting since it was Anne Haug who managed to overtake Imogen Simmonds in the last two hundred meters and therefore managed to win. Overall the pro race was characterised by battles, passion and an incredible lot of tension.
In the men’s race, it was the German Timo Hackenjos who – somewhat surprisingly – led the field during the swim and was the first to take to the bike after a time of 24:26 minutes. Belgium’s Christophe de Keyser was just over half a minute behind him, followed by one of the favorites by a few seconds: Pablo Dapena Gonzalez. Behind them followed men like Michael Raelert, Jan Stratmann, Maurice Clavel and Frederic Funk.
On the bike, it was Funk who immediately rode to the front and boldly took over the lead in the race. Still men like Magnus Ditlev, who is of course known for his rock solid biking skills, Raelert, Pieter Heemeryck, Stratmann, Dapena Gonzalez and Philipp Bahlke, closely followed him. The pace was extremely fast and it was clear that the men wanted to hurt each other on the bike to make some first serious differences early during the race.
And so Funk did, clearly a man on a mission. After 60 kilometers he had broken away from everyone on his own and already had a gap of exactly two minutes on his first two chasers: Ditlev and Bahlke. A number of other favorites followed another two minutes behind, but at this stage of the race Funk was in a very strong position to win the race. A few kilometers later Bahlke also had to give in and lost the connection to Ditlev and lost even more time on Funk.
In the final kilometers on the bike, Funk kept pushing and therefore was able to increase his lead: in the second transition area, he had a lead of more than four minutes on Bahlke and almost six minutes on Stratmann. Just under a minute behind them followed Raelert and Maurice Clavel, among others.
What followed was a half marathon in which the men all changed positions and keeps fighting for everything they are worth. But not Funk, who didn’t change any position anymore: the German athlete ran better than ever, fueled by extra strength he said he got from being in the lead. After 3:44:49hr, he crossed the line, cheering loudly and claiming victory. Over eight minutes later, it was Stratmann who claimed second spot, although he had to fight it out for a long time with Maurice Clavel, who crossed the line 30 seconds later. Clavel had to pull out all the stops to stay ahead of Pablo Dapena Gonzalez, who finished fourth just nine seconds after Clavel.
Thrilling sprint finish Anne Haug and Imogen Simmonds
In the women’s race, it was Anna-Lena Best-Pohl who made the race hard from the start and, with a swimming time of 28:41 minutes, was first to go to her bike. However, the difference with her pursuers was not very large, as Lisa Nordén and Imogen Simmonds followed just half a minute later. A little further back, other top athletes came out of the water, including Maja Stage-Nielsen and Anne Haug, who thus had a good chance of catching up very soon on the bike.
On the bike, it was soon Nordén and Simmonds who found each other and tried to increase their lead together. They succeeded excellently, because after about 25 kilometres on the bike the two women had a lead of almost 2:30 minutes over, among others, Stage-Nielsen, who had lost contact with the leaders, and favorite Anne Haug.
Not much later Simmonds made a strong move and rode away from Nordén. It was the Swiss who quickly grew her lead on the Swedish athlete, who was initially riding with her. At the same time, however, Simmonds lost a lot of time to Haug: the German World Champion once again proved to be an excellent biker and brought her arrears back to around one and a half minute. With thirty kilometers of biking to go, it was already clear that the race was going to unfold in a very exciting way.
That was exactly what happened when Simmonds turned her engine on again and started the half marathon with a lead of more than three minutes over Haug. But, Haug would not be Haug if she gives up and did not run as hard as she could to try and take the win. This was not made easier when it turned out that she had made a mistake in the transition area and therefore received a one-minute penalty. Nevertheless, the German World Champion continued to push and very quickly won back time on Simmonds during the run. Both ladies gave everything they had, but in the end it was Haug who passed Simmonds in the very last meters, just before the finish line, and thus claimed victory after 4:20:17hr, only 13 seconds in front of Simmonds. Nine minutes behind Haug and Simmonds it were Stage-Nielsen and Laura Siddall sprinting for third, a battle Simmonds did win by seconds.