9 Apr 2022
4 min read
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Aurelien Raphael sprinted to the Arena Games Munich title in Germany, the French star finally delivering on his SLT promise as the pre-race favourites failed to deliver. Australia’s Max Stapley and home hero Justus Nieschlag would complete the podium
“It was a great competition and I was really happy to win,” said Raphael, 33, at the finish, the oldest athlete in the field showing the multi-national field a clean pair of heels on the final run leg to secure the victory, yet another for France in SLT history.
In contrast to the women’s event that was dominated from the get-go by Britain’s Beth Potter, the men’s race came down to a showdown on the final 1km run leg of Stage 3. Five athletes were all in contention, but 2007 junior world champion Raphael powered to the front, rolling back the years as the pre-race favourites and stars of 2021’s classic finale at SLT Malibu, Alex Yee and Marten Van Riel, languished in the final places.
Following last year’s debut German showing, Super League Munich was Super League Triathlon’s second visit to the major tri nation, the setting being the Olympiapark in Munich, Bavaria, the venue for the 2022 European Games in which triathlon will take part.
Today’s format saw Stage 1 host a 200m pool swim, a 4km turbo trainer bike and 1km treadmill run, before Stage 2 reversed that order with a 1km run giving way to a 4km bike and 200m swim. The classic tri format of a 200m swim, a 4km bike and 1km run would return in Stage 3 to decide the winner. Olympic Games qualification points also on the line, while the event was part of the inaugural esports Triathlon World Championship.
With a fresh partnership with World Triathlon, the morning saw athletes qualify for the final race via a heat that consisted of two swim/bike/run stages. In Munich the qualifiers were the top three in each heat plus the two fastest losers.
Stage 1’s 200m swim witnessed France’s 33-year-old Aurelien Raphael control the pace at the front, but America’s brilliantly-named Chase McQueen was first to exit the water ahead of the Frenchman.
Onto the Tacx turbo trainers, and the big news was Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Alex Yee dropping off the rear, 4secs adrift at the 1km stage. Bar Yee, the contenders were all in a group, a magnificent multisport seven drafting together on the Zwift circuit in a bid to drop the formidable runner. The 24-year-old’s deficit was 10secs onto the run. How much would riding alone without the benefit of slipstream harm Yee’s chances on the run?
Raphael would lead the field ahead of Super League regular Marten Van Riel of Belgium on Stage 1’s 1km run, but the big talking point was Gordon Benson’s technical treadmill troubles.
A pause in proceedings gave both athletes and spectators a breather on Stage 2’s 1km run as Gordon Benson’s treadmill was experiencing technical difficulties. Would the break benefit Yee? All were running faster than 20km/h and Yee was instantly back in the mix – also present was Aussie Max Stapley, but Yee would be first onto the turbos for Stage 2.
As Benson and McQueen pushed the tempo, SLT star Marten Van Riel was a casualty of the 4km bike’s frenetic pace, falling off the back and some 20secs down by the finale. There would be much to play for on the final 400m swim.
German star Justus Nieschlag had been lurking out of the lead positions but came to the fore on the swim, the 2020 Arena Games Rotterdam champ touching the wall first to win Stage 2 ahead of McQueen.
The Pursuit-style start of Stage 3 would see Raphael hold a 4sec advantage over Stapley and McQueen, with Nieschlag also within touching distance. The two pre-race favourites had plenty to do, with Yee 13secs back and Van Riel 27secs in arrears.
That order of Raphael, Stapley, McQueen and Nieschlag would remain at the end of the 200m pool swim, the athletes taking to the bike without even clipping into the bike shoes, such was the intensity of the racing. Also in the reckoning was the reigning Italian national champion, Gianluca Pozzatti. In contrast to the women’s event, the Arena Games Munich victory would come down to a 1km all-out sprint between five international contenders from Germany, Italy, France, Australia and the USA.
To raucous home applause, Nieschlag was first to launch onto the treadmill ahead of Raphael. Yet it was the French star who powered to the front by the halfway stage and continued to hold the advantage to the finishing line, holding off Stapley by just 1.2secs and Nieschlag by 5.3secs. Pozzatti and McQueen would complete the top five, but the bragging rights would belong to Raphael. A fascinating battle awaits in London on the 23rd of April…
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