Belgian double launches Wuustwezel

By Paul Groves | 15 Aug, 2017

Wuustwezel has been a successful event for a number of years but 2017 came and the man behind the event, Marc Herremans, yes, the Marc Herremans, decided it was time to join the international calendar and what an event it was!

A triathlon, is a triathlon, is a triathlon. We have that swim, bike, run format and every weekend it seems, there is a new location but this weekend in Wuustwezel, located just north of Antwerp and bordering on the Netherlands, this event offered much more than just a race. It was a whole experience with 1,400 participants, 32 nations, a small army of volunteers, closing party for each night and easily one of the most enthusiastic crowds of supporters and spectators that the athletes have witnessed for a long time. Reports came back describing the near deafening shouts of support as the athletes raced the closed circuit. For a debut event, Wuustwezel hit all the right buttons.

For the Elite Women, Russia’s Elena Danilova was race favourite, but coming here strong was Hungary’s Zsannett Bragmayer.

She was indeed at the front end of the swim but the honour of leading the athletes to T1 went to Austria’s Therese Feuersinger.

She emerged from the water with the low-ranked Belgian athlete, Valerie Barthelemy, who grew up in Michigan after her parents moved from Belgium to the US to pursue their academic careers. Maintaining her Belgian nationality, she joined the Belgian elite ranks a few years back and has been pretty much under the radar, save for the strong performances in the Belgian Mixed Relay teams but here she was, on home soil and hearing the cheers from the crowds as she led, with the Austrian, into T1.

Bragmayer was just a pace behind and now we had three strong athletes ready for the bike.

Danilova had a dreadful swim and her race was effectively over unless she could find a team to work with on the bike and then to use her immense run power to claw back the swim deficit.

They were joined on the bike by Jolien Vermeylen BEL, the two Spaniards Inés Santiago and Cecilia Santamaria and by Slovenian, Eva Skaza. They worked hard and soon Vermeyeln had been dropped.

A clear run into T2 and it was Bragmayer, Barthelemey, Skaza and the two Spanish athletes that headed off for the 5k.

The crowds were going wild with the Belgian uniform in that leading group and slowly the speed increased, Skaza and Santiago were dropped.

Behind them Danilova was chasing through the field and making her way towards the top ten. One by one, she sped past other athletes. The chase was on.

But ahead, it was down to three, with Skaza and then Santiago dropping off the pace.

Then, with the finish line in sight and with the cheering crowds finding new levels of sound, Barthelemy kicked and just edged ahead of Bragmayer.

Marc Herremans was on the finish line to witness the high emotions. Just click here for the short, emotionally-charged video.

After the race a delighted Barthelemy found time to thank Bragmayer for the work in the pack and went on to say,  “Speechless!!! First European cup win, and on Belgian soil, with a Belgian first place sweep! Does it get any better?! I haven’t quite processed this win, but one thing is for sure - I need to work on my champagne bottle opening skills. A sincere thank you to my coach, Bart, for believing in me. My, mom Anne Biondini Barthelemy, and of course Carl Elgin for giving me the tough love and keeping my head straight. The crowds were incredible till the very end!”

Bragmayer moves up to Elite rankings next year but has ended her U23 career with two very solid performances. A silver in Velence at the ETU U23 Championships and then, in this race a silver once more. She has shown her undoubted strength in the swim and on the bike and this weekend showed incredible run pace under pressure. Her coach, Csaba Kuttor can be rightly pleased with her racing.

In bronze medal position and delighted with her medal, Santamaria said, “3a en la Copa de Europa Élite de Wuustwezel!!! Super emocionada por este día que ya se esperaba con ganas. #congrats a las chicas del grupo que mare mia como andan. Mil gracias por la oportunidad y la confianza que se nos ha brindado estos días !!! 3rd in the European Cup in Wuustwezel!! Extremely happy for this day that I was so looking forward to. Congratulations to the girls in the group, they were amazing. A thousand thanks for the opportunity and the confidence given to us.”

The crowds were big for the Elite Women’s race but with the amazing result from Barthelemy and with Marten Van Riel, the hometown boy, with a victory just last week after a lengthy enforced rest due to his post-Rio injuries, the numbers just rose and rose.

Sparked by the inspiring commentary from Hans Cleemput and Peter Croes, there was not a single space along some areas of the course and so some very local solutions were found.

The lake is a real beauty. Surrounded by trees, clear water and a nice, wide open space, the athletes lined up, took their positions and waited.

As the heartbeats faded and the silence echoed around the start area you could have heard a fritje drop.

The horn blast and they were off.

It is not often that we get the chance to see Tommy Zaferes USA racing. Most recently he has been seen taking great photos at WTS events but here he was and there he was, at the front, mixing with the likes of the reigning ETU U23 Aquathlon champion from Hungary, Márk Dévay. The pair led out of the water, with Van Riel close behind and then Matthew Roberts AUS.

Mr Funky Trunks Dévay led them up the carpet, with Zaferes a pace behind, checking back to see how close the chasing athletes were.

Van Riel was close.

A quick spin through T1 and out onto the bike it was Dévay, Zaferes, Van Riel, Roberts, Italy’s Gianluca Pozzatti and Peter Denteneer BEL.

