By Paul Groves on 11/06/17 at 8:21 pm
Today was indeed the day. After many months of preparation the Organizer and the City authorities could watch their event unfold in the glorious sunshine here in Weert.
With a swim start that truly looked as if it was on a Caribbean island, the Women athlete were the first to race.
A whole weekend of triathlon and multi-sports activity saw over 1,200 athletes enjoy the hospitality here in Limburg. The Minister of Finance, Sports and Culture from Limburg, Ger Koopmans was able to see first-hand that the massive investment on the outskirts of the city had been well spent. “Het Blauwe Meertje”, the Little Blue Lake will be opened to the public next weekend but for the athletes who signed up to race in Weert this year, they were able to swim in the warm, blue waters.
The two lap, 1500m swim was led by a group of 8 athletes. Angelica Olmo, ITA and current European U23 champion, led the group up the beach and into T1.
Behind her followed athletes who knew that they had to work hard to maintain their lead out on the bike course. Within that group were two British athletes, Fenella Langridge and Jenny Manners. From France, Sandra Dodet and Jeanne Lehair, were well-placed but defending her win from 2016, Léonie Périault missed that leading group. Tucked in there too was Sharon Spimi, from Italy and for the home supporters, Kirsten Nuyes was there too.
The bike course took the athletes from the lake to the canal and that is where they began their laps. With the wind pushing them towards the town centre, the leading group took full advantage and increased their lead over the chase group. Périault, now in no-man’s struggled and was eventually caught by the chasing group. Within that group only a couple of athletes worked hard, much to the frustration of those who wanted to push the pace and try to catch the leaders.
As the leading athletes approached T2, the number had reduced by ne as Spimi, having crashed and punctured, had dropped off the back and was now running to T2, some 45 seconds down.
Out on to the run and it was Olmo, with Lehair and Dodet looking strong just behind her. Manners and Langridge were there but Nuyes soon suffered the heat and dropped back.
As the laps passed the lead stayed the same but behind the Italian Carabinieri, Dodet was showing signs that the pace was intense. As the athletes completed their final lap, it was time for the Brit to kick and Manners, winner last year in Dakhla, edged past Dodet.
Olmo came to the finish to the cheers of the Italian coach and the male athletes who were there waiting to set up for T2 and for her, the gold medal was in her hands. Behind, Dodet could not respond to the kick and increase in pace from Manners and it was a British silver medal. Dodet, exhausted, crossed the line to take bronze.
After the race, Olmo was full of praise for the event and the support of the crowds. The reigning U23 champion was delighted to race well in Elite events. She had hoped to get a good result here and having chosen this event, she was thrilled to have won. It was a tactical race, pushing the pace with the rest of the peloton and by so doing, to establish a big lead. She thanked her employers who had supported her and told everyone that her next race would be in Tartu.
The men’s race was much bigger and of course, everyone was looking at the potential battle between the Dutch athletes, who only last weekend had competed against each other, with the victory and national title going to Jorik van Egdom. As the wind increased and changed direction slightly, it was clear that the bike course, slightly longer than the usual 40k, would be important in deciding who would get to the podium.
The swim, over the first lap, did not break up too much but it was the second 750m that saw a breakaway. As the athletes exited the water, led by Frenchman, Tomas Sayer, it was clear that Van Egdom was not in the lead group. They took off at pace, with the clear intention of creating as much distance between them and the second group.
In that lead pack of 23 were some powerful cyclists and Nathan Geurbeur FRA was well-placed to show his bike/ run power. We saw him take an U23 bronze earlier this year in Soria and here he was, in the leading peloton, working hard with the likes of Calum Johnson GBR and Maxime Hueber-Moosbrugger FRA.
With an initial lead of some 30 seconds, over the chase pack and Van Egdom, the athletes worked hard and extended their lead to almost 45 seconds at one point. The bike laps took the athletes along one side of a canal, to turn, over a bridge and then to race back along the other side of the canal. With each lap, the chasing group, by now working hard together, started to eat into that lead and by the time that the lead athletes entered T2, the chase group was only 25 seconds back.
Out onto the run and it was Max Studer SUI in the distinctive Swiss red uniform, who led the athletes. After his terrible crash last weekend in Cagliari at the ITU World Cup, he had buried that memory and was back racing at full speed and leading the race. As the laps around the town took the athletes closer and closer to the finish, it was the French team who moved up to take the lead and Guerbeur, with Johnson and fellow Brits, David Bishop, Iestyn Harrett and Chris Perham looked set to make it a battle between France and England. As the bell rang and the last lap started, it was Johnson who had set the pace and moved to the front. Behind him the two French athletes were battling for the silver and bronze places and still in with a chance, the Brits were digging deep.
Johnson increased the pressure and to the shouts of encouragement from his parents who had come to watch him race, he turned his 2016 Melilla silver into a 2017 Weert gold.
Behind him the battle of Les Bleus gave Hueber-Moosbrugger his third podium of the year and bronze went to a delighted Guerbeur.
After the race, Johnson paid tribute to the support he had received over the years from his family and told everyone that his next race would be in Tartu.
Weert entertained athletes from all over the Netherlands for the age group and recreation events. Corporate teams raced and finished on the blue carpet, schools raced, families raced and then, the icing on the cake, the Elite Athletes raced. The politicians were delighted that the city had delivered such a great race, the athletes complimented the Organizers and with their hopes now raised, this little town in Limburg is crossing its fingers in the hope that next week in Kitzbühel, their bid to host the 2019 European Championships is well-received.
Thanks you Weert and thank you to Wilifried Weekers and Roger Stienen,, it was a great race.
Find more details about this event - 2017 Weert ETU Triathlon European Cup