Frederic Funk and Nicola Spirig lived up to their role as favourites at the European Middle Distance Championships at CHALLENGEKAISERWINKL-WALCHSEE. Funk took the lead early on, was briefly joined by Ruben Zepuntke, but with a finish time of 3:36:56hr he was never in danger. Spirig also had an “easy” day at the office, as she took the lead on the bike and only continued to increase this lead. This resulted in a disappointed Anne Haug, the German world champion crossing the finish line second place.
Christophe de Keyser immediately put pressure on the swim in the men’s race. He did this under excellent conditions, with a clear blue sky, the sun and hardly any wind – all the ingredients for a fast race. This became clear when the Belgian athlete came first out of the water in 24:35. At that point he had Nicolas Mann, Frederic Funk and Giulio Molinari on his feet. The athlete who was in the most trouble because of the fast swim pace was favourite Thomas Steger: he came out of the water more than a minute and a half behind and had a lot of work to do on the bike to have a chance to catch up with the lead.
On the bike, De Keyser was still initially in the lead, but after 15km it was Funk and Molinari who had ridden together who took over the lead. They didn’t stay together for long, because Funk decided to put the pressure on and rode away from Molinari. Halfway through the bike, Funk went solo, while Molinari was still well in the race at about a minute behind. At that point former pro cyclist Ruben Zepuntke, who rode particularly strong and made up a lot of time in the first 45km advanced to the front, joined the Italian.
With about 20km to go on the bike, Zepuntke caught Funk and they started the half marathon together. They did so with a fairly big lead, as Molinari lost quite a bit of time during the last kilometres of the bike and started his half marathon more than three minutes behind. Steger, who did not start the race too strongly, had meanwhile started a catch-up race and, a few minutes after Molinari, started the run in fourth place.
While Funk soon ran away from Zepuntke – who experienced a tough run- it was Steger who continued to gain. Halfway through the half marathon, Funk had a one-and-a-half minute lead over Zepuntke, but Steger had advanced to third place. His gap had already been reduced to less than five minutes and he seemed to have is eye on second place while Molinari dropped to fourth.
In the final phase of the run, a lot happened. Not at the front, because Funk ran unthreatened to the finish (3:36:56), but Steger managed to overtake Zepuntke and became second in a time of 3:38:51 posting the fastest run split of the day in 1:08. Bart Aernouts also came from behind, finishing the bike down the field but during the run he advanced like a jack-in-the-box and surprised everyone on the finish line, especially Zepuntke who ended up in fourth.
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Women’s race: Spirig outstanding
In the women’s race, as was expected, Sara Perez Sala dictated the swimming pace. Despite having already made her debut at the Middle Distance a few months ago, her roots lie in the short distance and it showed in her swim pace. After 26:10 minutes she had finished her 1.9km swim, although at that point she still had Nicola Spirig on her feet. The former Olympic champion had a good starting position, all the more so because another big favourite, Anne Haug, lost almost 3:30 minutes in the water.
On the bike, Spirig showed her true strength when she rode away from Perez Sala almost immediately and then managed to increase her lead fairly quickly. It was perhaps not so surprising that the Swiss athlete’s bike pace was just too fast for the Spaniard – Perez Sala came through after 45km on the bike at about three minutes behind – but it was surprising that Haug also lost a lot of time on Spirig. In fact, the world champion didn’t manage to make up time on Perez Sala during the first 45km and that meant she was about six minutes behind Spirig.
During the final kilometres on the bike, however, Haug had suddenly found some new energy, coming into T2 with Perez Sala. Spirig, however, still had a comfortable lead of over three minutes at that point and already seemed fairly certain of her victory and the European title.
During the run, Spirig was in no danger. In fact, her lead became bigger and bigger and with a finishing time of 3:58:00 she crossed the line first. Over five minutes later Haug came in second in a time of 4:03:03. Perez Sala dropped back during the run and finished fifth. Marta Bernardi rounded out the podium in bronze in 4:09:53 after after a strong run.
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