In an exhilarating day of racing through the heart of Barcelona, Youri Keulen (NED) and Alistair Brownlee (GBR) delivered a breathtaking finale at the inaugural Challenge Barcelona Triathlon, with Keulen ultimately claiming victory with a time of 2:29:15. The women's race saw Imogen Simmonds (SUI) securing her third title of the season, winning decisively in 2:49:44.
The first edition of Challenge Barcelona introduced a fresh distance format by the Challenge Family: a 1.5km swim, followed by a 60km bike race, and concluding with a 15km run. This new distance appealed to athletes of both long and short courses while fitting seamlessly with the urban setting of Barcelona.
Keulen began his quest for victory in ninth place after the swim, trailing by a mere 20 seconds behind the lead swimmer, Wilhelm Hirsch (DEU), who clocked an 18:29. Brownlee was hot on Hirsch’s heels. However, on the bike saw Keulen swiftly moving to the front, assuming the lead from Brownlee. Together with Aaron Royle (AUS), Hirsch, and Nils Lorenz (DEU), a lead group was formed, navigating through the scenic streets of Barcelona at speeds reaching 60kph, all while maintaining compliance with the 20m drafting rule. The group, primarily driven by Keulen and Brownlee, maintained such a fast pace that the chase pack struggled to close the gap.
Onto the run saw a brief lead from Hirsch, which was quickly overtaken by Brownlee. Despite Brownlee's relentless pace, Keulen remained strong, trailing close behind. With less than 5km remaining, Keulen bridged the gap and initiated a thrilling duel with Brownlee for the lead. The last kilometer witnessed Keulen's decisive acceleration, leaving Brownlee behind and securing a triumphant win with a time of 2:29:15. Brownlee finished closely at 2:29:36, while Hirsch took third place with a time of 2:30:55.
In the women's division, Simmonds overcame a suboptimal start and a head cold to dominate the race. Although Lucy Buckingham (GBR) led the swim with a 19:11 time, followed closely by Sara Pérez Sala (ESP), Simmonds was seventh at that point, lagging by 1:20. The bike segment saw Buckingham and Pérez Sala initially leading, but after Pérez Sala's withdrawal due to illness, Simmonds found her rhythm and joined the lead pack. By the time the athletes transitioned into the running portion, Simmonds took the lead and maintained it through the finish line, winning at 2:49:44. Buckingham and Caroline Pohle (DEU) completed the podium, finishing second and third with times of 2:52:38 and 2:53:09, respectively.
Reflecting on the riveting race and the fierce competition, Simmonds expressed her gratitude: "It was a fun race and the girls made it very tough out there, so thank you to Lucy and Caroline for keeping it real! And it was really fun racing around the city of Barcelona; how incredible!"
With the iconic Sagrada Familia as the backdrop, the Challenge Barcelona Triathlon provided not only a test of endurance and speed but also a spectacular view, encapsulating the spirit and beauty of Barcelona in every stride and pedal stroke.