French flair rules the roost as new names come to the fore in Bintan

French flair rules the roost as new names come to the fore in Bintan

Words by Alan Grant

As the Bintan Triathlon Festival returned for its ninth year, fresh faces and unexpected joy were the themes atop the Olympic Distance podium, as the French pair of Jean Eichaker and Anne Lavandon stormed away to take the blue ribbon titles.

While the main glory deservedly goes to the OD champions, as always in Bintan, the Sprint Distance race started the action on the Saturday morning. There were quite a few nervous faces around the transition area as dark clouds descended on the picturesque Nirwana Gardens resort and chased away the blue skies which had accompanied the rising sun. Fortunately the rain that fell wasn’t too heavy and by the time the 10am horn sounded, the skies were dry and the choppy sea had almost returned to its previous serene state.

First out of the water after the 750-metre swim was one of Singapore’s best young triathletes Bryce Chong followed closely by a newcomer to Bintan, the Australian Rick Atkinson. The Aussie soon pulled away from Chong on the 20km bike leg and was never troubled again as he added a strong run to win by two and half minutes with a time of 1:05:46. Chong held on for second followed by his great rival, the 15-year-old American student Bret Izzo.

In the ladies races, the champion Jessica Roed had an even more decisive victory than Atkinson, winning by more than four minutes. She was only third after the swim leg, behind both Claire Davis and Samara Talia Pattiasina, but by following that up with the fastest bike and run splits, she left those two rivals behind. Davis was the runner-up with Pattiasina in third.

Another 300 participants joined the podium placers in the Sprint race, with many of those taking part in their first triathlon. No doubt fully hooked on the sport now, some are bound to move up to the Olympic Distance race next year.

As the field assembled for this year’s OD event, conditions were absolutely perfect. The sun had never returned since bidding farewell earlier in the day but it was obvious that the overcast skies weren’t holding any rain. So with a pancake flat sea and temperatures as cool as they get in tropical Bintan, the scene was set for a fast race.

The tide was out as the 500-strong men’s wave splashed into the water at 1.45pm, and so the washing machine effect was at its spectacular best as the athletes ran, jumped and dived their way forward before finally hitting deep water.

First out of the water was Andy Wibowo from Bali with an incredible time of 21:07 for the 1,500m swim leg, which gave him a lead of over a minute from his nearest competitor. Wibowo continued the good work on the fast and rolling 40km bike course, but was eventually caught by Jamie Campbell. This pair looked set to battle it out for the crown on the run course but events were about to unfold behind them that changed the outcome of the race in an unexpected manner.

Eichaker, primarily a long-course specialist, was one of several men making a move. As the long-time frontrunners faded towards the end of the second 5km loop, the Frenchman stayed strong and took the lead inside the final kilometre before storming home to take his maiden triathlon victory with a time of 2:09:08.

Asked if he had entertained any pre-race thoughts of winning, the clearly delighted Eichaker was unequivocal in his response.

“Are you kidding me? Winning was not part of the plan. I have not done OD since 2011 and I only took up triathlon in 2010. Check my time in Bintan in 2011, I think it was 2:30,” said the Frenchman, who was being a little hard himself as he recorded 2:28 in 2011. Still, that’s a big improvement in two years.

Such was Eichaker’s surprise that at first he didn’t even know he was the champion.

“I realized I won after I crossed the line when this young guy from Bali with the build of James Bond congratulated me,” Eichaker said, referring to runner-up Wibowo, who had finished 24 seconds behind.

A further 20 seconds back and taking the final podium place was Morten Christiansen, repeating his third place from 2012. But he only just held on from a fast charging James Middleditch. Spare a thought for Middleditch who has finished fourth three years in a row.

The women’s race unfolded somewhat differently but it too turned out to be a tale of the unexpected.

Having a strong swim is a desirable weapon in any triathlete’s armoury, but as this race showed, it doesn’t guarantee overall success. The first few women into T1, led by Jessica O’Donnell, had a big gap on the eventual podium placers but they all faded somewhat on the bike.

