By Paul Groves on 28/04/17 at 5:15 pm
We can open this preview with a few words from ETU President, Renato Bertrandi.
"This coming weekend will see duathletes from all over Europe make their journey to Soria. Located in the northern part of Spain, it is the regional capital but will, for this weekend, be the Duathlon Capital of Europe for athletes racing for medals over sprint and standard distances.
I am aware that the municipality has given its full support for the event, with a specially-dedicated team of officers from the State Security Forces there to ensure the event goes well. I also hear that we can expect 900 athletes from 23 countries participating in the ETU Championships that are scheduled for the weekend. It is clear that such high numbers on the start lists is a good indication that duathlon is as strong as ever.
I am delighted that I will have the chance to be there, to see the Opening Ceremony, to see the races, to cheer the athletes along and to hopefully present medals. I would like to thank the Spanish Federation once again for stepping up and hosting an ETU Championship and wish everyone involved, be you athletes, coaches, technical officials, volunteers, sponsors and media, a superb weekend. ¡Muchas gracias a todos!"
The racing will be spread over Saturday and Sunday. It will be the Elite, U23, Juniors and Para waves on Saturday and all the Age Group athletes, racing Sprint and Standard distances, on the Sunday.
Amongst the Elite Women, focus will be upon Sandra Levenez FRA. Although wearing #4, she is on form and has, in the past, delivered stunning performances. A gold in the relays in 2008 in Serres, silver behind the stunning power of Cat Morrison in Edinburgh in 2010, ETU gold in Limerick, ITU bronze in Nancy in 2012, World Games silver in Cali in 2013, ITU gold in Pontevedra in 2014 and ETU Powerman bronze in Weyer the same year, ITU bronze in Adelaide in 2015 and ETU bronze in Kalkar last year. Levenez comes this weekend to Soria in the best form for ages. For the French-speakers amongst you, her article can be read here.
She will be hoping for support from her teammate, Julie Chuberre Dodé. Her 4th in Kalkar and a top ten in Aviles last year shows that she can race with the best. These two working together could bring home medals for France. Against them will be Aviles bronze medal-winner, Margarita Garcia Cañellas from Spain along with Davinia Albinyana Teruel who won Age Group gold in Pontevedra in 2014 and who has her own fan club.
After a brief spell racing under the French flag, Michelle Flipo has returned to the ITU flag and although more usually met on the triathlon circuit, we really need to watch her race. Powerful on the bike and fast on the run, if she gets someone to work with her on a breakaway on the bike then Levenez will have trouble. Wearing #1 and from Austria, is Sandrina Illes. Illes gave a superb performance in Aviles last year. Coming into T1 with the leaders and holding onto the pack for the 40k bike, she only lost out in the final stages of the run, to be beaten by the younger Lisa Sieburger GER who is not racing here this year.
So, a race between the French and the Spanish? Not entirely. A close fought battle is likely with Flipo and Illes lending their power. This is going to be an exciting race.
The run and bike courses for the elite are testing, with the run taking athletes back and forth under the relative cover of trees in the main park. Not much in the way of climbs, but with the first 10k leg lots of tactics and the final 5k most likely a sprint.
The bike course has some really testing hills. Not an easy race at all.
The U23 Women will race the same course and at the same time as the Elite Women. There might be some challenge to the Elite. In Aviles last year it was Noelia Juan ESP who took silver. She will want to make sure she is well-placed on the bike to avoid being lapped as she was in Gran Canaria recently when we raced in the older Elite category. She will be hoping to work with Laura Gómez Ramón and they will be hoping to keep ahead of French athlete, Lucie Picard who has put in some quality time on the running track.
The Juniors will race the Sprint Distance but over the same course as the Elite. For the women, wearing #1 comes the Swiss athlete Delia Sclabas. She raced well in 2016; beginning with a 5th place in Kalkar and progressing to take the World title in Aviles. She is the race favourite, with Gabriela Ribeiro PRT chasing her. Ribeiro was let down by her run pace in Quarteira earlier this season but has great power on the bike. Laura Swannet BEL comes to the race with solid triathlon experience behind her as does Germany’s Annika Koch. Spanish hopes will rest upon Tania Álvarez.
For the Elite Men, a big field has assembled, attracting many athletes from the triathlon world. Leading the race to gold is the 2015 world champion, Emilio Martín ESP. Last year he took the World silver in Aviles but struggled in Kalkar behind the faster run pace of the French and the breath-taking bike power of Jorik van Egdom, NED. The young Dutchman is not racing this year after a pretty bad crash early in the season but both French athletes, Benoit Nicolas and Yohan Le Berre. Their fellow-countryman, Benjamin Choquert ran a faster final 5k than Richard Murray last year in Aviles. The French could really threaten Martín this weekend. We welcome also all the way from Bahrain, Moussa Karich. A top ten finisher in Aviles.
ETU has been partnered with Powerman for some years now and it is the Powerman World Series that attracts the world’s best duathletes. Races around the world at all times of the year offer the chance to duathletes to keep race fit, to keep the prize-money rolling in and to keep their sponsors happy. These athletes come to Soria knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. At the front end of this race they will know when to push and when to ease off. But, as mentioned above, this race is not just about duathletes racing against each other, because there is a strong presence of athletes who we see more usually on the ETU and ITU race circuit and also some from the world of Winter Triathlon.
Yes, the Russians are coming and amongst them is Maxim Kuzmin. His most successful stretch of racing was between 2010 and 2011 when as an U23 athlete he took European and World titles in Winter Triathlon. Since then he has gone long and shown some promise. A trip back to the snow last year gave him silver in Otepää but the late-season 5th at the world’s toughest Duathlon in Zofingen shows just how powerful he is. He is joined by the 2010 ETU champion, Sergey Yakolev who since winning gold in Nancy has given a lot back to the sport as a coach but who still popped in a top-ten finish in Aviles last year.
