Berkel, Keat take Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN -- Tim Berkel broke away on the bike and held off his rivals with a 2:46:34 run while Rebekah Keat smashed her opposition with a sizzling 4:48:04 bike on her way to another sub-9 hour Iron-distance mark to take the wins at the inaugural Challenge Copenhagen.

Berkel's race-best 4:28:01 split gave him the lead 120 kilometers into the bike and he held on for a personal best 8:07:39 finish. Berkel, in winning his first Iron-distance victory since his 2008 triumph at Ironman Western Australia, held on to his lead thanks to a 5th-best 2:46:54 run along Copenhagen's beautiful waterfront that gave him a 5:13 margin of victory over runner-up Keegan Williams of New Zealand and 9:55 over 3rd place Jens Groenbek, the top Danish finisher.

"Today's win proved I am a good athlete and my win at Ironman Western Australia in 2008 wasn't a fluke by a one-hit wonder," said Berkel. "And today I proved I am not just a bunch rider. A lot of people gave me the label telling me all I do is sit in a pack and run fast. Today I really sucked it up, took off alone and earned my win on the bike."

Keat charged to a women's best 50:21 swim that put just 5 seconds on fellow Australian Belinda Granger. But after her crash, Keat roded like a woman possessed and her dominating bike split put 15:38 on Granger, who has several sub 4:50 Iron-distance bike splits to her credit. But on this day, Granger felt sick and threw up 5 or 6 times on the first lap of the bike, then struggled to roll home with a flat tire the last 10 kilometers of her ride, babying her bike through the sharper corners. Keat then closed with a decent 3:13:09 run to Granger's 3:17:27, hitting the finish in 8:54:36 with a 20-minute, 49-second margin of victory. Camilla Lindholm of nearby southern Sweden set the women's fastest run of 3:11:41 to a 9:26:55 finish in third place.

"Before the race I told my coach Brett Sutton that I had to win a race," said Keat, who has three second place finishes this year at the Iron distance. "I haven’t won since 2007. He told me to ride as hard as I could and set the fastest bike split it'll be yours." Keat added that she was motivated by criticism that she took advantage of riding in packs. "A lot of people said I could not ride and I get help. So I was determined to stay away from everyone and ride hard on my own. Even with my crash I got 4 minutes on the chasers on the first bike lap, and another 8 minutes on the second loop."

The women

Keat somehow survived a scary crash in the first 15 minutes of the bike on roads made slippery by pouring overnight rain that left her bike twisted and bent for the remaining 175 kilometers -- and her knee, shin, hip and elbows bleeding all the rest of the day. "I was really worried," said Keat as her wounds were treated by medical personnel near the finish line. "My front wheel went up on the gutter and my back wheel just slid out. I hit my head really hard. Stupid mistake. I thought my race was gone. My handlebars were crooked, my headset was cracked, my derailleur was rubbing and making crick crick crick sounds, my front wheel was buckled and my knee was hurting. But I just thought 'Stuff it! I'm just going to ride.'"

Keat laughed when she recalled the moment. "I don’t ride straight anyway."

But she does ride fast. Her 4:48:04 split on a twisty, winding, technically demanding 2-loop course was close to the women's Iron-distance world-best bike split set by Paula Newby Fraser in 1992 and only broken by Tyler Stewart a few years ago.

Imagine what she might have done had her bike's alignment been right.

With her coach-ordered flat out ride, Keat found her vaunted sub-3 hours run power was missing. "When I started the run I felt terrible. It was s struggle. I ran 3:13 but it felt like 3:30. I had so many guys pass me it was embarrassing."

Embarrassing? Keat's 4:48 bike split must have left her no worse than 8th at T2 and she finished 13th overall. Her excellent bike split did not leave her with a lot of optimism about competing with Chrissie Wellington. "If Chrissie were here, she would have devastated me on the run. I need to be able to run my best after a bike like this."

Belinda Granger wasn't dwelling on competitive what-ifs but she was lavish in her praise of the first year event race directed by Thomas Veje Olsen and his young crew. "This was the best marathon course I've ever seen in all my years in the sport," said Granger of the three-loop affair that wound along Copenhagen's elegant waterfront that combines the historical and the modern buildings of great beauty and charm. "At first I thought a three loop run course was crazy and I'm going to hate it. But there was not one part of that course that wasn't lined with people cheering and yelling. They kept me going. This race will be a classic."

Camilla Lindholm said her third place finish was the best of a 6-year career. "I was 6th in the Zurich Ironman a year ago. This year I planned to go back but I had a calf injury and registered here instead. I live just across the Oresund bridge from Copenhagen, so I had a lot of people cheering me here."

The men

Keegan Williams was cruising back into town with 5km to go on the bike when a car turned in front of him, he crashed into the car and fell to the ground. "I had dropped back of the main chase pack to get some drinks, some cokes because I was feeling empty. "Luckily I wasn't going too fast and I bounced back up and kept going."

Williams was about 6th when he got off, then proceeded to chew his way past everyone but Berkel. "I had diarrhea the first lap of the run and had to stop 5 or 6 times," he said. "But then I started to feel great and matched Tim Berkel's run. "

Williams said his second place finish here was a step up from his 4th place finish at Ironman New Zealand and a third at Challenge Wanaka. And it provided some welcome good fortune after some recent bad luck. "I got fired from my structural engineering job last week," he said as his fiancee Tracy Hampton looked on. "Now I can really train and do triathlon properly."

Pre-race home country favorite Martin Jensen suffered the fate of many competitors who suffered flats as sharp edges of the roads were exposed by the torrential pre-race rains. Jensen had two flats and ran out of replacement tubes.

Post-race reaction

The first year event in one of Europe's most spectacular capitals was by most measures a success. Copenhagen police estimated the crowds along the marathon course at 125,000. The field was full at 1,600 triathletes. And despite the chaos that ensued when Copenhagen endured one of his biggest overnight rains and forced moving the first transition zone around to avoid flooded corners of the bike racks, the day ended with cheering crowds and sunny skies.

Related image galleries
The Challenge Copenhagen debut gallery
24 hours in Copenhagen gallery

Challenge Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
August 15, 2010
S 2.4 mi. / B 112 mi. / R 26.2 mi.


Elite men

1. Tim Berkel (AUS) 8:07:39
2. Keegan Williams (NZL) 8:12:52
3. Jens Gronbek (DEN) 8:17:34
4. Petr Vabrousek (CZE) 8:20:12
5. Tommy Nielsen (DEN) 8:20:19
6. Jimmy Johnsen (DEN) 8:26:58
7. Bo Ballergaard (DEN) 8:28:01
8. Michael Krueger (DEN) 8:28:32
9. Aleksander Markovic (DEN) 8:31:06
10. Luke Dragstra (CAN) 8:34:43

Elite women

1. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 8:54:36 * 13th overall
2. Belinda Granger (AUS) 9:15:25
3. Camilla Lindholm (SWE) 9:26:55
4. Hillary Biscay (USA) 9:36:59
5. Nicole Best (GER) 9:46:54
6. Susanne Buckenlei (GER) 10:31:36
7. Silvia Blahova (SLV) 10:47:39