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Iden and Perez Sala take the Challenge Championship

Challenge Family’s flagship event features exciting racing once again

Photo by: Ingo Kutsche

Norway’s Gustav Iden overcame the disappointment of having to pull out of the Ironman World Championship in St. George two weeks ago with an impressive win at The Championship, Challenge Family’s flagship event held at the x-bionicsphere in Samorin, Slovakia. Sara Perez Sala topped the women’s field with a front-running performance that saw her near the front of the race from the gun.

Arriving in T1 … to a flat

After a disappointing swim that saw him hit the shore of the Danube River well behind (almost 2:30) swim leader Richard Varga (SVK), who finished the swim 20 seconds ahead of Josh Amberger, Iden ran to T2 only to find that he had a flat tire. Yelling to a volunteer that he needed a pump, Iden quickly put some air in the tire and set off in chase of the men ahead of him.

While he wasn’t able to bridge up to the lead group of three that included Varga, Pieter Heemeryck (BEL) and Miki Taagholt (DEN), the two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion was able to get up to the chase group that included Thor Bendix Madsen (DEN), Thomas Steger (AUT) and Kyle Smith (NZL).

Heemeryck managed to break clear of the other two towards the end of the bike, but was only seconds ahead of Varga and Taagholt, with the chase group hitting T2 just 90 seconds behind.

Once out on the run it quickly became clear that it was going to be tough to hold off Iden, who was in front by the second half of the second of three laps on the run course. Iden never looked back as he cruised to the win in 3:43:44. Varga managed to hang on for the runner-up spot, despite having to serve a 30 second penalty for stepping on the dismount line at the end of the bike, while Steger (3:46:33) managed to take the duel with his Pewag teammate Taagholt to round out the podium.

“I was struggling so much in the swim,” said Iden. “It was a sub-standard swim for me and then I had a low pressure tire, but luckily I quickly got a pump from the volunteers. I struggled to keep up the power at the start of the bike. But I slowly I got into it and, at the end I got there – to take the win here is amazing! It’s really tough to run on the grass here, but I think I was suffering less than others, it’s so demanding, but I think I managed OK!”

Sara Perez wins The Championship. Photo: Jose Luis Hourcade

Perez Sala and Buckingham surge ahead

Defending women’s champion Lucy Buckingham (nee Hall) led the way out of the water, but was just three seconds ahead of Spain’s Sara Perez Sala. The two then hammered through the bike, alternating the lead at times seemingly to ensure that they’d enjoy as big a gap as possible to the speedy runners chasing behind.

The mission was accomplished – while Fenella Langridge (GBR) and Sarissa de Vries (NED) were over 1:30 down, Emma Pallant-Browne (GBR) and Ashleigh Gentle (AUS), two of the sport’s best runners, were seven minutes behind as they hit T2.

Perez Sala was able to pull clear of Buckingham early in the run, only to fall behind at one point after taking a quick pit stop, but would eventually pull ahead again for the biggest win of her career in 4:08:19. Pallant-Browne managed to run her way to the runner-up spot (4:10:12) thanks to a 1:17:19 run split, passing Buckingham (4:11:05) in the final lap.

“Right now I feel really tired but is this is a dream, so I’m very happy,” said Perez Sala. “I think I did the best race ever. I swam well with Lucy and in the bike I felt really good and did my best power ever. In the run the first two laps I felt strong but the last lap – whoa, that was really hard and I was really tired and my legs really hurt so I was really happy to get to the end! At the end of the second lap I started thinking I have to run to keep ahead of Emma, I knew I wanted to win and I wanted to sprint. In the last two kms I knew I had it – it was a great day, it was amazing!”

Today’s race featured athletes who had qualified at Challenge-Family races around the world. There were over 1,130 athletes from 42 countries competing in the various races throughout the weekend.

You can find results from today’s race here.