Record number participants in 2019 Hell’s Gate triathlon

With a record number of participants, some 70 in total, another successful edition of the Hell’s Gate Triathlon took place on Saba on Saturday January 19. The unique sports event contained a new element this year: running through the recently established Mount Scenery National Park.

The triathlon keeps growing, said a proud Peter Johnson who together with Koen Hulshof formed the main team that organized the event. Last year there were 60 participants and 38 starters. Participants not only hailed from Saba, but also came from neighboring islands, St. Maarten, St. Martin and St. Eustatius and as far away as the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Bonaire, Curaçao and Aruba.

The 2019 Hell’s Gate Triathlon was again won by Gregory Pigeon from St. Martin with an impressive total time of 1:45.04. Pigeon has already won the Saba triathlon multiple times. Jeffrey de Wolf from Curaçao came in second with a total time of 1:58.15 and Kay-Arne Heskes from St. Maarten in third with 2:04.42. There were 23 individual male participants and eight female individual participants.

James Granger from Saba during the 7km trail run which had an elevation gain of 350 meters which took participants on a rough, uneven and sometimes slippery course and barely any flat areas. (Photo by Kai Wulf)

The fastest woman was Nicole Erato from St. Maarten who completed the race at 2:12.26. Last year, she was also the female winner. Number two of the females was Sandra Garnier from St. Maarten with a total time of 2:26.39, followed by Emma Figures from Europe with 2:30.26.
Eight teams of two or three members participated. The fastest team was Rovan Osman and Gert van Zanten from St. Maarten with a total time of 2:27.17. The sole youth team, consisting of Caleb Renee, Mano Zaegers and Zachary Johnson, all from Saba, did well with a total time of 2:48.15.

The triathlon started at Fort Bay Harbor where the 48 starters swam 800 meters. Then it was uphill with the bike from Fort Bay Harbor through St. John’s and Windwardside to the top of the Mountain Road on Mt. Scenery, a distance of 7km with a 600m elevation gain. From there, the participants ran 7km with a 350m elevation gain along the Bottom Mountain trail, up to Troy Hill, along the Sandy Cruz trail, through Upper Hell’s Gate and back to Windwardside where the race finished in front of Bizzy B.

A large part of the run went through the Mt. Scenery National Park, established in September last year. “We are really proud of our new national park,” Johnson told the participants during the reception and dinner at Queen’s Gardens the evening before the triathlon.

What makes the Saba triathlon so special, apart from the uphill challenge? “In other triathlons you just show up and participate. We are like a family. The evening before we have a drink and a dinner, and we have a closing event in the evening of the triathlon. Also, it is a very different run through the national park and the biking and running of many hills, some of them very steep. The course is magical and difficult. It takes the participants through beautiful areas of nature which we are very proud of. The triathlon showcases the best of Saba,” said Johnson.

The triathlon has a lot of support from local businesses and there are different sponsorships. Johnson emphasized that the Saba Triathlon Foundation is a non-profit organization that also supplies bikes to promote cycling on the island. In October every year, a high school mini triathlon takes place.

During the reception and dinner on Friday evening, Johnson expressed his deep gratitude to the 60 volunteers who helped direct the participants, who manned the water stations and a number who served as time keepers. Six volunteers were Dutch marines who came over from St. Maarten. Four marines participated in the race. Johnson specifically thanked the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) for clearing and maintaining the trails, and Trisport St. Maarten which provided important support. Juan Pablo Piscione of Trisport was one of founding members when the Saba triathlon started 15 years ago.

A group photo of the participants of the 2019 Hell’s Gate Triathlon at the finish in Windwardside.

Saba Commissioner of Sports and Culture Rolando Wilson welcomed the participants at the start at Fort Bay Harbor. Saying that he found it “incredible” to see such a large and diverse group taking part, Wilson complimented the organizers for once again facilitating this event of “physical endurance and commitment.” He thanked the sponsors and the Saba Triathlon Foundation for their “dedication to promote physical fitness and our beautiful island Saba.”

The triathlon enjoys great support among the residents of Saba who always turn out in large numbers to cheer on the participants. The triathlon recently received very positive coverage in two triathlon magazines, the Tri For You magazine from Germany and the Transition magazine of the Netherlands Triathlon Federation. Johnson said he hoped that next year’s triathlon will be even bigger than this year.

The male and female winner of the 2019 Hell’s Gate Triathlon: Gregory Pigeon from St. Martin and Nicole Erato from St. Maarten. Winair is one of the larger sponsors of the Saba triathlon.

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