Chris Mintern and Laura Tighe have become the new standard-distance-triathlon National Champions after winning at the Hell of the West in Kilkee, Co. Clare.
An extremely strong field, featuring a number of Triathlon Ireland high performance development athletes, turned out for the Hell of the West, which has been in existence for more than 30 years and is one of the country’s longest running triathlon events.
The famously tough race was the second stop in this year’s Triathlon Ireland Super Series for up-and-coming professionals and doubled-up as the 2016 National Championship over the Standard (olympic) distance.
Competitors would have to battle with a wild sea on the 1,500m swim, face in to stiff winds along the West Clare coast on the 44km bike route and finally tackle a hilly and exposed 10km run along the cliffs to the south of Kilkee before finishing on the promenade in front of a large crowd of onlookers.
HOW THE RACE UNFOLDED
Early fears that heavy seas might force the cancellation of the swim proved to be unfounded when at 09:30am the 29 Cat 1 male athletes got the day’s racing underway with a running start in to the water. A little under six minutes later the women’s race started with a series of Age Group waves following closely behind.
Twenty one minutes later, TI development athlete, Chris Mintern was first to emerge from the sea – the second Super Series race of this season in which he has won the Zone 3 fastest swimmer prime.
He was followed closely by last year’s runner up at Hell of the West, Aichlinn O’Reilly (+19secs), Darren Dunne (+21secs) and Eoin Lyons (+27secs).
In the women’s race – late entrant and last year’s winner Carolyn Hayes emerged first from the water but had company with Siobhan Gallagher just seven seconds behind and the pairing of Laura Tighe and Kirsten Huysamen another 10 seconds back.
Tighe attacked as soon as she emerged from transition and took the lead early on the bike, an advantage she hammered home right through the 44km course.
MINTERN PUSHES ON
Further ahead in the men’s race, Chris Mintern was consolidating his lead over his competitors, holding an impressive average speed of 39.4km/hr to come in to T2 with more than a minute’s advantage over Aichlinn O’Reilly. As he dismounted however it was clear that all was not well with O’Reilly and the Westport-man retired before heading out on to the run, leaving Mintern with a lead of almost 2minutes over Darren Dunne, who headed out on to the run in 2nd place.
Dunne finished second to Bryan Keane with a blistering 5km run split at last week’s Super Series race in Derry but as the 20-year-old later confirmed, he was finding the longer distance difficult. By the time Mintern reached the turnaround point, 5km in to the out-and-back run route he had had opened up an unassailable lead.
Mintern ran an impressive 34.23 on a tough 10km run course and crossed the finish line in 2:03:43 – just under 4mins ahead of Dunne who claimed second place.
One minute later, 18-year-old Killian Tierney was having a great race, moving through the field with one of the quickest run splits of the day to finish on the podium in his first ever olympic distance event.
Speaking after the race, Chris Mintern said he was delighted to win on such a tough course.
“So many big names have won this race before, Gavin Noble and Bryan Keane – amazing athletes so I am just happy to be part of that.”
Mintern described the course as one of the toughest he has ever done: “The swim was like being in a washing machine, you’re being thrown all over the place. On the bike there were tailwinds, headwinds – basically winds coming from all over the place but I just rode as hard as I could. The run is like heading up the side of a mountain and back down again. I was a bit concerned I could get caught on the run so I went as hard as I could and didn’t look back but at the halfway point I knew I had a good lead and from there on I was confident I could win.”
TIGHE WINS WOMEN’S RACE
In the women’s race, Laura Tighe ran confidently to maintain her lead and crossed the line as the winner with a time of 2:19:59. A shocked and delighted Tighe said afterwards that she knew she was capable of winning but needed everything to go her way:
“I’ve trained really hard this year, I am struggling a little bit on the swim compared to the rest of them, I am not doing the same mileage as the rest of the girls but I have upped it and I am steadily trying to progress it.”
“I knew if I had a good swim, my numbers were good on the bike and after last week I proved to myself that I can run as well so I never counted myself out. I knew today that if everything went to plan that I had a really good chance. I believed in myself.”
Last year’s winner Carolyn Hayes crossed the finish line just 51secs down on Tighe with Heather Foley completing the women’s podium, crossing the line with a time of 2:25:30.
1 Chris Mintern 02:03:43
2 Darren Dunne 02:07:49
3 Cillian Tierney 02:08:57
1 Laura Tighe 02:19:59
2 Carolyn Hayes 02:20:50
3 Heather Foley 02:25:30