They were aware of the chasing group and worked hard to keep ahead. Zaferes pushed hard with that group for the first few minutes but with an older head on the shoulders decided that the risks were too great. He sat up and relaxed back into the chasing group to enjoy his race.

The crowds were by now ecstatic. They had seen gold earlier and now, here in Wuustwezel, their boy was at the top to the race. The athletes later described the wall of sound that was along the bike course.

They had no idea how loud it would get for the run.

Van Riel took the lead coming in to T2 and, making sure there were no mistakes, racked, and stowed his used equipment carefully and was gone.

Behind, Denteneer, Roberts and Dévay had to chase.

As the other chasing athletes left T2 the desire to get onto the road was intense.

Van Riel broke away. The cheering spectators were beside themselves. Was it possible that Belgium could get a double gold in Wuustwezel?

What is truly unique about this race is that the crowds can get so close to the action and can really feel part of the race. As van Riel pounded out the 5k he was lifted all along the course as were the other athletes but when it comes to racing on home soil, in your own town, it was Van Riel all the way.

He was able to ease up as he felt the blue carpet under his feet.

He had done enough to take the title and the gold and the prize-money and the points and of course the ultimate glory of winning in his home town.

Pozzatti had raced well and using his final run pace he was able to drop Dévay. For Italy, a great silver and for the Hungarian, a solid bronze.

Zaferes, despite taking it easy on the bike, posted the fastest run and cruised into the top ten. After the race, he paid tribute to the event, “I’m so stoked for @martenvanriel crushing his hometown race! Such a deserving dude. I came to race #ETUWuustwezel purely because of Marten and I’m so glad I did. I would have liked to battle him to the line, but after an intense effort the first 5min on the bike to help create a breakaway of 6, I ended up getting dropped from that very creation after just one lap (apparently 4hrs of riding the last couple weeks wasn’t enough to keep me in tip top fitness, who knew?? ;)). I ended up sitting up and waiting for the large 40 man chase group and rode with them until T2. Guys were riding like maniacs, and since I don’t need points or anything I decided it wasn’t worth it for me to risk getting in a crash fighting for position into T2. I came in towards the back of the large group, had a TERRIBLE transition, and started the run in about 40th place and one minute down from the breakaway group. But thanks to all the support from the crowds (seriously AMAZING crowd support) came away with the fastest run of the day, finished 7th (beat my start number, and made enough prize money to cover my race entry and a one way bike fee. Next up Marten and I will join the rest of the #JFTCrew in Les Angles, France for the final altitude camp of the season.” From someone who has raced all over the world, this is a great endorsement.

From our winner, “Het was ooverdovend en bij elke passage kreeg ik vleugels dankzij het publiek. Af en toe waren er op de fiets die een beurt overgeslagen hebben, maar gelukkig hebben we die voorsprong gehouden. In het lopen heb ik kippenvelmomenten gehad. Dit was misschien wel de leukste wedstrijd van mijn leven. It was overwhelming and on each lap I got lifted by the public. Out on the bike there were moments when we might have been caught but luckily we held our lead. On the run I had Goosebumps. It was perhaps the best race of my life.”

A Belgian double and a fantastic start for Wuustwezel.

Marc Herremans can look back on this first international event with pride and in the knowledge that this last weekend saw something very special. Wuustwezel, you were amazing.

Nog nooit zo’n sfeer meegemaakt in België. Met dank aan Marten Van Riel en Valerie Barthelemy die voor een unieke dubbel zorgden… Never before have I experienced such a great atmosphere in Belgium. Thanks to Marten Van Riel and Valerie Barthelemy for giving us such a unique double,” said Belgium’s most experienced commentators, Hans Cleemput.

For the Dutch / Flemish-speakers, check out this link.

“Best day of my life!! Wuustwezel you were amazing!! Thank you to everybody for the cheers, you literally shouted me to the victory!! Time for celebrations!!”

Thanks to the Wezelopdefoto team:
    Luc Poppelaars
    Eric Van Hoydonck
    Stijn Matthé
    Geert Van Cauwenbergh
    Lies Konings
    Peter Van Gils

Article gallery
Related Event: 2017 Wuustwezel ETU Sprint Triathlon European Cup
13 Aug, 2017 • event pageall results
Results: Elite Men
1. Marten Van Riel BEL 00:53:48
2. Gianluca Pozzatti ITA 00:53:59
3. Márk Dévay HUN 00:54:04
4. Peter Denteneer BEL 00:54:08
5. Matthew Roberts AUS 00:54:25
6. Liam Lloyd GBR 00:54:30
7. Tommy Zaferes USA 00:54:31
8. Lasse Lührs GER 00:54:33
9. Jonathan Wayaffe BEL 00:54:36
10. Jannik Schaufler GER 00:54:38
Results: Elite Women
1. Valerie Barthelemy BEL 01:00:23
2. Zsanett Kuttor-Bragmayer HUN 01:00:24
3. Cecilia Santamaria Surroca ESP 01:00:27
4. Therese Feuersinger AUT 01:00:46
5. Ines Santiago Moron ESP 01:01:01
6. Elena Danilova AIN 01:01:18
7. Tamsyn Moana-Veale AUS 01:01:24
8. Eva Skaza SLO 01:01:27
9. Lisa Schanung ITA 01:01:46
10. Romana Gajdošová SVK 01:01:48