Italy’s Gregory Barnaby produced a stunning run to grab a dramatic victory on home roads in the first-ever Challenge Sanremo while Switzerland’s Emma Bilham was a much more clear-cut winner of the women’s race.
Most of the drama in the men’s event was squeezed into the final kilometre as Barnaby surged past long-time pacesetters Simon Viain (FRA) and William Mennesson (FRA).
There was no such turnaround for the women, with Bilham in charge after showcasing her superb descending skills on the spectacular bike course.
Men – Barnaby pounces late on
There were calm conditions for the one-lap swim and it was Sven Thalmann (SUI) and pre-race favourite Pablo Dapena Gonzalez (ESP) who exited the water first with a gap of around 30 seconds on a large chase pack.
Dapena, 10th in the PTO US Open last weekend, would see his race ruined by a mechanical issue on the bike and when things started to settle down it was Viain who took over up front, relishing the up-and-down nature of the technical terrain.
But Mennesson was the one person able to stick with him and the pair battled all the way up the big 17km climb to the Ghimbegna Pass and then back down to T2, with just seconds between them starting the run and a gap of three minutes and more to the rest.
And they were close together during the half marathon – Viain leading by 15 seconds late on – and seemingly set to claim first and second, albeit with the order up in the air.
But that was all shattered in the closing stages by Barnaby who first flew past Mennesson and then Viain to seal a famous win by a handful of seconds as he stopped the clock in 4:11:59.
And Viain not only saw first place disappear but then second too as Mennesson found extra reserves in the last few hundred metres to take the runner-up spot.
The win continued a fine run of form for Barnaby who was fourth at the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships in Samorin.
“It was incredible to win, I can’t believe it,” said Barnaby. “I was a few minutes back on the bike and even the first lap of the run I couldn’t gain anything but then I saw I was catching them on the second and third lap and I really started believing I could win this race and I caught them in the last kilometre.”
Women – Bilham bike skills prove the key
The swim saw in-form Brit Lucy Byram was out of the water first, followed by Alanis Siffert (SUI) and Justine Guerard (FRA).
But it was on the stunning bike course – which featured a descent from the famed Milan-Sanremo cycling monument – that Bilham really excelled.
It didn’t take her long to bridge up to the front three and she wasted little time moving to the head of affairs, with her fearless descending taking her clear.
Lena Berlinger (GER) was the one rival who was able to keep her in sight but by the time of the final sweeping descent to T2, Bilham was in splendid isolation.
And that was how it stayed on the run as she maintained an advantage of around four minutes throughout.
The drama was happening in behind as the podium places swapped around but when it mattered it was French duo Guerard and the fast-finishing Jeanne Collonge who claimed second and third respectively.
And afterwards the new event received a glowing report from its first winner, Bilham saying: “The swim was beautiful, the temperature was perfect, and surprisingly I enjoyed that as I don’t always like sea swims.
“But I love the mountains and it was beautiful up there on the bike. I really like coming to different races and this was a first-time event on a course nobody knows.
“It was exactly the type of course I love – it’s up and down and it’s so technical – you have to be on it from start to finish. I knew the technical sections would play to my advantage, especially as it was still wet.”
Challenge Sanremo 2022 results
Sunday 25 September 2022 – 1.9km / 90km / 21.1km
- 1. Gregory Barnaby (ITA) – 4:11:59
- 2. William Mennesson (FRA) – 4:12:15
- 3. Simon Viain (FRA) – 4:12:43
- 4. Jon Saeveras Breivold (NOR) – 4:13:01
- 5. Roberto Sanchez Mantecon (ESP) – 4:16:06
- 1. Emma Bilham (SUI) – 4:50:10
- 2. Justine Guerard (FRA) – 4:54:26
- 3. Jeanne Collonge (FRA) – 4:57:13
- 4. Nina Derron (SUI) – 4:58:25
- 5. Lena Berlinger (GER) – 5:02:24