By Paul Groves on 16/06/17 at 9:54 pm
After the glorious sunshine of Thursday, the morning started dark and then got darker and darker before the heavens opened. In quite the wettest event for a long time, the athletes, spectators, technical officials and supporters all suffered alike. Between heavy rain showers, the mountain tops became visible but only for a very short time before the rains fell again.
Against this meteorological attack, the 80 athletes from 16 nations raced the 750m swim, 20k bike and 5kn run to finish at the Mercedes Benz ETU 2017 Kitzbühel European Championships.
The first category to race was the PTHC. An immensely strong swim from Jetze Plat NED, took him into the lead but with Austria’s Thomas Frühwirth ahead of him, due to the earlier start time applied to his category, the Flying Dutchman had someone to chase and chase is just what he did. Crossing the finish line to reaffirm his dominance, it was Plat who took gold. Italy’s Giovanni Achenza pushed hard on the bike but was unable to catch the Austrian who posted a superb final segment time. Achenza held firm and was able to keep ahead of Geert Schipper to take bronze. Plat was sadly absent from the Awards Ceremony as he was travlling back north to race 70.3 in Luxembourg this Sunday.
Amongst the women, it was Jade Jones who led the swim with an impressive 13:16. A super-fast T1 took her from the pre-transition area to T1 and then out on to the bike where she built upon her lead. Through T2 and out onto the final segment and she was clear. A dominant performance from the two times Paralympian on the track in athletics (2012 and 2016). She attended a British Triathlon Federation Talent Identification Day in January this year and competed in her first triathlon only last month in Yokohama last month where she came second. She crossed the line way ahead of her competitors to take the European title. In second place from Spain, came the 2016 Duathlon World Champion and the 2017 Duathlon European Champion, Eva María Moral Pedrero. Her speed off the bike ensured a silver medal. Bronze went to Karen Darke, a Paralympic gold medalist in the hand bike TT in Rio Paralympics and a former European paratriathlon champion
For the PTS2 Women, the race favourite, with a silver in Lisbon and Rotterdam and a 4th place in Rio, was Finland’s Liisa Lilja. She led the swim and moved swiftly to T1. Out on the bike she lost a couple of seconds on the chasing Fran Brown GBR. Brown also new to the sport, joined the team in January and this race is her international debut in paratriathlon. She won a para-cycling World Cup race in the C1 category last month and so we expected to see some powerful riding over the tough course. By this time the rains were really heavy and it was not a nice place to be if you were outside. Brown was the fastest over the 20k bike and came into T2 with a solid lead over Russia’s Veronika Gabitova, who was by now in 3rd, after a strong ride on the bike. Out onto the final segment and Brown was chasing the Finnish athlete whose speed nobody could match. Lilja came home to take gold. Silver to GB and Russia celebrated with Gabitova who once again secured bronze.
In the men’s category, the race favourite, Andrew Lewis,the reigning European, World and Paralympic champion took early control of the race with a powerful swim. He soon settled into a good rhythm on the bike but behind him, Frenchman Stéphane Bahier was upping the pace in an attempt to catch the Brit. A lightning-fast T2 from Lewis ensured he had a clear lead on the run and, in slippery conditions and with the rain still pouring down, he made his way along the wo-lap, 5k run course. Coming to the line in 1:10:56, Lewis looked behind him to see Bahier claim silver and then the German, Stefan Loesler who ran so hard off the bike, take bronze.
In the PTS3 category, one of the youngest athletes, Anna Plotnikova RUS was racing. Holder of the European Winter Triathlon title, won in Otepää, this athlete, born in 1998 was last to leave the water. First out was Frenchwoman, Elise Marc. As defending champion and looking fitter than ever after her win in Besançon, Marc struggled in the transitions as the rain made everything slippery. She lost time out on the bike and out on the run, with rain coursing down her body, one of the prostheses dislodged and she lost valuable time re-fitting the state of the art equipment. Germany’s Maike Hausberger was riding well and at this point looked sure to take silver behind Marc but it was the young Russian athlete who dug deep to make up for the slow swim. She posted a fast bike split and then wasted no time in T2. Out onto the run she fought against the weather, focussed on the task and on the final lap was in a position to overtake first Hausberger and then, in the final stages of the run, to overtake Marc. Gold to Russia, with the cheers of her team behind her. Silver to Germany and bronze to Marc.
