Two Dutchmen on the top step of the podium at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam: it hasn’t happened for more than ten years, but today of all days, during the European Championships, it happened. On an already historic day Menno Koolhaas broke the course record and finished in 7:36:36 to set the fastest time ever in Almere – and with that he won the European title – while Els Visser finished just above the course record, but nevertheless showed to the world what she is capable of by finishing in a blistering 8:36:25, and crowned herself European Champion.
Menno Koolhaas immediately went on an adventure during the swim – completely in line with expectations. In doing so he was supported by Lukasz Wojt (GER), who had the Dutchman in his sights and so they came out of the water together. With a fine lead over defending champion Kieran Lindars (GBR), rookie Tom Bishop (GBR), Dutchmen Evert Scheltinga and Milan Brons, as well as überbiker Andrew Starykowicz (USA), among others, Wojt and Koolhaas began the bike ride together.
Koolhaas unexpectedly dominant on the bike
Even though Koolhaas feared the bike ride a bit – not necessarily his strongest part, he admitted leading up to the race – it was the Dutchman who quickly rode away from Wojt and thus took the lead on his own. Behind him, several groups formed and the race continued to take shape, but in the end it turned out to be Swede Jesper Svensson who rode to the front and joined Koolhaas just past the 90 kilometer mark. Meanwhile, about two minutes behind the two leaders, a group formed with Starykowicz, Lindars and Wojt. But, no matter what this trio tried; they did not initially get any closer to the leading duo.
Until the last kilometers of the bike, when mainly Starykowicz and Lindars really started to accelerate – which cost Wojt dearly and the German quickly dropped away – and finally joined the leading group ten kilometers before T2. From then on the guys watched a bit to each other in anticipation of what would happen, but no real differences arose in those final kilometers of the bike.
Race is quickly decided during marathon, Koolhaas to record
During the run though, Koolhaas immediately set off at a high pace and already in the first kilometer he grabbed a lead over Lindars. Svensson and Starykowicz had more trouble with the pace and left a bigger gap. No wonder, as Koolhaas ran the first 21 kilometers in 1:17 and was thus on track to break Hogenhaug’s course record (7:37). Under the hot conditions, some athletes cracked, but not Koolhaas. Only in the final kilometers did his pace slacken a bit, but by then he had already laid the foundation for his stunning finishing time of 7:36:36. Once again it proved why Challenge Almere-Amsterdam is among the ten fastest races in the world.
Lindars stumbles across finish line, recovered pretty fast
After the finish of Koolhaas a somewhat intense scene unfolded: defending champion Lindars had a hard time in the final kilometers and was being chased by local hero Milan Brons, who in turn was in the race of his life. Lindars pulled out all the stops to stay ahead of Brons, going so deep that he eventually staggered across the finish line and once on the finish line landed on the ground and was transported by medics. His amazing second-place finish in a time of 7:48:30 thus shifted into the background for a while, but just under half an hour after his finish, he was already walking across the event area again, impressing on everyone that he was doing allright. “I necessarily wanted to finish here. And secure my second place. So that what I did. Unfortunately I don’t remember anything of my finish,” he said with a big smile.
Local Brons third in a time to dream of
Shortly behind Lindars, it was Almeerder Milan Brons who finished third in a time of 7:49:49. This made a boyhood dream come true for Brons to break the 8 hours. His third place at the European Championships was the icing on the cake and all the ingredients for a great day came together.
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Women’s race: training buddies Visser and Kiley on an adventure together
In the women’s race Els Visser experienced a spectacular day. During the swim she set off together with compatriot Marlene de Boer, who eventually proved to be the strongest in the water and could therefore start the bike leg with a small lead. Shortly behind them, Renee Kiley (AUS) and Visser set off, together in pursuit of De Boer.
The two – who know each other from various training courses and are friends – worked out a preconceived plan that way. Working together, obviously within the limits of the rules, they rode at a rapid pace toward De Boer and passed her. De Boer didn’t let herself get crazy at that point and stuck to her own plan. “They were going so fast and I knew it was going to be a long and hot day. I just sticked to my plan,” she would say about that some hours later at the finish line.
Predetermined plan worked brilliantly – Visser European Champion
What followed was a bike leg where Visser and Kiley constantly alternated in pursuit of not only the race victory, but undoubtedly a fast time as well. When the two started the marathon almost together, the women were on course to break Sarissa de Vries’ course record (8:32). It stayed that way for a long time, mainly because Visser immediately took the lead in the race and showed a particularly strong marathon on her own. In the closing stages, of course, Visser also had a tough time, but cheered on by all the crowd and the realization that she would become European Champion, she held her own and eventually won the race in a stunning 8:36:25.
De Boer to wonderful second place, Graesboll Christensen experiences run of her life and comes third
Behind, Marlene de Boer fought her way to an unprecedented second place. The Dutchwoman, who has only been racing as a pro since last year, overtook Kiley to secure silver. She finished in 8:43:09. At the same time, Denmark’s Katrine Graesboll Christensen experienced the run of her life: after a steady race, she started the marathon more than seventeen minutes behind, but she caught up with defending champion Katharina Wolff and eventually Kiley, who was facing a tough run, and thus took the bronze in a time of 8:43:23.