By Paul Groves on 12/06/15 at 10:03 am
Writing for ETU, Emma Cluley takes us to Baku.
In a historical first, triathlon arrives on the Caspian Sea this weekend as the sports prepares to competitively open the 2015 Baku European Games.
East of the Azerbaijani capital city, Bilgah Beach will open its arms to 105 triathletes across Saturday and Sunday, all vying to claim the first ever European Games title. Due to the configuration of the beach, athletes will start from a platform and run 50m to the water. Then, they will run about 80m in the shallows before they get to the deeper sea. Each athlete will take on a two-lap 750m sea-swim. Once through transition, a 40km flat and technical bike course awaits, as do Baku’s characteristically high winds. The six –lap route comprises a number of tight turns inside Bilgah Estate; home to Azerbaijan's rich and famous. With temperatures looking to tip over 30 degrees, the three-lap run route will see who has enough in the tank over 10km to take up a podium position.
As an added incentive, both male and female winners will earn their National Federation a starting spot in the Rio 2016 Games. Saturday afternoon sees the women’s race in the spotlight, with 28 National Olympic Committees represented.
Ireland’s Aileen Reed lines up as the highest ITU ranked athlete competing in the Games. Coming off the Vitality World Triathlon London, where she finished fourth thanks to a fast finish, she’ll be looking to make an impression on the field. It won’t be an easy however, with reigning Olympic Champion Nicola Spirig (SUI) and silver medal winner, Lisa Nordén (SWE) meeting for the first time since their thrilling photo finish at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Strong in the swim and bike, it’s still to be seen whether Norden has fully recovered from a foot injury, which has prevented her from making an impact in the run this year. Rachel Klamer (NED) could feature given her well-know run speed; the 24 year old finished in the top six in the ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast race earlier this year and is a former ETU European Champion from 2013.
With 11 competitors having Olympic Games experience, there’s no doubting the quality of the field in Baku.
The men will get underway on Sunday afternoon. Four men in the line up have previous Olympic experience and there are a host of ITU junior and U23 world championship medal winners. Fernando Alarza (ESP) is third on the WTS Rankings this year. The Spaniard was the closest to challenging Alistair Brownlee in London last month, claiming silver and his first Series podium finish. Alarza’s breakout season has seen him finish top 10 in all 2015 World Triathlon Series races. His swim speed should see him out in front early on. Joao Pereira (POR) had an incredible season last year and will be a major factor here if he can recapture that form, as will Russia’s Dmitry Polyanskiy, 2012 World Championship bronze medallist. 21 year old Gordon Benson (GBR) races as reigning Under-23 World Championship bronze medallist and will want to gain valuable experience here. Teammate and two-time World U23 Bronze medallist, Tom Bishop, will also be one to watch. A total of 32 NOCs will be represented on Sunday for the men’s race and it promises to be an enticing battle to win the first ever European Games triathlon medals.
Follow @ETUtriathlon and @bakugames 2015 for live race updates as the action unfolds over the weekend. For full race timings, please visit here.
Find more details about this event - 2015 Baku European Games