May 22, 2017
While Mark Jansen and Jenny Zenker recorded dominant victories in the centrepiece Olympic Distance events, an amazing edition of the 2017 Bintan Triathlon contained many more headline stories, including a finish-line marriage proposal, a swim-bike-run debut for Indonesia’s top F1 driver and a remarkable triple win for the famous Middleditch family.
Three days of hard racing and family fun at Asia’s No. 1 multisports festival began last Friday afternoon as the competitors and their supporters began to arrive at the tranquil Nirwana Gardens Resort, the festival’s traditional home on the beautiful Indonesian island of Bintan.
The opening event was the Bintan Swim Classic, which set its entrants a task of swimming 1km in the crystal clear and pancake flat waters off the Nirwana Sea Sports Centre. Zenker proved the fastest among all competitors, the German athlete hitting the beach a mere 14 minutes and 43 seconds minutes after entering the water. The leading male was the 13-year-old Shuan Pexton, who would race and star later in the weekend in the Youths triathlon. His time was 15:31.
Already proving to be a big success after just two years of existence, the Bintan Swim Classic can only grow in stature as more leading athletes such as Zenker use it as a perfect warm-up for the main events later in the weekend. That it also allows swimmers as young as 12 to enter, makes it a family friendly feature of the festival program, and as Pexton and a handful of other teenagers showed, the young swimmers certainly merit their places in the race.
For the majority of the participants in the Bintan Triathlon, though, the main focus remains the Sprint Distance and Olympic Distance races on the Saturday.
The former splashed off at 9am with the classic 750m swim/20km cycle/5km run course ahead.
There was a touch of sadness as the athletes in the male wave sped down the beach into the water, as missing from the line-up was 2016 Sprint Distance champion and local hero Oscar Feryanto, who tragically passed away earlier this year. A minute’s silence in his honour was observed before the race.
It was the runner-up to Feryanto last year, James Middleditch, who started as pre-race favourite, but he got a fright when even after putting in the fastest-by-far bike split of the race, he still wasn’t in the lead. That was due to a 16-year-old named Teddy Lee, who thanks to a remarkable 10-minute swim and a nearly-as-impressive bike leg, had a lead of 17 seconds minutes heading out of T2.
But Middleditch is a renowned runner and he quickly chased down and passed young Lee and went on to take the win with a total time of 1:08:34. Lee stayed the course to claim second place, with Alan Grant taking the last step on the overall male podium.
The female Sprint champion had the same name as the men’s winner, but Louisa Middleditch made her victory look a bit easier than her dad did, putting in a impressive wire-to-wire performance. The elder of the two Middleditch teenagers (sister Emma would compete in the Youth race the next day) recorded a time of 1:19:00, which gave her a huge winning margin of five minutes over the runner-up Natalie Anderson, the 2016 Olympic Distance overall champ. Joining Middleditch and Anderson on the 2017 podium was Heidi Groensedt.
Middleditch the elder was “immensely proud” of his daughter.
“It feels absolutely amazing, I mean we’ve been coming here, I think this is my 10th year, for Louisa it’s her eighth year, it’s where she started out her triathlon career, and Bintan has always been special for her. So for her to win outright, as well as me, it’s just so special when two people from a family are both on the podium and both winning overall,” he said post-race.
And so to the main event of the 2017 Bintan Triathlon festival, the Olympic Distance race, over a 1.5km/40km/10km course. While equatorial Bintan is always fairly hot and humid, the OD athletes got a break this year, as an overcast sky provided noticeably cooler temperatures compared to the morning race.
A festive atmosphere prevailed on the beach ahead of the 1:40pm start, as the big crowd of supportive families and friends that help give the Bintan Triathlon its special appeal was swelled by the most of the competitors from the morning’s Sprint contest … not all the Sprint racers were on the sidelines, though, as quite a few hardy souls did the Sprint/Olympic double! Among them was the indomitable James Middleditch.
As the main mass of male swimmers hit the water, a sizeable contingent of men athletes remained on the beach; recognising that the rough and tumble nature of a mass swim start can be daunting for newbies to the sport, race organisers MetaSport introduced a two-wave concept for 2017. Athletes could choose between the “competitive” and “friendly” waves, with an estimated swim time of 35 minutes suggested as a benchmark for the self-seeding.
