In an unexpected turn of events, Dutchman Menno Koolhaas and Italian Margie Santimaria emerged as champions at Challenge Geraardsbergen 2023. Not being the favorites coming into the race, both Koolhaas and Santimaria prevailed, showing their mettle under intense competition and scorching temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius.
In the men's race, the main focus was on pre-race favourite, Britain's Joe Skipper. However, it was Menno Koolhaas who drew the attention by leading the pack out of the water, setting a brisk pace despite the sweltering conditions. A group of six trailed him by about a minute, including German former pro cyclist Ruben Zepuntke. After roughly 30km, Zepuntke separated himself from the group to catch up to Koolhaas, even passing him to ride solo to the second transition (T2).
As temperatures soared, the lead Zepuntke had built up during the bike stage quickly disappeared during the run. Just after 3km, Koolhaas regained his lead and ran an impressive race to clinch victory with a time of 3:55:27. Serbian Ognjen Stojanovic, also from the chasing group, put up a strong performance, securing second place with a time of 3:59:35. Despite having a challenging day, Joe Skipper still managed to secure third place, finishing at 4:01:21.
In the women's race, the main battle was between Margie Santimaria and Emma Bilham from Switzerland. Both athletes emerged from the water almost simultaneously, with Santimaria expressing satisfaction with the non-wetsuit swim. They kept a close race during the first half of the bike stage, but Santimaria eventually proved to be the stronger cyclist. By the time they conquered De Muur van Geraardsbergen, Santimaria had gained a significant lead.
Santimaria, coming into the second transition (T2) solo, held a comfortable lead during the run. Despite the intense heat and a constant pressure from Bilham, the Italian runner maintained her strong performance. Santimaria claimed victory with a time of 4:32:07, while Bilham finished second at 4:34:28. The third place went to Italy's Marta Bernardi, who finished with a time of 4:39:28.