By Paul Groves
2017’s ETU summer triathlon racing season started in great style this weekend in Gran Canaria. Traditionally, our first race has been in Quarteira but the calendar has been extended by one week to bring this new race onto the schedule and what an exciting one it was.
The ETU Executive Board had its first meeting following the elections in Rome last month and, their hard work completed, they had time to see first-hand, just how successfully the hard work of all those who contribute to the sport could be translated into real-live action.
Many thanks go to one of the new Board Members, Martin Breedijk (NED) who was able to provide us with a running commentary on Twitter.
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It was the women who raced first and in the 200C sunshine and with over 14,000 spectators lining the course, the scene for spectacular racing was set.
With the stunning backdrop of a Cruise Ship, the athletes hit the water to start their two-lap swim. Sadly for Zoe Thomas GBR last-minute sickness prevented her from starting but she was to be the leader of the very vocal cheering team that supported the athletes and also the photographer who captured this stunning image of the start.
Over the standard distance, this event was always going to be an early season test but coming to Gran Canaria, were the race favourites and powerful duo of British athletes. We have seen Lucy Hall and Jessica Learmonth race and dominate in 2015 and 2016. Down in Cape Town they did the same but could they continue with this tactic of pushing the swim and then the masterclass out on the bike, or would the other athletes adapt and chase in the early stages?
Once in the water, a wetsuit swim saw the British duo ease away. Only one athlete had a chance of following them. Maya Kingma held on and could still see them ahead of her but she was pretty much working on her own, with a chasing group of seven behind her strung out over a few seconds. In this group was Russia’s Anastasia Gorbunova, the young British athlete Sian Rainsley, who move up to Elite ranks and her first standard distance international race, Carmen Gómez Cortes also moving up from the younger rankings. They were well-placed in this chase group and while not catching the leader up, they nevertheless held onto their position.
With the two Brits pushing the watts out on the bike, it was always going to happen and sure enough some athletes were lapped. Others decided to save their energy for later races and slowly but surely, Hall and Learmonth pulled away. By half-way they had a lead of 50 seconds and were being chased by a tight group of 8. Coming into T2 and Learmonth was alone. Hall was back some 30 seconds and, all alone, Learmonth was looking as if she would start the season with a win, to match her 2016 Quarteira result.
Learmonth’s leg injury in the latter part of the 2016 season prevented her from getting better results but the Cape Town race showed she was back on form. Had she done enough winter rehab for the pace on the run there to be a foundation for 2017, or was that a “one-off” result?
Well, swiftly through T2 and out onto the run course and Learmonth simply put the hammer down. With 2.5km done she had a lead of 1:20 ahead of Hall and Gorbunova and Gómez who had both run sensibly. In the final stages of the run, it was becoming too much for Gorbunova and Gómez moved ahead but behind her, running almost a minute faster than Gómez, was Italy’s Giorgia Priarone. Suddenly there was a battle for silver and bronze.
Learmonth’s pace was too great for anyone to catch her and it was a clear run to the blue carpet, the frenzied support for the Brits who lined the finish chute and she grabbed the finish tape with a 34:37 final run. Her performance is really a stand out one. She had a full 2 minutes of glory on the blue carpet of the finish area before any other athlete came into sight. Click this picture for the finish video.
To her delight it was her training partner Hall who had just enough to hold off Gómez who had put together a great race to bring home bronze for Spain.
After the race, the delighted Spanish athlete said, “this was my first Olympic distance triathlon and my first test of the 2017 season. I had trained well in the lead up to the race but had not clear race plan. In the swim I didn’t feel so good but managed to get out in the main group. We knew that the leading two were the English athletes and we were able to hold a good pace and not to lose too much distance on them. At T2 we caught up with Hall and out on the run I felt good at the start but I was careful, as this was my first Olympic distance and I was up against girls with much more experience at this distance. I did the 10k at a steady pace and I am very happy with the result since I did not expect it. The result gives me real motivation and confidence for the season.”
For Jessica Learmonth, « I was delighted with my race in Las Palmas on Sunday. I’ve had a decent block of training this winter, which was welcomed after a few years of patchy training due to illness and injury. It’s refreshing to have new races appearing on the circuit, especially when they’re like Las Palmas and have challenging bike routes and not just because they benefit my style of racing but it makes for an exciting race. I was happy to win on Sunday, but my main aim was to try and post a fast run time. As it’s difficult to know where your fitness is so early in the season. So having the fastest run split was icing on the cake! »
Lucy Hall got home late on the Sunday but found time to say, « I’m really pleased to have made the podium in my first ETU race of the year. Especially nice is the fact that I get to share it with Jess! It was a tough bike course but I think this is great preparation for the rest of the season. »
The Men’s Race, could it be as exciting?
Well, a massive start line waited on the quayside. One by one they were called forward and, depending on their ranking got to choose their place on the pontoon or had to just make do with what was left.
The heartbeats started. The crowds had an amazing “ring-side seat” and were able to really get the “feel” of the start. The heartbeats stopped. Silence. And then they were off.