Britain’s Mark Buckingham placed third in Adelaide, showing a faster run split in the final 5k than everyone except Nicolas. One to watch out for. The Romanian team is not large but as an emerging nation they are showing promise. Last year in Kalkar their leading athlete was having the ride of his life when suddenly the tank was empty. Ciprian Balanescu will be hoping for a better race this year.
Now for the “unknown elements”. Ukraine and Italy have sent athletes to Soria and no doubt their pace, tested again and again on the ITU and ETU circuits will pose a threat to the duathletes. Daniel Hofer ITA has been undergoing special training in cold water. A tough competitor who knows how to work the pack.
From Ukraine comes the trio that can really influence the pack. Yegor Martynenko, Ivan Ivanov and Oleksiy Syutkin. Syutkin took time off after becoming a father but came back in 2016 to take the ETU Aquathlon title and then raced well in Cagliari. Martynenko closed the season some way off his usual pace and Ivanov was disappointed after a disputed DSQ in Quarteira. All three have been training hard over the winter months and will be using Soria as a test for the coming triathlon season. All three are powerful and, with a good first run, will be in a good position to work the pack.
Amongst the U23 athletes and wearing #1 is the Portuguese athlete, João Pedro Ferreira Pereira who took bronze in Aviles last year. Nobody had anything like the pace to keep up with Jorik van Egdom but Pereira was the second-fastest European athlete on the day. Definitely the race favourite. Amongst the other athletes we see some new faces but also quite a lot of experience on their national circuits.
Nathan Guerbeur FRA, placed 4th in the French National Sprint Championships last year. He was beaten by elite athletes and after a stunning opening run, he certainly held his own out on the bike. It was the final run where he began to suffer. Britain’s Richard Allen paced himself well in Cozumel to take World U23 silver in the Aquathlon. If he can use his run pace to keep with the leaders in Soria and then save some power for the final run, Team GB might be in with a chance for a podium place. Bulgaria’s Aleksandar Srandev has proven power off-road. If he will want to try and repeat his performance in Târgu Mureș and secure a top five place at least.
The Junior Men’s race is likely to be at incredible pace. Great Britain’s Alex Yee is on the start list. Even in the stressful heat of Cozumel, his final 5k was run at 14:59 pace. Against this running power, there is nobody who can match him. It will be the bike that will be critical and he has already shown us how good he is, with his World gold in Aviles. Wearing #1 and from Slovenia comes Matevž Planko. His bronze in Kalkar was the start of a consistent year of racing. Portugal will be cheering on Duarte Brás who improved his Burgas bronze to a Quarteira silver and will clearly be hoping to reach the podium once more.
Not an easy race to call but for sure, everyone will be watching Alex Yee.
The Para waves start mid-way through the Saturday. With a strong Spanish representation there, the Host Nation will be assured medals but with visiting athletes from Great Britain, Romania and Italy.
Spanish medals will come from the following athletes: José Manuel Quintero Macías who came away with the silver last year in Aviles but had to settle for runner-up in the national championships last year when he was beaten by José Cristobal Ramos Jiménez. They will both be faced with competing against fellow countryman and World Champion, Gustavo Molina Martinez. For the women we see Eva María Moral Pedrero is current World Duathlon Champion and took bronze in Rotterdam last year for the Triathlon Worlds.
Italy’s Alessandro Carvani Minetti took home silver from Aviles and silver in Kalkar. He faces the current Spanish champion Jesus Miguel Sánchez Felipe and, returning to form after a couple of years away from international racing, Ricardo Marín Arcís.
One of the biggest starts will be for the Men’s PTS4 category, where we will see athletes from Spain, Romania and Great Britain vie for medals.
Race favourite has to be Kini Carrasco ESP. As defending European Champion, having also won the European Long Distance title in Copenhagen, he won bronze in Aviles last year and is on top form coming into this race. With a Kalkar silver, it is GB’s Richard McLeod who will be pushing Kini but the host nation may well work to Daniel Molina’s advantage. Although he missed the podium in Aviles, he finished in 3rd in Rotterdam. Relatively new to international racing but with truly phenomenal pace on the bike, comes the young Romanian Robert Tamirjan. He has raced cross duathlon, winter triathlon and duathlon and will certainly be hoping to add a medal to his Cross Duathlon gold and 2017 Winter Triathlon silver. For the women, we have the current world champion, Raquel Domínguez Martín. This should mean another medal for the Spanish.
In the PTS5 category it is once again a delight to see Rafa Solís Torres. He has just returned from the Gold Coast where he had a top ten finish. Last year was a golden one for him with titles in Zofingen, Copenhagen, Kalkar and Zeltweg. He started 2017 with gold, in Otepää. The women will see María Eugenia Piquer Esteve going for gold.
The PTVI category will see Héctor Catalá Laparra, the current Spanish champion, race against an entirely Spanish opposition. With Aviles bronze, he has the edge over Daniel Llambrich Gabriel who just missed the podium there in 2016 and Marcos Garnica Haro.
Also returning from the Gold Coast is the only PTVI woman who is racing and it is the ever consistent Su Rodriguez. Reigning World Champion, she comes here with a silver from “Down Under” and is clearly on form.
There is also a massive line-up for the Age Group athletes. We are still waiting to hear from the Spanish Federation about the total numbers but as you may well anticipate, Team GB is very visible there.
So, as the Opening Ceremony nears, ETU wishes each and every athlete a truly great race and for each and every coach, manager, technical officials and volunteer, have a great weekend.
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Find more details about this event - 2017 Soria ETU Duathlon European Championships