70.3 debut wins for Ashleigh Gentle, Marten Van Riel in Xiamen

Ashleigh Gentle and Marten Van Riel were impressive in China, where Great Britain's Frankie Sanjana earned a third IRONMAN 70.3 podium of 2019 in Xiamen

Chief Correspondent
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ITU stars win their 70.3 debut races in China

Middle distance racing in China on Sunday showed, once again, that top tier draft-legal athletes are more than capable of racing on the IRONMAN 70.3 circuit and being extremely competitive. If you have a short memory, I think the 2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship proved that.

It was 2018 ITU Grand Final winner, Ashleigh Gentle and Rio 2016 Olympic sixth place finisher, Marten Van Riel, who extended their seasons to top the podium at IRONMAN 70.3 Xiamen.

With the 2020 IRONMAN 70.3 World’s in Taupo, New Zealand falling much later in the calendar (late November), expect to see several more ITU specialists looking to secure an early qualification for an event that can then target post-Tokyo 2020. Just recently, both Hayden Wilde (HERE) and Kristian Blummenfelt (HERE) indicated that would be doing just that when I spoke to them at Super League Triathlon Malta last month.


Pro Women

While this may have been her first race over the distance, Gentle is no stranger to a time trial bike. Just a week earlier she won a record-breaking seventh title at the Noosa Triathlon, the non-drafting icon of the Australian triathlon season. She’s also class athlete, with a host of WTS, World Cup and Mixed Relay Gold medals on her extensive C.V.

Gentle exited the swim alongside Julie Lemmolo (FRA), with the U.S. duo Robin Pomeroy and Lesley Smith 1:40 back. In her weakest discipline, Great Britain’s Frankie Sanjana lost just over five minutes in the water.

While Gentle was never headed in the race, Sanjana showed once again that she is developing some serious biking strength. Her 2:16:00 was almost five minutes quicker than Gentle, and allowed her to ride through the field – just 59 seconds in arrears – at the dismount line. Remember, Frankie came into triathlon with a background in Elite rowing but no particular swim / bike / run experience – kudos where it’s due, she has committed to the process and is really starting to get her rewards. That swim is still a work-in-progress, and speaking to her last night she did say, “Fun as it is overtaking most of the field on the bike course, I can’t help feeling it would be more fun if I was riding away from them instead!”.

A 1:21:10 half from Ashleigh closed out her first race over the distance with a win, while Lesley Smith (1:23:16) was able to pass the Brit (1:28:14) for second. For Sanjana, that’s now a win (Les Sables d’Olonne), a second (Shanghai) and a third in recent months.

Pro Men

For the men, Van Riel and Josh Amberger (AUS) dropped the field on the swim, building a gap of just over 90 seconds to the chase back that was headed by 2012 IRONMAN World Champion, Pete Jacobs. That would be ‘game over’ in terms of the top two position as the pair could not be split on the bike, both dropping 2:01 bike splits to start the run six and a half minutes clear of 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion, Tim Reed.

Van Riel’s complete race continued, a 1:13:56 half marathon – the fastest of the day – building a winning margin of almost four minutes over Amberger, with Reed a full 10 minutes back completing the podium.

IRONMAN 70.3 Xiamen, China – Sunday 10th November 2019
1.9km / 90km / 21.1km


1st – Ashleigh Gentle (AUS) – 4:16:05
2nd – Lesley Smith (USA) – 4:20:51
3rd – Frankie Sanjana (GBR) – 4:23:35
4th – Robin Pomeroy (USA) – 4:35:17
5th – Kate Bevilaqua (AUS) – 4:37:58


1st – Marten Van Riel (BEL) – 3:44:26
2nd – Josh Amberger (AUS) – 3:48:24
3rd – Tim Reed (AUS) – 3:54:29
4th – Kevin Collington (USA) – 3:58:22
5th – Leigh Anderson-Voight (AUS) – 3:58:58

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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