In the Men’s PTS3 category. Daniel Molina, raced against fellow Spaniard, Kini Carrasco. As reigning ETU and ITU Duathlon Champion, Carrasco was unable to match the swim power of the younger Molina. Carrasco fought hard to chase Molina but it was a clear victory for Molina. Gold and silver to Spain.
PTS4 saw only one female competitor, GB’s Cassie Cava. Cava is a member of the British Talent squad, competing in her first European Championships in paratriathlon. She is also to be found racing on snowboards and is hoping to be selected for the Winter Paralympic Games next year. As reigning British Champion she now has the European title to call her own.
The PTS4 men had an impressive line-up. A foot injury for the silver medal winner from Lisbon, Denis Kungurtcev RUS meant that he started with a tough job ahead of him. It was Frenchman, Alexis Hanquinquant as reigning World Champion and that he follow, who led the athletes out of the Schwarzmeer and onto the blue carpet leading to T1. With almost 45 seconds lead, Hanquinquant immediately set about pushing the pace to escape the threat from both Kungurtcev and from Mikhail Kolmakov RUS, placed 2nd in Yokohama. Spain’s Alejandro Sánchez Palomero had a strong ride but was overtaken on the bike by Britain’s Steven Crowley who has turned around his pace after Rotterdam and Besançon was rewarded with a silver medal. Crowley lost time in T2 and watched Sánchez head to the silver medal position behind Hanquinquant but he focussed, dug deep and posted a faster run split to take the silver medal. Gold to France, silver to GB and bronze to Spain.
In the PTS5 category, it was the Paralympic silver medal-winner, from Great Britain, Lauren Steadman who took an early lead. With a strong swim, she led the race all the way to the finish. From France, Gwladys Lemoussu chased all the way but despite a faster finishing run, she was unable to catch Steadman. Gold to GB, Silver to France and it was a significant bronze for Ukraine’s Alisa Kolpakchy.
Amongst the men, it was GB’s George Peasgood who led the swim with a fantastic 9:49 for the 750m, one-lap journey around the lake. He knew that behind him Germany’s Martin Schulz would be a threat. Schulz holds European, World and now Paralympic titles and would be chasing hard on the bike. 2016 Silver medal winner in Lisbon, Spain’s Jairo Ruiz López was focussing on catching the leaders and his hard work offered a chance for a medal but it was the final run from Schulz that really stunned the spectators. The German Paralympic champion took gold, with Ruiz winning silver and Peasgood bronze.
In the PTVI Category, it was the reigning ETU Champion, Alison Patrick who led the swim. Not far behind her came teammate, Melissa Reid and then Spain’s Su Rodriguez. This stellar line-up went out onto the bike in the pouring rain and it looked like the medals were sorted. Problems on the bike delayed Patrick and this gave Lena Dieter a chance to pass. It was now open to Reid and Rodriguez to head for the finish line and the lead grew with Reid’s faster closing run. Behind it was neck and neck with Patrick chasing Dieter. A close finish saw Dieter just hold that lead and finish with bronze.
A superb swim from Great Britain’s Dave Ellis, who is returning to paratriathlon this year after trying to qualify for the Rio Paralympic Games in athletics (men's PTVI paratriathlon was not in Rio). Fast in the water, as a former swimmer, he competed in the 2008 Paralympic Games in swimming, he can also run and has posted a PB of 4.01 for 1500m on the track. It was on the bike that he lost some time but coming into T2 he had a comfortable lead that he held all the way to the finish line. The defending European triathlon and duathlon Champion from Spain, Héctor Catalá Laparra could not match this pace but held on for silver. Poland’s Łukasz Wietecki ran the fastest final segment and took bronze.
A thrilling race with 80- athletes from 16 nations and more Paralympians that you usually see at a race. The public, despite the awful weather, cheered the athletes around the course and at the Awards Ceremony, the cheers and applause was deafening. Rio certainly raised the awareness of the general public about paratriathlon. Races like this in Kitzbühel raise it even further.
A great gesture from the Organizers in Alanya, where there will be an end of season ITU paratriathlon World Cup, saw the winners of each category offered four days accommodation if they race on 30th September at the 2017 Alanya ITU Paratriathlon World Cup.
Find more details about this event - 2017 Kitzbühel ETU Triathlon European Championships