June 10, 2019
Colin O’Shea and April Rice delivered a pair of dominating performances to win the blue-ribbon Olympic Distance titles and a cheque each for $750 on Saturday as the Bintan Triathlon celebrated its 15th anniversary with a spectacular return to the Bintan Lagoon Resort venue where Asia’s top swim-bike-run festival started in 2005.
Back at that inaugural Bintan Triathlon there were just 355 athletes, but the 2019 edition of the multisports carnival saw just shy of 1,300 competitors take to the start line in one or more of seven events spread over three days: the Sunset Swim Classic, the Sprint Distance Triathlon, the Olympic Distance Triathlon, the Youth Triathlon, the Kids Triathlon, the Fun Duo Challenge and the Island Ride.
The Olympic Distance race is always the centrepiece of the weekend and a big crowd had gathered on the stunning Bintan Lagoon beach to watch the elite wave of athletes get things going just after lunchtime on Saturday afternoon. Conditions seemed perfect, with the morning rain of the Sprint race gone and the temperature nowhere near as hot as it has been at some previous editions of the race. The warm, flat and crystal-clear sea looked ideal too, but a big dent in the marker ropes for the opening leg of the 1,500-metre course showed the swimmers would have to deal with a significant right-to-left current.
Elite swimmers have no problem with tough conditions, though, and O’Shea showed he deserves that description as he came out of the water nearly two minutes ahead of everybody else, with a split of 24 minute and 14 seconds. This meant the Irishman was well into the 40km bike course before his closest rivals had even hit transition. Alex Thio and Jo Friedmann were the next men into T1 and they too had a big gap of some 60 seconds over the rest.
The bike course largely covered the same roads as previous editions of the race but with a different layout due to the switch back to the Bintan Lagoon HQ from the Nirwana Gardens home of the past 10 years. The main effect of the change was that the tough Ria Bintan section of the course came near the end of the circuit, and this coupled with the undulating last 3km back into the resort, meant the athletes had to deal with a rather hilly final 10km.
Again, though, the stiff cycling test didn’t seem to bother O’Shea, and armed with that two-minute buffer, he could even afford to hold something back with a view to the 10km run to come. He obviously didn’t hold too much back, as his split of 66 minutes dead was only 10 seconds slower than the fastest cyclist on the day, 2013 Bintan Triathlon champ Jean Eichaker. With Thio and Friedmann both losing time to O’Shea on the bike, the Irishman had actually increased his advantage to over three minutes going into the run. Friedman was still the lead chaser with a group of athletes including Eichaker, Thio, Salvador Alacorn Alacio and Daniel Palmer in hot pursuit of him.
But none of those men could catch or even get anywhere near O’Shea as he showed what front-running was all about with a masterly performance on a run course that proved to be as tough as it was beautiful. A 5km loop done twice, it featured a long section of soft sand followed by the ups and downs of the resort’s stunning Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. O’Shea covered the 10km in what looked on paper like a relatively slow 43:29, but the fact that his split was the second-fastest of the day among a stellar group of athletes, reinforces the testing nature of the final leg.
O’Shea’s masterclass across all three triathlon disciplines gave him a winning time of two hours, 15 minutes and 35 seconds, which was a remarkable seven minutes quicker than the eventual runner-up Palmer. Eichaker rounded out the elite podium a further minute back. The podium placers didn’t just get trophies this year, with cash prizes going to the first three overall athletes. The new champ O’Shea was presented with an over-sized cheque for $750, Palmer received $450, while Eichaker took home $300.
O’Shea was understandably delighted with his win, especially after finished second and third on previous attempts at the race.
“It is a very special feeling to win the Bintan Triathlon on the 15th anniversary. It is an event with a great history and it is nice to be on the winners list with some illustrious names of past winners,” said O’Shea, who revealed that the swim was indeed the key to his triumph.
“I have worked hard on my swim this year and was happy the work paid off again today. Thankfully I had a big lead so was able to focus in on a steady effort on the bike. Despite the big lead I had on the run it was still not easy as it was a very challenging course. I was grateful to see that finish line at the end,” he said.
O’Shea praised the new course even if acknowledging its difficulty.
“This was definitely a more testing course in all three disciplines. On the swim athletes faced quite a strong right-to-left current and many ended up swimming a much longer distance. The bike course was a bit more undulating than past events. It had a tougher start off the swim with a decent climb so no chance for the heart rate to settle and then the last 10km was all hills so no respite before the run. And the run itself was far, far tougher than the old course. Given the course, hats off to all that completed in the various disciplines. Everyone out there earned that medal!”
In the women’s race, Rice was just as dominant a champion as O’Shea had been among the men, with a strong swim again the foundation to victory. Rice’s swim split of 29:32 wasn’t the fastest, but it was the second quickest just 11 seconds behind the first women to hit the beach, Asihta Aulia Azzahra. Crucially for Price, though, her swim time was over three minutes quicker than the other pre-race favourite Vicki Hill, a former ITU long-course world champion.