The latter, with a 2pm start, proved to be popular among those who opted for it and is sure to become a permanent feature of the race.
A few minutes after the “friendly” wave started, the leaders from the first wave were approaching the beach having completed their 1.5km swim. Among the first bunch coming out of the water was Jansen; the Singapore-based Australian has long been one of the region’s top triathletes, but he had never managed to add a Bintan Triathlon crown to his impressive palmares.
It didn’t take him long on the bike course, though, to mark his intentions, as he steadily pulled away from his closest rivals, including Scott Leadbetter from Britain. The 40km Bintan Triathlon course is a fast one; despite a few testing rolling hills, but Jansen’s split of a shade over 61 minutes was extra speedy.
It gave him a lead of just over a minute from Leadbetter heading into transition, with David Watson a further two minutes back in third. The next athlete to hop off the bike was that man Middleditch, who had remarkably moved from 39th after the swim to 4th into T2.
Out front, though, Jansen never seemed troubled by the thought of Middleditch or anybody else, and he duly negotiated the two laps of the undulating but stunning 5km run course with what appeared to be relative ease. A run split of 42:15 added to his swim and bike legs gave him a winning time of 2:09:38.
Behind, the hard-charging Watson had passed the fading Leadbetter into second place, and he duly finished the race in that position, but at some 90 seconds back from Jansen. Leadbetter hung on for third, as Middleditch’s heroic effort to earn a double podium came up one spot short.
Jansen was obviously happy to have knocked the monkey off his shoulder after a few near misses in Bintan.
“It feels good, about time, although it would have been good to have had some of the other guys here as well,” he said, referring to the absence of a few of the other leading local triathletes this year. “But a win’s a win, I’m always happy with a win.”
“I rode the first half of the bike relatively conservatively then just put the hammer down on the last half, then the run is the run. I’ve only got one speed which was fast enough,” he said modestly of his run split, which was still the second fastest of the day.
The Women’s wave started in between the two men’s waves at 1:50pm, but such was the superlative swim put in by Jennifer Zenker, that she had ploughed through half of the men’s “competitive” wave by the time she hit the beach; her swim split of 22:21 was the fastest of the day across both genders.
Zenker’s effort in the water gave her a nearly four-minute lead over the next woman, Megan Gray, and given the strong performances she had displayed in winning the 2017 MetaSprint Series, the German was looking like an odds-on favourite.
She didn’t disappoint and despite having a huge lead she didn’t take her foot off the gas, deciding instead to attack the course hard. Her bike split of 1:03:55 was the fastest among the women by over five minutes, and by adding a 46:02 run (making her “only” the second fastest woman), she crossed the line triumphantly in a remarkable total time of 2:13:31.
Not only did this give her a winning margin of 11 minutes over the runner-up Vicki Hill, her time was only three seconds slower than the third-placed male athlete Leadbetter, AND it was the second-fastest female total time in the 13-year history of the Bintan Triathlon, only 16 seconds off the 10-year-old course record.
Joining Zenker and Hill on the overall podium was Rosanna Bille, who passed Gray on the run.
Zenker was delighted with the win.
“I’m very happy. It was a very good race I thought, very good overall, but also very hard, so it was a strange feeling of being really tired but able to push, and yeah, I tried to do that right up till the end,” she said.
“It’s just such a very nice triathlon location. The water is amazing so what else can you do but swim fast and I knew very well already the bike course, I know these rolling hills, I really like them. And the run, well it’s usually my weakest, but I just tried to concentrate on myself and not worrying if somebody is behind me, run at my own rhythm and today it worked extremely well,” Zenker said.
The best Indonesian performances are also always recognized at the Bintan Triathlon, with local participation numbers increasing every year. In the Olympic distance event the Top 3 male Indonesian’s all finished under the magical three hour mark, led by James Iskandar, then Dick Keefe and Rio Haryanto. The women’s Top 3 were Imelda Djatirman, Maya Djatirman and Riyana Kadarsari.
While a large part of the spotlight is deservedly focused on the elite athletes, some 600 people signed up for the Olympic Distance race alone at the 2017 Bintan Triathlon. Many are battling for age group honours, but most competitors are just out there for the personal challenge that a triathlon provides.