Lavandon on the other hand was zooming through the bike course and recorded the fastest split for the second leg to move into first place. She never relinquished that lead on her way to a comfortable victory but it took her a while to realize that she was the frontrunner.

“It took me a while to believe I was in the lead. Only when I saw the (marshal’s) bike in front of me with the ‘woman’ sign did I understand I was leading. That was about 1k into the run. Then I started to check every U-turn, to see whether a woman was behind me. I only realised I would win in the last kilometre. Four plus minutes of joy,” Lavandon said.
Although an accomplished runner for a number of years, the mother of two took up triathlon less than 18 months ago, making her victory even more remarkable. The French native fully appreciates what she’s achieved.

“Honestly I never expected to win a triathlon ever, and certainly not this one,” she said. “I loved this crossing the finish line experience! Bintan is not a local race, it is renowned in the region. I could feel I was achieving something special and not easy to repeat. I wanted to enjoy it and remember it fully.”

Behind Lavandon, the fastest split by a considerable margin from Victoria Hill saw her surge through the field to finish as runner up, while Elvia Suryadi put in three consistent legs to take the final step on the championship podium.

With both the male and female champions coming from the 40-44 category, it proved once again that the over 40s is one of the hardest places to be an age group triathlete.

Of course life doesn’t begin at 40 in triathlon, it’s the next generation that holds the key to the continued growth of the sport, and if the performances put in by the kids and youths on the Sunday morning of the Bintan Triathlon Festival are anything to go by, the future is bright.

Bright blue skies and a blazing sun provided a glorious setting for the assembled crowd of family and friends, but the heat was extreme as the Youths (for ages 12-13 and 14-15) lined up on the beach for the 9am start. Set a task of a 300m swim, a 12km bike and 3km run, they were going to have to work hard for their finishers medal.

Tim Hagemeister made it look easy, though, taking a big lead on the swim and extending it on the bike, which allowed him to take his foot of the gas somewhat during the run on his way to a very comfortable victory in a time of 45:22. It will be interesting to see what he can do next year when he moves into the adult categories. The runner up to Hagemeister was Kyle Izzo with Robin Staes-Polet coming through for third place.

In the 12-13 boys division, Max Luer took the honours from Russell Liew and Jack Grant.

The Youth girl’s title went to Sasza Koczanowski who put in an equally dominating performance. Indeed, her time of 52:36 beat all but five of the boys taking part.

Amazingly, the second-fastest time was recorded by Sasza’s younger sister, Ana. They didn’t share a podium, though, as Ana was actually racing in the younger 12-13 category, so she took the top step in that race ahead of Louisa  Middleditch and Natalie Devan. What a family double for the Koczanowskis. Chaylee Reeve had the third-fastest overall girls’ time, giving her silver ahead of Tippah Dwan in the 14-15 contest.

Some more great stories came of the Kids races, where the 8-9 and 10-11 year-olds were in action. They raced the same course as the Youths but completed one lap instead of two.

Taking the boys title with a dominating start-to-finish performance was Caleb Jones. But it wasn’t another boy who crossed the line next, that honour went to Emma Middleditch, less than 30 seconds behind the boys champ.

The boys runner-up was Matthew Trott with Joshua Marryatt taking the bronze. Taking silver behind Ms Middleditch in the girls race was Molly Reeve, with Danielle Cherriman finishing third.

The Koczanowski, Middleditch and Reeve sisters look set to have great battles in the years ahead.

Next year is a huge occasion for the Bintan Triathlon as it returns for its 10th edition. MetaSport has grown into one of the premier providers of sporting events in Asia with races such as the Tour de Bintan, the MetaSprint Series and the MetaMan, among others. But it all started in Bintan in May 2005, making it the jewel in their crown. As such, next year’s festival, which takes place from May 17-18, promises to be a celebratory affair and it will no doubt be ringed as a must-race event for most regional triathletes. Come join in the fun.

For more details and full results of the 2013 races, go to .


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