Aussies Power To The Top At Challenge Philippines

Matt Burton was the surprise victor in the men’s field, while Melissa Hauschildt dominated the women's race to finish sixth overall.

Photo: Getty Images

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On a day that dawned clear and ultimately reached the high 80s in Subic Bay, Philippines, Australians raced to the top two spots in both the men’s and women’s field at the inaugural Challenge Philippines race. A surprise victor in the men’s field, Matt Burton (AUS), a relatively newcomer to triathlon but an experienced cyclist and a member of Australia’s Satalyst-Giant National Road Series Road Cycling Team, was elated to win his first international triathlon on one of the toughest courses on record. His step up to the professional ranks followed his performance as the fastest Australian age grouper at the 2012 Ironman World Championship, and he jump-started his pro career by posting the fastest bike split at 2013’s Ironman Western Australia. On the women’s side, Melissa Hauschildt (AUS), two-time Ironman 70.3 World Champion, proved pre-race predictions right as she hammered the competition on her way to yet another half iron-distance victory. Not only did Hauschildt top the women’s podium, her effort was good enough for sixth overall in a highly talented field of male pros. One athlete–Germany’s Till Schramm, who finished eighth in the men’s field after suffering a flat tire early on the bike course–had this to say about Hauschildt’s athletic prowess: “I think she’s an even stronger athlete than Chrissie [Wellington]. I predict that, in hot conditions, she’ll be the first female to win a 70.3 overall.”

The Men’s Race
Rasmus Petræus (DEN) predictably led the men out of the swim, followed closely by a flock of Australians: Eric Watson, Greg Bennett, Michael Murphy and Joshua Madder. Petræus held the lead for the early miles of the bike, but unfortunately flatted 10-kilometers before the turnaround, slicing his finger and causing his bike to endure a minor blood bath as he worked to fix the tire. By the halfway point of bike Murphy was powering along in the lead with Bennett hot on his tail a short distance back. Burton, whose swim was five minutes slower than the lead pack of men, was the most impressive athlete on the move, however. He came into T2 in second place, one minute in arrears to Murphy and two minutes ahead of Bennett, his race-best 2:34:28 bike split a testament to the challenging hills on the bike leg.

Chris McCormack (AUS) and Schramm rolled into T2 together, followed closely by Petræus, after the three tackled the final 40-kilometers of the ride together. McCormack beat his two rivals out of transition, but gave both men an encouraging tap on the back as he raced past, an obvious acknowledgement of the shared suffering on the race’s tough course.

Murphy held the lead for the first half of the run, but suffered cramping that slowed his effort. He was eventually caught by a charging Burton who pushed the final miles to reach the finish in first in a time of 4:26:53. Frederick Croneborg (SWE), a beloved fixture on the Asian racing scene since making his full-time home in Phuket, Thailand, used his swift foot speed to lay down the day’s fastest run split (1:19:00) and pass Bennett for third place.

“It’s my mum’s birthday and my first win internationally so Happy Birthday, Mum!” said an obviously thrilled, and somewhat stunned, Burton after crossing the line. “Everyone has been so great over here. And it’s been so special having my girlfriend Kim here with me. I know I’m batting above average here!” he said as she joined him to celebrate in the finish chute.

When asked for three words to best describe the race, Burton replied, “I don’t know. It’s too much for just a few words. I think it almost crushed me. It was the toughest course I’ve ever done. ‘Beautifully challenging’–that’s the best way to say it!”

The Women’s Race
Super swimmer Laura Bennett (USA) was first out of the water in the women’s field, with recent Challenge Melbourne champion Annabel Luxford (AUS) right on her heels and Radka Vodickova (CZE) following a few seconds behind. Hauschildt, the pre-race favorite known for her phenomenal bike and run speed, exited the water 2:20 behind the leaders.

Reports from the halfway point on the bike course had Hauschildt at the head of the women’s field and gaining time on several of the men; she arrived into T2 shortly after the men’s group of Schramm, McCormack and Plateaus, with Luxford less then two minutes in arrears. Emma Pooley (GBR), a World Time Trial Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist in cycling, fitting in a few triathlon competitions prior to turning her focus back to the bike in April, was the third woman into T2, five minutes later than Luxford. Hauschildt pushed the pace each kilometer, holding her lead and ultimately posting the day’s third fastest run split (1:22:03) on her way to the win. Pooley proved herself a fleet-footed runner as well as a powerful cyclist, running only 15 seconds slower than Hauschildt. Her half-marathon split brought her within striking distance of Luxford, but the Australian posted her own impressive effort to hang on for second place.

“The bike really suited me. It was tough!” exclaimed Hauschildt at the finish. “It’s a great course–so different to what we usually get. And such a beautiful run through the forest. When I was passing some of the guys on the run I was hoping I hadn’t gone out too hard. The downhills hurt! But it was really good.”

His Highness Shaikh Nasser Al Khalifa, one of two Princes of the Kingdom of Bahrain competing in today’s event, was equally elated at the finish. “I loved it. I absolutely loved this course,” he gushed, after proudly reaching the third place podium spot in the 25-29 age group overall in a time of 5:33:02.

Challenge Philippines
Feb. 22, 2014
1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run

1. Matt Burton – 4:26:53
2. Michael Murphy – 4:28:41
3. Fredrik Croneborg – 4:29:42
4. Greg Bennett – 4:32:34
5. Mitchell Anderson 4:36:41

1. Melissa Hauschildt – 4:39:26
2. Annabel Luxford – 4:47:04
3. Emma Pooley – 4:47:43
4. Radka Vodickova – 4:52:30
5. Laura Bennett –5:17:55

More coverage from Challenge Philippines.

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