It was a Spaniard, Kevin Tarek Viñuela who led them out of the swim and into T1. The crowds loved this but knew his lead would not last for long against the stronger bikers and runners that were close behind him. Dutchman, Marco van der Stel was close behind him and led the chase pack of four. In this group were Gianluca Pozzatti, GB’s European Games victor, Gordon Benson who was hoping to start 2017 in better form than he finished 2016 and a second Spanish athlete, Alberto González-García, who moves up from the junior rankings.
An initial push from those leading gave them a small advantage but this was lost by the half-way mark and a peloton of around 30 athletes powered around the course, showing the spectators top-level racing and thrills.
Tucked into this leading group were the race favourites, Azerbaijan’s Rostislav Pevtsov and Uxío Abuín Ares. Pevtsov took the ETU Ranking Series title in 2016 and Abuín in 2015. This looked like a guarantee of fierce racing in the final 10k.
The heat had been rising but just as the athletes came into T2 the sun was covered by clouds to give them a bit of a break over the final stage of the race. Click the picture to see the video.
It was Switzerland’s Adrien Briffod who kicked first and ran out of T2 in the lead with Pevtsov chasing and Abuín on his shoulder. Behind them other athletes were jostling for position. At the half-way mark, Briffod was leading but by the final Lap, Pevtsov had caught him and they were neck and neck. It was the older athlete whose determination and power proved to be the winning combination and Azerbaijan celebrated with their first gold medal of the year. Briffod held on to silver and Abuín had done just enough to fend off a last-minute attack from Hungary’s Bence Bicsák to secure bronze and to give the host nation a double-bronze celebration.
After the race, Abuín said, “I am very happy to get on the podium here in Gran Canaria, where I spend the winters training and where I have great friends who have encouraged me a lot today during the whole race in fact. I had to fight a lot after leaving the water, but in the end I could make a good comeback to get third place and the bronze medal. I’d like to dedicate this medal to all my Canarian friends!! I really hope they hold more events like this on this island because the truth is that it is a spectacular place for triathlon and deserves an event of this level!! This year my intention is to re-do the European circuit as in 2015. Last year I could not race so well, due to the injury that left me 3 months out of play, but this year I feel like it. Game on!!”
Briffod, smiling and clearly thrilled with the silver, “Thanks. Thanks a lot. I had a great swim, especially during the second lap. Out on the bike I tried to create a breakaway but nobody seemed to want to give it a try. On the run, I went off pretty fast ad found myself out there alone. It felt pretty good so I kept the same pace and rhythm going but on the final lap I simply couldn’t hold on to the lead when he attacked. Still, I am very happy with the result. »
Our race winner, Pevtsov, was full of praise for the event, “I’m very happy to open the competitive season with a victory, it means that I’m on the right track. The race was not so easy. I swam in the second group and we took some time on the bike to catch up with the first group. In the end we succeeded, and on the run I knew that I would not miss out. Las Palmas is a great place for triathlon and competitions and training. There was a lot of spectators and support and it always helps in the race.”
ETU President, Renato Bertrandi was delighted with the race, “We have had a busy weekend in Las Palmas. It was our first Executive Board meeting with the newly-elected Board Members and after the intense, behind the scenes work, it was a welcome break to get outside in the Canary Islands sunshine and to see our first summer triathlon of the 2017 season.
The women’s race was a wonderful demonstration once more of the strength of the British swim / bike combination of Jess Learmonth and Lucy Hall. A medal for the host nation, won by a young athlete, Carmen Gómez Cortes, is a good sign for Spain that they have new blood coming through their ranks.
The men’s race, with a massive peloton coming into transition before the run gave the crowds a real taste of the excitement of triathlon. The 2016 ETU Rankings Series winner from Azerbaijan, Rostyslav Pevtsov got a deserved victory. Switzerland’s Adrien Briffod will be happy with his race and silver medal and the podium’s 3rd place went again to Spain with the 2015 ETU Ranking Series winner, Uxio Abuín Ares.
The island welcomed us and the sport looked good there. I know many athletes use the Canaries for winter training. I hope that this is the beginning of a great legacy for Gran Canaria and Las Palmas. They have already announced that they want this race to be the opening one of our calendar. I would like to thank the Spanish Federation for its hard work and successful delivery this race.”
Jorge García, speaking for the Spanish Federation as its Events Director, said, « 2016 saw a meeting between the Spanish Federation President José Hidalgo Martín and the authorities from the Canary Islands. The idea of the project was to create an event along the lines of Madrid, to include an international event but also to open it up to Local Age Group athletes. So the work with Las Palmas started. The location was chosen in the main centre with a course using the main streets. Not easy, you can imagine, to hold a big race in the centre of the city but with great co-operation from all parties, it all came together. The course was really well designed. Swim over two laps and a nice, technical and challenging bike course. By returning each time to the main venue made this the focal point of the race. By designing the course in this manner we could really create a “show” for the athletes and spectators and of course for the municipality. No such event at this level had been seen before and so we have created what we hope is a lasting legacy. The Spanish Federation is extremely happy with the result and with the timing of the event.«
|3.||Uxio Abuin Ares||ESP||01:51:39|
|5.||Marco Van Der Stel||NED||01:51:55|
|3.||Carmen Gomez Cortes||ESP||02:04:15|