Rice kept up the strong work on the bike leg and while Hill ate into the deficit by some 90 seconds during the 40km journey through the Bintan Resorts zone, Rice still had a hefty advantage as she left T2 to tackle that punishing run course. Hill’s favourite weapon is her run, and she might have been expected to chase down Rice, but the opposite happened as Rice put in another powerful performance over the 10km. Indeed, she notched up a second fastest split of the day to give her a resounding victory and with the crown one of those big cheques for $750. Her winning time was two hours, 33 minutes and 48 seconds, with Hill four-and-a-half minutes back in second and the considerable consolation of $450. Rounding out the overall podium and taking home $300 was Anna Tipping.
The new champion was thrilled with her victory, which came at just her second attempt over the Olympic distance.
“It felt truly incredible to cross the line in first place! And I had no idea I would be receiving a big cheque, so that was of course a welcome surprise,” said Rice, who revealed that while she had come to Bintan hoping to be competitive, she didn’t expect to win.
“I was pleased to see no pros participating this year, that was certainly to my advantage. I saw Victoria on the run and was worried she would catch me, but it was a tough run for both of us and luckily I was able to maintain my lead,” Price said modestly.
“The event was a ton of fun and extremely well organised, as always. I thought the race course was challenging, with the sand and gravel section of the run particularly challenging,” she said.
And helping to show why the Bintan Triathlon festival is as popular as it is, the elite women’s champ also added a few words about the Sunday morning Fun Duo Challenge.
“I loved the fun duo course this year which I did with my six-year-old daughter. MetaSport does a terrific job at making this event child friendly and I hope my girls will enjoy competing at it themselves in the years to come!”
Sunset Swim Classic
While the Bintan Triathlon has the Olympic Distance race as its centrepiece and concludes with the Fun Duo Challenge, it begins on the Friday afternoon with the Sunset Swim Classic.
This relative newcomer to the festival program has quickly become a popular event, with the age entry level of 12 years making the 1km-distance race another family-friendly option. The fastest fish for this year were Marco Boldrini among the males and Melanie Speet in the women’s field. Boldrini was a clear winner, exiting the water nearly two minutes ahead of the rest with a time of 16 minutes and 38 seconds.
Speet was actually the next best swimmer after Boldrini, but her margin of victory in the female stakes was much closer. She came out of the water together with Reilly Gross-Hodge and only prevailed over the teenager on the short sprint up the beach to the finish line. The third-fastest woman, but over a minute behind, was Megan Gray. The second male in the Sunset Swim Classic was Michael Priddes, with the teenager Dylan Jones in third.
Sprint Distance Triathlon
Day two of the Bintan Triathlon opened on the Saturday morning with the Sprint Distance race. Ahead of the athletes was a 750m swim, a 20k bike ride and single lap round the 5km run course.
The day stared brightly enough but as the athletes gathered on the beach, some dark clouds rolled in from the east and began to empty their load just before the starting horn sounded. While the mini squall left wet roads on the bike course, the rain didn’t amount to much and indeed left the athletes with some relatively cool temperatures to compete in.
The biggest challenge for the Sprint Distance competitors ended up being that left-to-right current, which was much more pronounced in the morning than it was for the Olympic distance race a few hours later. Sprint Distance triathlons usually contain a large proportion of rookies dipping their toes into the swim-bike-run world and so might not be as strong swimmers as more seasoned athletes. So while quite a few of the inexperienced swimmers were dragged off course, the experienced MetaSport crew in kayaks and jetskis kept the participants safe.
Sprint Distance triathlons are also often the testing ground for youngsters stepping up from the Youth ranks, and a bunch of teenagers were prominent in the action on Saturday morning.
A pair of them, Valentin Van Wersch and Samir Varma, were first out of the water, by the considerable margin of 45 seconds from the next fastest swimmer Benoit Besnier. The two rising stars then sped round the bike course together at a tightly monitored draft-legal distance, doubling their lead over Besnier in the process. But while they left T2 together, soon after it became a one-man show as Van Wersch put the foot down and dropped his rival on his way to a famous victory. His winning time was one hour, five minutes and 31 seconds. While Varma faded a bit down the stretch, Besnier was running almost as fast as the winner, and he came through to claim second place some two minutes back, with Varma holding on for third.
It was only two years ago that Van Wersch was battling with Varma for the Youth title at the Bintan Triathlon, with the former again prevailing that day. Another notable name won the female Youth title that day in 2017 and actually split the two boys – Emma Middleditch.
Middleditch graduated to the Sprint ranks in style last year, winning the women’s title and finishing third overall across both genders. So this year she had the added pressure of being defending champion. Middleditch is now an established member of the Singapore national team that will compete in this year’s SEA Games, but didn’t have her own way for the whole race on Saturday, though, finishing some 40 seconds behind the fastest swimmer Melanie Speet. However, an incredibly fast trip through T1 saw her emerge onto the bike leg already in the lead and from there, baring a mechanical, it was always going to be a matter of how much she was going to win by, not if she would triumph.
