Olympians Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) and Marten Van Riel (BEL) moved up to half-distance racing in style this weekend, taking the wins at Ironman 70.3 Xiamen.
Gentle led from start to finish, coming out of the water a few seconds ahead of France’s Julie Iemmolo, then staying a minute clear of a fast-riding Frankie Sanjana (GBR), before closing her race with a 1:21:10 half-marathon to easily get to the line ahead of American Lesley Smith. Sanjana would hang on for third.
“I wanted a new challenge at the end of the year so I decided to head to China with Josh [Amberger] for my first ever 70.3,” Gentle told Triathlon Australia before the race. “I’m just gonna go experience it, pace myself, be prepared for a four hour plus race and I’m looking forward to it.”
Despite her success, don’t expect Gentle to be giving up on a second Olympic appearance next year.
“I just chose that one because next year is a massive year and obviously my priority is the Olympics, so I didn’t want to extend my season too long.”
The win came just a week after Gentle took a record seventh Noosa Triathlon title, her sixth win at the iconic Australian race in a row.
Van Riel and Amberger duel … until the run
Like Gentle, Marten Van Riel had never competed in a half-distance race before the weekend, but that didn’t stop him from racing alongside the experienced Josh Amberger (Gentle’s boyfriend and the 2016 Xiamen champ) through the swim and the bike. Amberger, who led the men out of the water at the Ironman World Championship last month, found himself in an unusual position – trailing out of the water to start the day off as Van Riel led the way into T2, with 2012 Kona champion Pete Jacobs (AUS) 1:32 back.
Van Riel and Amberger would continue to pull away from the rest of the field, with Amberger jumping off his bike a couple of seconds ahead of the Belgian, and both over six-minutes ahead of 2016 Ironman 70.3 world champ Tim Reed (AUS) and Jacobs another three minutes back.
Once out on the run course Van Riel used his formidable running skills – he finished sixth in Rio – to cruise to the win thanks to a 1:13:56 run split that put him almost four minutes ahead of Amberger, with Reed over 10 minutes behind in third.
|Marten van Riel