By Paul Groves on 24/06/16 at 1:07 pm
Kitzbühel is a favourite for athletes. World and European Cups and European Championships have been held in this ancient and famous town. This year, with a real departure from the normal format, a “time-trial” race was held and, despite the awful weather, it proved to be exciting and much enjoyed by the athletes.
With the “time-trial” qualifier on the Saturday and the final on the Sunday the town came alive and with 2017 seeing the ETU Triathlon Championships being hosted, it was a good test for the LOC.
As predicted it was a non-European athlete who showed strong in the Women’s race. Taylor Knibb came to Kitzbühel as the race favourite and on the Saturday showed Europe that she has all the potential.
Team USA is getting its programme right here amongst its women athletes and Knibb came here looking strong, under the watchful eye of their coach, Ian O'Brien..
Although she lost a little time in the first swim, her strength over the bike and run took her easily to the top of the first day table. Behind her and looking good was Eva Skaza SLO but strong biking and running delivered Audrey Ernst USA into third place in the overall rankings and ensured that in the top five places there would be, with fellow US athlete Kayleigh Spearing a total of three USA women in the final on Sunday.
The short, sharp, fast and furious racing on an individual time-trial basis, rather like the Tour De France time trial format, meant that athletes really could not rely upon tactics but rather had to give everything in order to ensure a place on the start lists the following day.
For the junior men there was greater pressure as with more on the start list on Saturday, they had to really work to guarantee a place in the final.
For them, the weather was awful.
After his amazingly powerful performance in Lisbon, where he was denied gold by just one stride, GB’s Samuel Dickinson was ready to set the records straight and was fired up for the weekend of racing. He too would be up against a US challenge but had Team USA got the same depth and strength in its up and coming junior men as they have in the women? Well Seth Rider is a familiar and welcome name on the ETU circuit, with appearances in Vienna, Holten and Madrid. Hey, he picked some good races, didn’t he!
Big threat to Dickinson was Germany’s Frederic Funk and of course, from the fast-running, YOG gold medal-winner, Ben Dijkstra GBR. On the day it was the bike that let down Dijkstra and this moved him slightly out of contention. Dickinson had the edge on Funk who narrowly beat Rider, who was just a fraction of a second ahead of Dijkstra. Their finish gave the technical officials a scare as it really was so close.
Day 1 and the qualifiers finished, it was now the more traditional mass start but once again over a shortened distance.
The weather in Burgas was delightful but for the athletes, spectators, officials and coaches it was the complete opposite in Austria and tough conditions were there for all.
The Junior Women’s race once again saw a masterclass in racing from Knibb. After a swim that allowed her to join the leaders, her bike skills were far superior to any of the other athletes and her run speed was only bettered by the GB athlete, Bronwen Owen. Knibb sailed through to take gold. She was joined at the top by Ernst and to the delight of the Austrian supporters, the bronze medal was won by Theresa Feuersinger who gets her first podium of the year after her gold in Burgas and bronze in Bled last year.
For the men, it would another battle between the US and Europe. Dickinson, Funk and Rider had made their statement in the qualifiers and it was indeed a powerful swim from the US team that led the athletes into T1. Alec Wilimovsky had just enough speed to get in front of Germany’s Jannik Schauffler but behind them and terrifyingly close, came Rider. Dickinson’s lightning-fast transition, quite suited to the weather conditions, delivered him into a strong position and he easily got back the lost time and places to join Rider and Canadian Oliver Blecher.
The bike was on wet roads and so caution was still high on the minds of the athletes. No room for error here.
T2 was swift and out onto the run there were some who could fly like the wind and some who had the grit and determination to hold on. Dickinson may well have been having a vivid déjà vu moment as in the final stages the fast feet of Rider could be heard behind him. They hit the line close. They clocked the same time and once again it was down to the Technical Officials to check all the video cameras. For Technical Delegate Alpar Nagy (who worked so hard in the delivery of the Baku event last year) it was indeed a birthday to remember.
Dickinson took the gold, Rider got silver and behind him came Canada’s Blecher, who himself faced a major threat from Jack Willis GBR who was so, so close to the podium.
A new format. An exciting format. A great test for the venue and once again, Kitzbühel’s hills were alive with the sound of athletes.
After the race Team USA’s coach, Ian O’Brien said, “The 'Generation Next' of USA Triathlon (....and these are only a handful of the up and coming). An amazing week of training and preparation has culminated in 3 X Team USA podiums and a bunch of top 10s for these very talented athletes. ETU Kitzbühel Triathlon Cup didn't disappoint. The race format was a new trial format that was super -fast, furious and so much fun.
Congrats to all the amazing coaches who prepared these athletes in the months leading in to this and many other Team USA successes this year!
Finally to USA Triathlon and Steve Kelley in particular for this group. For whom these opportunities for the junior ranks would not exist. We are lucky to have such support.”
For ETU, the fact that such positive messages come from way over the water is encouraging and shows, once again, that our sport is alive and very much kicking here in Europe.
Find more details about this event - 2016 Kitzbühel ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup