The penultimate Ironman middle distance race of the season did not disappoint, as six athletes punched their tickets to the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Taupo next season with top performances in the Middle East.
Winning IRONMAN 70.3 Bahrain and the accompanying Middle East regional title in the men’s race was Marten Van Riel, with fellow Olympian Henri Schoeman coming home in second, just ahead of Britain’s Max Stapley who had an excellent race in third.
On the women’s side, Bahrain Victorious athlete Kat Matthews ended her season with a big win, whilst teammate Amelia Watkinson secure the runner-up spot ahead of Caroline Pohle.
Pro Men – Marten Van Riel ends season on a high
With a stacked start list full of short course swim stars and front pack long course professionals, it was no surprise to see a sizeable front group come into transition side-by-side in Bahrain, as German Wilhelm Hirsch exited the swim just ahead of South African Schoeman.
From the start of the bike, Van Riel appeared to be setting the tone at the front of the race, with Danish short course athlete Emil Holm bridging the gap to the front after making up a +0:27 deficit from the swim and Hirsch, Stapley, Schoeman, Dixon, Brownlee and South African Nicholas Quenet all in contention.
It then became Van Riel, Brownlee and Hirsch up front and they had powered clear of the rest, who were closely grouped, but disaster struck 5km from T2 for Brownlee as he punctured.
In his absence, Van Riel and Hirsch had close to a minute and a half lead over the rest of the field by the time they entered T2.
Slowly dropping Hirsch, Van Riel looked destined for the win from the first few kilometres of the run, as the question became who would join him on the podium. By the 10km mark, Schoeman had made his move up into second, with Stapley rising to third after passing Hirsch just before the halfway.
Pushing on in the closing kilometres, Van Riel held the gap of roughly a minute to Schoeman, as the South African pulled clear of Stapley, who looked safe in third, with Hirsch now battling it out with Holm, Quenet and Dixon for the minor places.
Holding on strong for the win, Van Riel ended a difficult year triumphantly, holding off Schoeman who despite running an identical split to the Belgian, was forced to settle for second. In third, Stapley made good on his earlier promise to shake it up in Bahrain as three short course athletes gunning for Paris 2024 made the podium.
Pro Women – Kat Matthews closes out 2023 with win
Unsurprisingly in the women’s race, Team BMC star Lucy Buckingham was the first athlete out of the water, with the Brit opening up close to a 30-second lead over next best Pohle of Germany and close to a minute over Danish duo Anne Holm and Sif Bendix Madsen.
Further back out of the water, Ellie Salthouse exited in fifth at +1:35, whilst IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship runner-up Matthews was +2:46 down alongside fellow Brit Kate Curran and Portugal’s Raquel Rocha.
Extending her lead in the early stages of the bike, Buckingham continued to put time into Pohle and the Danish pair, whilst Matthews initially began working her way back up to Salthouse in fifth, but was then unable to make further inroads into the Australian.
Coming off the bike, Buckingham had a handy buffer of +1:40 over Pohle, with Madsen more than two minutes in arrears and the rest of the field, including Holm, Salthouse and Matthews, almost five minutes behind the PTO World #39 after a brilliant bike leg, where she cycled more than a minute faster than her closest competitor.
On to the run, the time gaps started to creep down and Buckingham’s lead started to shrink, with Matthews moving from seventh out of T2 to make up more than a minute in the first 5km, passing Salthouse and New Zealand’s Watkinson in the process.
By roughly the halfway mark, Pohle had halved her deficit to Buckingham, bringing the gap down to just +0:43, with Matthews moving into a podium position but looking likely to catch the two ahead of her, having made up more than three minutes from the start of the run with a rapid first 10km.
Making the pass at 14.2km, Matthews was the first person to overtake Buckingham, but was quickly followed by Pohle and Watkinson, then Salthouse, as the long time leader started to suffer in the latter stages of the run. Up front, Matthews looked strong and in control, with more than a minute back to Watkinson.
Picking up her first middle distance win of the year, PTO World #6 Matthews took the tape by a comfortable margin, as Watkinson finished a strong second after a great run. Pohle, having featured throughout the day, was rewarded for her efforts with third.
Buckingham would complete the race in seventh place, despite having been injured in a crash during the bike leg. Lucy’s manager Annie Frederick told us: “Lucy suffered a crash on the bike during 70.3 Bahrain. She completed the race and is now in hospital undergoing medical checks – we are currently waiting on results from X-rays for injuries sustained.”
IROMAN 70.3 Bahrain 2023 Results
- 1. Marten Van Riel (BEL) – 3:31:21
- 2. Henri Schoeman (RSA) – 3:32:50
- 3. Max Stapley (GBR) – 3:34:20
- 4. Emil Holm (DEN) – 3:34:46
- 5. Gregory Barnaby (ITA) – 3:34:53
- 1. Kat Matthews (GBR) – 3:59:07
- 2. Amelia Watkinson (NZL) – 3:59:43
- 3. Caroline Pohle (GER) – 4:00:17
- 4. Ellie Salthouse (AUS) – 4:00:50
- 5. Anna Bergsten (SWE) – 4:01:03