GREAT BRITAIN WOMEN & PORTUGUESE MEN SWEEP JUNIOR AND ELITE RACES AT ETU EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Wednesday 21 June 2017


Image credit: ETU Media

The Great Britain women won both the triathlon junior and elite races at the ETU European Championships in Kitzbühel, Austria, with the Portuguese men doing the same in the men’s races.

The Championships proved to be a great success ahead of 2018 when the 9-11 August ETU European Championships will be part of the inaugural multi-sport European Championships, which will run 2-12 August.

The three triathlon races at the 2018 European Championships will be held at Glasgow’s Strathclyde Country Park, which was also the venue for the triathlon during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

A massive line-up of Junior Men was an impressive sight at the swim start in Kitzbühel at the ETU European Championships.

With the Schwarzsee venue hosting thousands of spectators, the one-lap course was led by Germany’s Moritz Horn. He was first along the blue carpet and into T1 but was followed by all the race favourites.

As defending champion, Javier Lluch Perez ESP would need to be in the lead group our on the bike. He managed just that but that group, comprising 15+ athletes, also contained his biggest threats. They were Alberto Gonzalez Garcia ESP and Vasco Vilaça POR.

A series of crashes reduced the numbers racing along the 4-lap 20k bike course but as the leading group got closer to the end of the 3rd lap they were caught by the chase pack and the crowds were then treated to a huge peloton speeding along the technical and hilly Kitzbühel course.

Coming into T2 and there was a clash of bikes that led to Luxembourg’s Oliver Gorges crashing out and laying still on the carpet.

Thoughts went back to Cagliari as the Technical Officials and medical team secured the area and tended to the downed athlete.

In front of him, four athletes had a super-fast transition and were able to break out onto the run ahead of the chasing group.

By the end of the first lap, Lluch, Gonzalez, Csongor Lehmann HUN and Vilaça had created a significant gap and we all knew that the three medals would be shared by this group of four.

With just over 200m to go, it was Vilaça who kicked and maintained the pace all the way home to take the title. Just behind him, the defending champion had to settle for silver but to the delight of several ITU HQ officials, it was Lehmann who had just that little bit more pace to take bronze.

The crowds were once again superb and the athletes were thrilled with the way they were cheered around this simply wonderful town.

Medals then for Portugal, Spain and Hungary.

What could the Elite Men bring?

Well, it was a stellar line-up and all eyes were upon the Spanish team. With a superb run in Leeds, at 30:44, which was faster than both the Brownlee Brothers, it was Fernando Alarza who looked to be race favourite. He would be surrounded by his teammates, Vicente Hernandez and Uxío Abuín Ares and it looked as if the Spanish would be in with a medal chance, or two.

The swim was led easily by Richard Varga. He set the pace over the first lap and then pulled effortlessly into the lead to run first into T1. With both Polyanskiy brothers; Dmitry and younger brother Igor just a pace behind him the crowds went wild as they watched Alois Knabl AUT follow these athletes along the carpet and into T1.

A steady stream of athletes made it into the lead peloton and Alarza had missed the leaders by almost a minute. It looked like it was all over for him as he battled in the chasing group.

Inside the lead group was the solid core of Abuín and Hernandez, the two Russian brothers and the two Portuguese, João Pereira and João Silva. This leading group worked hard along the 8-lap, 40k course and at one point had a lead of just over 55 seconds. Alarza could not possibly make up that deficit, or could he?

As T2 neared, the 5,000 strong crowd that surrounded the Transition Area and run exit, worked up into a frenzy of excitement by the Austrian commentator, cheered, shouted, screamed and applauded as the athletes racked their bikes, stashed the bike helmets, slipped on their running shoes and sped out onto the 10k run.

For the first stages of the 4-lap run, the group stayed pretty much together. Frenchman Raphael Montoya, with a silver recently in Madrid, was tucked into the tight group, led by Spain’s young athlete, Antonio Serrat Seoane.

Slowly the pace increased and from that group, both Russian brothers were dropped.

