March 20, 2017
James Middleditch’s victorious approach to the finish line
James Middleditch and Jennifer Zenker emerged as the respective male and female winners of the 2017 MetaSprint Duathlon yesterday, but it was Zenker who walked away with the biggest prize as she comfortably claimed the title of Champion of Champions at the Grand Prix F1 Village.
The Champion of Champions system at each of the three MetaSprint Series races sees the female elites given a head start on their male counterparts, with the handicap based on the time difference at the previous year’s corresponding race.
This equated to eight minutes for the 2017 MetaSprint Duathlon, so the elite women started the racing action at 6:35am, with the men set off to chase them at 6:43am.
It wasn’t quite daylight as the women headed out on the opening 3km leg of the run-bike-run contest, but they safely negotiated the twists and turns of the out-and-back course, which aside from the opening 500 metres, largely followed the Kallang River.
As the strung-out field came back in sight of the race village it was the Scottish athlete Rachel O’Connor who was at the head of the string and she duly hit T1 first with a lead of some seven seconds from Connie Arcella of Australia. Another three runners – Jade Chow, Pheobe Kee and Louisa Middleditch – entered the transition area before Zenker, who found herself faced with a 30-second deficit.
But the German athlete didn’t panic and with good reason, as by the end of the first of three laps of the 7.3km bike course she had moved into the lead. And from there it was lights out for the rest of the women as Zenker powered round the remaining two laps of the fast course, which was built around the long and wide open straights of the Nicoll Highway.
Indeed, she covered the 22km over three minutes faster than all the women that were ahead of her after the opening leg, giving her a comfortable lead going into the final 3km run.
As the Nicoll Highway bike course featured a number of U-turns, Zenker knew she led by a big margin at she hit T2, and this allowed her to take it relatively easy on the concluding run.
She broke the tape unchallenged by even the elite men in a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes and 23 seconds to take both the Women’s title and the Champion of Champions crown.
If not for Zenker’s presence in the field, it might have been O’Connor enjoying the win yesterday, as none of the other women passed her and she duly finished as the runner-up but some two mins behind Zenker. Third place went to Arcella, another 80 seconds back.
Zenker was obviously delighted in claiming the women’s crown, and she revealed post-race she had been hopeful of winning, but beating the men hadn’t been in her expectations.
“I had in my mind that I could probably win the female overall, but I’m a strong swimmer, so the duathlon race is not my strength, so yes, I’m very very happy to have won,” she said. “But not overall being the champion of champions, not that, I thought for sure that the males would be much faster.”
“After the first run there were five or six girls ahead of me but I was still able to see them, and that was my aim as I knew I cannot start very fast on the run, but I also knew I couldn’t afford to lose too much distance. But then I was really surprised to see how much stronger I was on the bike. Immediately on the bike I passed four of them and by the end of the first bike lap I was in front, and then I just rode at my own pace,” Zenker said.
“On the bike course I must say the many turnarounds were quite technical so you had to be careful, you couldn’t go full on with all these corners, but these long straights were really where you had to push, and it’s here I think I made up time on the other athletes.”
Did she feel less pressure on the final run knowing she had a big lead?
“I knew that if I could just run at a good pace, not even on the threshold, I should be able to win it. So yes, on the second run I had less pressure and I started at a comfortable pace, just in case it came to a sprint,” she said. “There was also the turnaround on the run, so I was able to see what the distance (to O’Connor) was and there was like 500 metres and I knew then that ‘ok, she can’t catch me’.”
What about the men, was she conscious of them chasing her at all?
“I must say no, for the men I had no idea, because it was already more crowded on the course by the second lap of the bike (from the other waves) and I’m a person who isn’t really realising what’s happening around me. I’m really focusing on myself. So I had no idea on where the lead men were,” she said.
Zenker will be at East Coast Park on April 23 for the final leg of the series, the MetaSprint Triathlon, and with her claim of being “a strong swimmer”, she’ll no doubt start as race favourite.
In the men’s race, Middleditch also had to come from behind after the opening run leg, mainly because the 48-year-old Briton took a wrong turn while in the lead.
But the accomplished athlete, known for his bike and run weapons, didn’t let the unscheduled detour get to him mentally and he had reattached himself to the big lead group by the time it approached the transition area. Indeed, he was the third man into T1, just five seconds behind the Nanyang Technology University duo of Jaiyu Tan and Liyang Wang.
Neither of those strong runners were a match for Middleditch as cyclists, however, and the 2014 overall MetaSprint Series champion soon moved into the lead on the bike. Only one man could stay with him throughout the 22km middle leg of the race, Alan Blakie, another Briton. The pair were obviously motivating each other and as they swapped the lead, the gap to the chasers behind grew with each lap.
The main chaser was 2016 MetaSprint Series winner AJ Anderson, but he came into T2 some 40 seconds behind the lead two.
So it was down to a dual for the men’s win. Middleditch gained a slight advantage in transition and he seized this material and psychological advantage to push hard from the front. Blakie couldn’t match his speed or experience and Middleditch powered home to break the tape in a time of 56 minutes flat. Blakie faded somewhat to finish 18 seconds back, just holding off the hard-charging Anderson who was running the fastest third leg split of the day of 10:01 on his way to third place.
