The island city-state of Singapore played host to a dramatic battle amongst the world's best triathletes this past weekend at the 2023 PTO Tour Asian Open. In hot and humid conditions that tested the limits of the athletes, there was triumph for some and heartbreak for others on the tough course through the streets and along the highways. Ultimately, Ashleigh Gentle rose above to stake her claim as the current queen of non-drafting racing, taking the win and $100,000 top prize in a time of 3:41:16.
The tone was set early as the women dove into the waters off Marina Bay for the swim start just after sunrise. Two of the best swimmers in the field, Lucy Charles-Barclay and Sara Perez Sala, exited the water with a lead of over a minute on the chasing pack. Pre-race favorite Gentle sat nearly two minutes back, while fellow expected contender Anne Haug was even further behind.
Charles-Barclay and Perez Sala worked hard on the early miles of the bike leg to hold their advantage. However, their lead would slowly dwindle as the stars of the bike began their charge from behind. Gentle in particular looked in fine form, steadily reeling the leaders in. Showing her newfound strength on two wheels, Gentle powered past Charles-Barclay and Perez Sala to seize control of the race by the halfway point on the bike.
Behind Gentle, German star Anne Haug was also blazing her way up through the field. Haug carved through the chasing women with surgical precision, climbing from seventh out of the swim all the way into second place. A tantalizing bike battle between Gentle and Haug seemed imminent as the race neared T2. Commentators predicted a fierce tussle between two of the best runners in triathlon once they were on the run course. However, fate would cruelly intervene to rob the fans of the showdown they anticipated.
Disaster struck for Haug with under 30km remaining on the bike as she suffered a mechanical issue resulting from a spare inner tube becoming lodged in her rear wheel. The malfunction forced Haug to stop and spend over two valuable minutes trying to clear the obstruction before she could resume riding. In an instant, her deficit to Gentle ballooned from under a minute to over three minutes.
Watching her gold medal hopes vanishing before her eyes, a frustrated Haug refused to throw in the towel. Though the lead seemed insurmountable, she courageously fought on and continued to pick off spots, managing to move back up to second position by T2 to claim $50,000. Her fortitude to go down swinging despite the circumstances spoke volumes about Haug’s fierce competitive drive.
Up ahead, Ashleigh Gentle crossed the line into T2 knowing she now had a comfortable cushion. Saving her legs on the run, she cruised to an unchallenged victory in dominant fashion, calling it her best race of the year after recent near misses.
While the top two steps on the podium seemed predetermined, third place still hung in the balance. American Chelsea Sodaro, who started the run leg back in 6th position, found the magic late in the race. Turning on the jets in the last 5km, Sodaro picked off spot after spot to grab 3rd place and $35,000 thanks to posting the fastest 10km run split of 35:27. Her stellar comeback run signaled she is still a force to be reckoned with after facing doubts from an up and down season.
The scenes on the finish line told the story of the emotional rollercoaster experienced by the top athletes. A jubilant Gentle celebrated completing her dominant wire-to-wire victory, soaking up the rewarding feeling she had missed in recent setbacks. An exhausted but satisfied Haug could only offer a shrug and a smile after her gutsy silver medal performance on a day when the bike gods failed her. With tears of joy and relief, Sodaro's stellar run showed she still has plenty left in the tank.