In a race filled with excitement, thrills and spectacle, Jack Moody and Grace Thek took the win at Challenge Wanaka. While there was plenty of action throughout the race, the two strongest athletes both won the race with their unrivalled runs.
In the men’s race Mike Phillips came out of the water first, in a time of 24:04 minutes, he had men like Jack Moody, Caleb Noble, Guy Crawford and Sam Osborne right in behind him and then race favourite, Sebastian Kienle, 1:34 behind the leader.
On the bike, a leading group immediately formed, which almost as quickly then began to fall apart. Phillips, Noble and Moody took off with the three of them, while Kienle and Matt Burton worked their way up the field from behind. Despite gaining places, they didn’t manage to make up time on the race leaders even losing two minutes after the first 30km.
In the lead group, it was then Moody who couldn’t keep up with the pace of Phillips and Noble following a minor crash, but after 50km, Noble couldn’t keep the pace either and so Phillips found himself riding solo for the remainder of the bike. Once back in T2, Phillips, who was riding incredibly strong, had a 2:20 minute lead over Burton and Kienle, while Noble lost a lot of time in the closing stages and came in fourth with a 1:58 minute deficit. Moody followed in fifth 3:10 down, while temperatures were rising promising a tough run ahead.
During the off-road run on a tough and technical course, Phillips played all or nothing, but he could not prevent Moody, the man with the biggest deficit in T2, from closing in hard. Halfway through, Moody had already narrowed to just 1:04 minute behind and in the process had advanced to second place. Kienle came through in third at 1:55 minute and then Noble and Burton followed in fourth and fifth, four and five minutes behind respectively.
In the second half of the run, Moody kept getting closer, until finally, in the last kilometres, he passed Phillips. Moody took the Challenge Wanaka win in a time of 3:58:01. Phillips finished second in 4:00:22 and Kienle rounded out the podium in a time of 4:02:57.
“I had a really good swim and came out where I needed to be,” said Moody of his race. “Right up front coming out of T1 and the boys were working it, there was a group of three of us coming through town but I dropped off after a silly little tumble. I stuck to my own game plan after that and settled in for a pretty long 90k. Watching the big Australian and German power houses come by on the bike is a pretty humbling experience but stayed positive. I knew my run was in good shape. Recently I haven’t been able to show the running pedigree I was originally known for so it was good to have that card up my sleeve.”
The women’s race was also exciting to follow. Initially Lotte Wilms led the swim and Rebecca Clarke was the only one who could stick with her. In the end, Clarke passed Wilms – who is known for her very strong swim – in the final metres exiting the water with a 20-second lead. Grace Thek followed at 1:54 minute and at 2:25 minute behind, Els Visser also headed for T2.
Clarke then took off on her own on the bike, and even though Wilms kept riding at about 20 seconds back, the Dutch athlete did not manage to ride up to Clarke. Meanwhile, Visser began closing in on the front and soon she caught up to Wilms. Wilms had no answer to that, and while Visser rode on immediately and also overtook Clarke, Wilms just started to lose more and more time until she was more than three minutes behind and eventually dropped out of the race.
At the same time there was a nice duel between Clarke and Visser, as the two alternated several times in the battle or the lead position. Unfortunately, it seems both women took a wrong a turn causing them to lose a little time and Thek, shortly before T2, caught them. So, the three women started the half marathon at the same time and the battle for the medals was wide open.
However, during the run it soon became clear that one lady had the edge – Thek. She immediately ran away from Visser and Clarke with an ever-increasing lead. From this point on, her victory was no longer in danger and she won the race in a time of 4:32:30. Visser followed second at +2:29 minutes. Clarke finished third at +7:34 minutes behind.
“That was stunning but brutal!” said Thek following her Challenge Wanaka win. “There was no real time to ease off throughout the whole course, it was full gas the whole way! It was really fun. I come from a cross country background so I like the trails but it’s been a while since I’ve been on them so it was pretty tough. I’m stoked to take the win here. It’s my first Challenge win so that’s really special and it’s great to do it in such a beautiful place.”
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