As the run neared the end, we had a repeat of yesterday’s Elite Women’s race, with four athletes battling for three medals. The battle would be between Portugal, Spain and France, with Montoya, Hernandez, Pereira and Silva. Behind them and with increasing determination, it was Alarza who had somehow managed to get sight of the leaders and then to find superhuman strength to get so close that we all expect the final lap to be led in by him.

Instead, out at the run turn, it was the Portuguese athletes who injected a deadly turn of pace and suddenly it was all over for the Spaniard. Along with Silva and Pereira, Montoya had been swept along with the excitement and as the athletes came into sight, it was Pereira who kicked again as the crowds urged him along.

A final sprint down the carpet to the finish left Silva with an empty tank. He cruised home for bronze, leaving the delighted Montoya to claim silver.

A quite remarkable day of racing that was almost a mirror image of yesterday, when GB won the Juniors and saw two elite women on the podium, we had today a Portuguese junior champion and two of his teammates on the podium in the Elite Men’s race.

Women’s Races

The Junior Women’s race was thrilling from the very start. As the Race Referee consulted the video and still camera images, a false start penalty was issued to one athlete. The tension was immense and the crowds, now enjoying a bit of sunshine, had come back to the venue after drying out from the early morning rains that soaked the ParaTri competitors and spectators.

Russia’s Maria Tchuiko led the athletes around the one lap 750m non wetsuit swim.

She was only marginally ahead of local favourite, Theresa Feuersinger who quickly caught up the Russian and then sped off onto the bike course.

She led the race for all but one lap on the bike before being caught by the chasing group.

Out onto the run and over the two laps she did her best to hold on to a medal position but the hard work done alone on the bike left her unable to respond to the attack from GB’s Kate Waugh, Jessica Fullager FRA and Denmark’s Sif Bendix Madsen. As these three closed in on Feuersinger, even the shouts of encouragement from the thousands of spectators who lined the course could not prevent the inevitable and Austria’s medal hopes were dashed in the final stages of the run.

As the athletes neared the finish area, it was Waugh who had command but she had to dig deep with Madsen so close to her. Fullager, assured of the podium cruised home to take bronze behind the British and Danish athletes.

Waugh had tasted success last year in Lisbon as part of the GB Junior Mixed Relay team but today, the Geordie got it all right and was crowned Junior European Champion.

For the Elite Women, it was always going to be a tough race. With defending champion, India Lee GBR back on the start line and with both Jessica Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell present, the British team looked strong. Over the years we have seen again and again the dominance of the British women in the water and then out on the bike. This race, with no wetsuits and with the testing, technical bike course, was going to give them a great opportunity to set the early pace.

The magnificent setting of the Schwarzsee saw the swim start lined with thousands of spectators, many of them racing over the weekend as Age group athletes.  The heartbeats boomed around the lake and the there was silence.

A two lap swim saw Learmonth take early control with just Russia’s Anastasia Gorbunova for company. Fresh from her Leeds bronze, Italy’s Alice Betto exited with Coldwell a few seconds down and this was the four who worked and worked around the bike course building up a massive lead over the chasing athletes.

By the end of the 40k bike, when they entered a very noisy T2, with the crowds clapping and cheering to the sounds of Zorba The Greek, they had a lead of over 2 minutes and it was certain that the three medals would be shared between the four athletes.

At this point, it was Learmonth and Coldwell who set the pace. They created a gap of about 80m on the first lap and gradually racked up the pace to drop Gorbunova. Betto held on, trying to keep the two Brits in sight but by the third lap, the duo were well ahead and all Betto had to do was keep her pace to secure bronze. Behind, a huge group of athletes, led by Claire Michel BEL and Vendula Frintová was gaining on the Italian and it looked as if Betto had miscalculated.

Learmonth kicked on the final lap and broke away from the younger Coldwell. The British Age Groupers lining the course were shouting and screaming encouragement for the two British women and to more noise in the finish line than we have heard in ages, it was Gold to Learmonth, followed by silver for Coldwell. Betto hung on for bronze but then the spring finishes came for the lower placings.

A truly thrilling race from start to finish and a deserved victory for Learmonth, coming back into top form after her injury in 2016.

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