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Challenge Wanaka 2023 titles captured by Jack Moody and Grace Thek

New names added to the Challenge Wanaka winners list on Saturday, courtesy of Jack Moody and Grace Thek

Chief Correspondent
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It all came down to the run on Saturday at the Integrity Homes Challenge Wanaka. Once the trainers were on, it was Jack Moody and Grace Thek who would top the podium on New Zealand’s South Island.

Here’s how it played out.

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Pro Men

A group of six were locked together at the end of the swim in the men’s Pro race, namely Caleb Noble (AUS), Jack Moody (NZL), Mike Phillips (NZL), Sam Osborne (NZL), Fraser Walsh (AUS) and Guy Crawford (NZL). The headline name heading into the event was the ever popular Sebastian Kienle (GER), at the start of his retirement tour.

Sebi is no stranger to chasing on the bike, and his swim deficit of 90 seconds was well within his abilities to close. Did he have the early season form and jetlag recovery, to do what he’s done to many times before?

As the 90km ride at the ‘world’s most scenic triathlon’ progressed, that large lead group that headed the swim, soon split. It was Phillips and Noble who got away, but around the halfway mark, the Phillips pressure also got dispatched of Noble too, leaving the home athlete solo at the front.

From further back, as expected, Sebastian Kienle was moving through the field on two wheels, and Australia’s Matt Burton was matching him. They caught and passed everyone bar Mike Philipps, leaving the pair 2:20 back starting the half marathon run. Having set the pace in the swim and bike legs, Philipps – previously second and third in Wanaka – had the chance to potentially crack that top step of the podium. He also had Noble (4th, +3:34) and Jack Moody (5th, +4:05) chasing him down.

Onto the run and Kienle moved clear of Burton in the chase of Phillips, but Jack Moody was the man on the move and absolutely storming through from fifth place. Moody took his first Pro win at the end of 2022 in Taupo, and was seemingly on a path to quickly add another.

Around a minute back at the halfway mark, Moody’s charge to the front continued on the challenging run course, and he closed out the victory with a fastest of the day run split of 1:18:32. Phillips and Kienle had similar run times (1:24:58 and 1:25:11), to fill position two and three at the finish.

“I had a really good swim and came out where I needed to be,” said Moody of his race. “Right up front coming out of T1 and the boys were working it, there was a group of three of us coming through town but I dropped off after a silly little tumble. I stuck to my own game plan after that and settled in for a pretty long 90k.

“Watching the big Australian and German power houses come by on the bike is a pretty humbling experience but stayed positive. I knew my run was in good shape. Recently I haven’t been able to show the running pedigree I was originally known for so it was good to have that card up my sleeve.”

Pro Women

Winner recently of the Tauranga Half, Rebecca Clarke (NZL) took and early lead in the swim. Exiting the water in 24:44 from the opening 1.9km, Clarke was 20 seconds ahead of Lotte Wilms (NED), the winner in last year of 70.3 events in Geelong and Sunshine Coast. That duo were more than a minute and a half clear of Grace Thek (AUS), Els Visser (NED) and Courtney Gilfillan (AUS) in the small female Professional field.

Things got really interesting on the bike, as while Clarke maintained her position at the front, she was joined by the fastest rider of the day, Els Visser. Grace Thek was also closing her small swim deficit too, and while Lotte Wilms was a DNF, it would still leave three of the four remaining starters with a half marathon to decide the champion.

Locked together at the end of the bike, it was Grace Thek who said her goodbyes and quickly hit the front, and would not be headed. Via a 1:31:04 split on the tough run terrain, Grace added victory to her second place earlier in the month at IRONMAN 70.3 Tasmania. Having also got married, it’s been a fine start to 2023 for the Aussie.

Challenge Wanaka 2023 - Grace Thek
Photo Credit: Ray Tiddy

Els Visser crossed the line two and a half minutes later via a 1:33:35 run split, with Rebecca Clarke completing the podium.

“That was stunning but brutal!” said Thek following her Challenge Wanaka win. “There was no real time to ease off throughout the whole course, it was full gas the whole way! It was really fun. I come from a cross country background so I like the trails but it’s been a while since I’ve been on them so it was pretty tough. I’m stoked to take the win here. It’s my first Challenge win so that’s really special and it’s great to do it in such a beautiful place.”

Integrity Homes Challenge Wanaka Half 2023 Results

Saturday 18 February 2023 – 1.9km / 90km / 21km

Pro Men

  • 1. Jack Moody (NZL) – 3:58:01
  • 2. Mike Phillips (NZL) – 4:00:52
  • 3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) – 4:02:57
  • 4. Caleb Noble (AUS) – 4:06:44
  • 5. Sam Osborne (NZL) – 4:08:22
Challenge Wanaka 2023 Men podium - Jack Moody, Mikie Phillips, Sebastian Kienle
Photo Credit: Sean Beale

Pro Women

  • 1. Grace Thek (AUS) – 4:32:30
  • 2. Els Visser (NED) – 4:34:59
  • 3. Rebecca Clarke (NZL) – 4:40:04
  • 4. Courtney Gilfillan (AUS) – 5:05:31
Challenge Wanaka 2023 Women podium - Grace Thek, Els Visser, Rebecca Clarke
Photo Credit: Ray Tiddy
John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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