Like Zenker in the women’s race, Middleditch, a renowned bike-runner, had started the day with hopes of winning the title.
“You’re always hoping to win, right, but I wasn’t expecting to win, you should never take these things for granted, right? It’s a sprint race, you’ve got some young guys, and on a sprint course you never know what the young guys can do, they can fire up and they can kill you on the run. So no, I was going into it with some expectations, certainly for the age group, but overall, well if you can win it that’s fantastic, that’s kind of the icing on the cake,” he said.
“But yes, it was a great race, some tough guys out there this morning. The first run I took a wrong turn, I went 150 metres the wrong way, and at that stage I had a bit of a lead, and I went 150m in the wrong direction, realised that, had to double back, and so the pack now had 150m on me. So the first run was really tough. Slowly after the U-turn I worked my way back up and I came into T1 in third position. And then on the bike I took the lead and just kept a solid pace on the bike.”
Having made up for his unintended detour, Middleditch was intent on smashing the bike
“I knew Alan (Blakie) was behind me on the bike, and that kind of motivated me to hold the pace, because when you know you’ve got somebody behind you know you don’t want to be overtaken, I pride myself as being a strong biker,” Middleditch said.
“But he did get me on lap two and overtook me for a short period, so again I held back and then on that long straight on the Nicoll Highway I surged and went past him and went into T2 in the lead. Then on the second run it was just a case of getting into your cruising speed and holding it as long as you can. Obviously the U-turn is useful little tool to see where you stand, and I saw that he wasn’t gaining on me and so I cruised all the way to the finish line,” he said.
Middleditch now has the co-lead in the MetaSprint Series with Aquathlon winner Colin O’Shea (the MetaSprint Series overall standings are based on a “two out of three system”, with points earned in the Triathlon and either the Aquathlon or Duathlon), so does Middleditch think he can win the Triathlon and regain the series title he won in 2014?
“Ha ha, can I win it with my ‘handicap’ on the swim? I think it’s going to be a very tall order. Colin can out swim me on 750m by three or four minutes and there’s no way I’m going to make that up on the bike and run, but I’ll try, I mean you never go down without a fight. But you know Colin, he’s a super strong biker, he’s also got a really wicked run on him, so I think with his swim, I don’t think that I’ll get it, but never say never,” Middleditch said.
It was a good day for the famous Middleditch family, with both James’ daughters winning their age groups.
“Yup, both my girls were out there as well. It’s really good when all three of us win, we train together, we race together, so that’s fun,” Middleditch said.
The elder of the Middleditch girls, 16-year-old Louisa, finished sixth-fastest overall women in the main Sprint race, which gave her 16-19 age group crown, while 15-year-old Emma won the Youths title.
The Youths contests, for athletes aged 12-15, are raced over a shorter 1.5km/14.6km/1.5km version of the Sprint course, and in the female event young Ms Middleditch completely dominated the proceedings.
She had opened up a 25-second lead on the next fastest girl Enola de Smet after the opening run, stretched that to over two minutes after the bike leg and then recorded the quickest split on the concluding run to finish off a remarkable victory with an overall time of 41:08. De Smet continued to cycle and run strongly and her reward was to be the second girl over the line. Both De Smet and the third-fastest girl Natalie Hunter were actually competing in the 12-13 sub group of the Youth category, making their achievements more impressive.
The male Youth’s race was anything but a solo domination, instead the trio of Jay Lilley, Matthew Trott and Valentin Van Wersch put on a great show for the big crowd that the Youth and Kids races always attract at the MetaSprint Series races.
The three young athletes couldn’t be split during the opening run leg, and while a poor transition cost Van Wersch some 20 seconds in T1, he caught his rivals on the bike leg and the trio were still together as they dismounted and headed into T2.
Onto to the final 1.5km run, though, and the deadlock was soon broken as Lilley found another gear and stormed away from his two rivals with a superb run. The young Briton crossed the finish line in 38:51, 40 seconds ahead of the runner-up Trott, with Van Wersch a further 18 seconds back in third.
Interestingly, those three boys were the only Youths to go faster than Emma Middleditch, and it might have been even more interesting had the latter competed head to head against the boys, instead of doing what amounted to a time trial in the girls Youths wave.
The final contests of the day, in which some 1,500 duathletes of all ages competed, were the Kids races for boys and girls aged 8 to 11. They were set a 500m/7.3km/500m challenge and they rose to it with aplomb.
Like in the Youths race, the male Kids contest was a three-horse affair, with Veehan Dash prevailing over Lodovico de Ferrari and Marc Feddal, again thanks to a powerful run in the last leg.
The female Kids winner was Ruby Wright, who used a strong bike leg to pull away from a big bunch of girls that entered T1 close together. The best of the rest were Eugenie Van Wersch and Adele Clarsen who took second and third place respectively.
And so the 2017 MetaSprint Series moves onto the concluding Triathlon race at the East Coast Park on April 23. It won’t just be the elite athletes who’ll be chasing overall series glory, all the many age groups in the Sprint, Discovery, Youths and Kids divisions are up for grabs. An exciting morning of action is guaranteed.
For details of the MetaSprint Triathlon, including how to enter, go to www.metasprintseries.com. Full results from Sunday’s Duathlon can also be found by clicking on the same link.