Each finisher has his or her own story, such as Darren Ho, who upon finishing the race in a pretty impressive time of 2:41:22 immediately got down on bended knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him … and she said yes!
Then there was an Indonesian hero from another sport, Formula 1 Grand Prix driver Rio Haryanto, who was dipping his toes into the world of triathlon for the first time.
Haryanto had a blast on his swim-bike-run debut.
“Yeah, I really enjoyed it today, the organisation is very good and the people are very friendly, and I had a really good time,” said Haryanto, who drove 12 F1 races for the Manor team in 2016.
“Absolutely, I want to do it again and again,” he said when asked if he’ll be back at the Bintan Triathlon next year. “I’m going to keep practicing and hopefully I can get a better time next time. I need to improve my bike and also my running, I’m going to work on that.”
Haryanto just missed out on a podium in the 18-24 category, but he was present for the awards ceremony, which in another new move for the Bintan Triathlon, this year took place in the race village immediately after the race.
This proved to be a masterstroke as it allowed all the age group prizewinners to get their podium jerseys and trophies on the spot; in previous years the awards ceremony took place at the evening after-party, which often meant that some “day-tripper” athletes and those with kids racing the next day missed out on receiving their accolades.
Those kids play a huge part in the success of the Bintan Triathlon. They enthusiastically support the adults on the sidelines of the Saturday races and then the roles are reversed the next day in the Kids and Youths contests.
Many of the region’s best young triathletes have helped learn their craft at the Bintan Triathlon, and some of Sunday’s competitors are sure to be challenging today’s leading adults in a few years’ time.
The Sunday action kicked off with the Youth races, for those aged 12 to 15. They competed over a 300m/12km/3km course and the fastest lad of the day proved to be Valentin Van Wersch. The French teen came out of the water neck and neck with Samir Varma, but he quickly rode away from his American rival and built a big lead going onto the run. A fine performance on that leg too saw him clinch the title. Varma was second, with Varun Oberai in third.
Varma wasn’t the second-fastest Youth, though. That honour went to Emma Middleditch in the girl’s race. She too exited the water with company in the shape of Mae Singer and Olivia Feneco, but Middleditch possesses super strong cycling and running skills and she used them to ride and run away from her opponents. Her winning time was only 20 seconds slower than boys winner Van Wersch.
Elizabeth Liau was the girls’ runner-up, with Singer in third.
The Youths aren’t the youngest triathletes at the Bintan Triathlon, and the Kids races for 8 to 11 year-olds were up next. The Kids race over exactly half the distance of the Youths contest.
Charlie Bear Volavka proved to be the strongest boy. In a small pack of swimmers into T1, he once again showed how a strong bike can be a winning tool in triathlon, as he simply rode away from his rivals on the 6km course. Grant Dreyer finished second with Aarya Parab in third.
In the girls Kids race, Harriet Strand was the fastest of the day, putting together a nice swim-bike-run combo to win by 20 seconds from the runner-up Adele Clarsen. Malorie Gell (incidentally from the 8 to 9 sub-age group) was the third-fastest girl.
Traditionally the event closes with the Fun Duo Challenge, designed for families as a non-competitive yet hilarious run and swim event. Excited youngsters and proud parents formed teams that ran a 1.5km route from the finish line to the beach, followed by a short 150m swim. The excitement built as teams exited the water and showcased their craziest finish moves to the joyous crowd on the beach. The best finishes were chosen to re-enact their performance on the awards stage afterwards, with “Team Flembo” narrowly beating “Evan Girls No 2” in a rousing crowd vote.
Amazing energy and ultimate fun at the traditional Fun Duo Challenge
The Bintan Triathlon will be back next year for its 14th edition from May 11-13. For full results of the 2017 race, visit the Bintan Triathlon race results page.
Before that comes another MetaSport event, the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 Bintan on August 20. Many of the athletes racing in the Bintan Triathlon at the weekend would have been using it as a test event for the half-Ironman distance, which last year was voted by AsiaTri.com as having the best IRONMAN 70.3 swim and bike courses in the Asia-Pacific. For full details and to enter, visit www.ironmanbintan.com