Middleditch put in the fastest bike split by two minutes and the quickest run mark by three minutes, which together with her speedy swim gave her a total winning time of 1:10:35. The runner-up was the 2017 Sprint champ, an athlete with a familiar name, Emma’s big sister Louisa Middleditch. On this occasion the younger sibling won by over six minutes. Sophie King took the final spot on the overall podium.
The Sprint race at next year’s Bintan Triathlon is bound to feature some of the youngsters who competed in the Youth event (for 12-15 year olds) last Sunday morning. The Youths faced a 300m swim/10km cycle/3km run course.
Pedro Hutchinson emerged as the fastest male youth of the day, but he had to do it the hard way. Four athletes – Dylan Jones, Lucas May, Farrell Wihandoyo and Jacob Von Harrach – were ahead of him going into the last leg, but he ran them all down to break the tape first in a time of 38 minutes and 35 seconds. Von Harrach was the runner-up, with Muhammad Zubair Mazlan finishing third thanks to a storming run.
The female Youth race saw Sunset Swim Classic runner-up Reilly Grose-Hodge hit the beach first, but she was closely followed by a bunch of girls, including Fleur Helmantel and Eugenie Van Wersch. While Grose-Hodge faded on the bike leg, the other two girls pulled away from the rest of the field on that second leg, with Helmantel hitting T2 with a clear lead. A strong run saw her maintain the lead and secured the title. Van Wersch was second, with Harriet Strand in third.
Next up were the Kids, 111 of them! The boys and girls aged 8 to 11 were set a 150m swim/5km cycle/1.5km run challenge.
Go Fujimoto was the fastest mini-triathlete of the day, winning the boys race ahead of Daan Swaving and Tiago Acosta Ceccarini. The fourth-and fifth-fastest kids were two girls, Eloïse Kerleroux and Rosalie Van Echtelt. Kerleroux took the crown by just four seconds from Van Echtelt, and indeed she was just beaten by two-tenths of a second for third across both genders. Jeanne Lameyse was the third-fastest girl.
The final “competitive” event of the Bintan Triathlon festival was the Fun Duo Challenge, which saw an adult and a kid team up for a 1.5km run, a 150m swim and a dash up the beach to the line, with the added twist that the most original finish, not the fastest team, was declared the winner. With the entry age set at just four years old, it’s the ultimate in family friendly, and is always the perfect way to send off the festival.
One of the many great things about the Bintan Triathlon festival is that because the events on the race program are spread out over three days, it’s possible for athletes to take part in up to four of the seven events on the card. Many mums and dads who raced on the Saturday watch their children on the Sunday morning and even take part in the Fun Duo Challenge with them. Four multi-event names stood out at the 2019 edition, though, Albert Wijaya, James Middleditch, Martin Reynolds and Angus Wippel, who not only completed both the Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons on the Saturday but performed at a top level.
Wijaya was fifth overall in the Sprint, then took first in his age group (18-24) and eight overall in the Olympic; Middleditch was fourth overall in the Sprint and won his age group (40-49), then was 10th overall in the Olympic and third in his age group (45-49); Wippel finished second in his Sprint age group (50+) before winning his Olympic race (50-54); while Reynolds was eighth overall in the Sprint and won his age group (50+) in the Sprint, then backed up with fourth age group (50-54) in the Olympic … and for good measure he took part in the Sunset Swim Classic too!
But the Bintan Triathlon is never just about the leading athletes. It’s also about the rookies and people who have a story to tell. Of the almost 1,300 competitors at the 2019 edition, an incredible 27 percent of them were taking part in their first triathlon. Most of them were just taking part for the experience and to hopefully cross the finish line. At the other end of the scale, others like Liam Winston and Craig McTurk both crossed that finish line for the 15th time … yes, they’ve competed in every edition of the Bintan Triathlon.
Like most triathlons, men still outnumber women at the Bintan festival, but it’s encouraging to see the gap closing. Back at the inaugural race in 2005 only a smattering of women took part, but this year some 34 percent of the total number of participants were females, and it’s a trend which has been growing in the right direction for years.
Among those women, at least two flew in from Europe especially for the race. Loes Geerlings came from the Netherlands and competed in the Olympic distance race, while Louisa Middleditch made a late dash from studies in Scotland to ensure she attended her beloved Bintan Triathlon. She took to the stage at the Saturday night dinner party to explain that she first took part as an eight-year-old and that this edition was her 10th start.
Also telling his story was Niall McGuiness, who took up walking and cycling after being told 10 years ago he had just five years to live. This commitment to a healthier lifestyle eventually led to a marathon and then his first Bintan Triathlon last year when he did the Sprint race. This year he completed the Olympic distance race and will take on the Ironman 70.3 Bintan race this August.
The Bintan Triathlon is full of such inspiring stories every year, and there are sure to be more when the race returns in 2020 for the 16th edition.
Visit www.bintantriathlon.com for results of this year’s race. The race date for 2020 has been set for 5-7 June.