Cook dishes up a masterclass and Hofer delights the crowds in Catania

By Paul Groves | 28 Oct, 2015

The Mediterranean Championships has perhaps in the past been an event that was seen as just for athletes from Southern Europe but, along with the Balkan and Baltic Championships, now that ETU has opened the events up to any athlete and by so doing has made available the all-valuable points, we have seen more and more athletes from all over Europe and indeed the world, come and race alongside the regional line-ups.

ETU Technical Delegate Andreas Galanos, explained that the weather conditions were perfect. Sea was 23 C and the air, 25C. “Etna was quiet and the Roman gods were good.” He continued, “This is the first international race to be held in Catania and was centred around via Kennedy for the bike and around Catania's recreational sea centre. It was triathlon at its best and the LOC did well to deal with some issues on the bike course by creating two transition areas. Good contingency work shows that the LOC can deal with problems.  There is also an environmental improvement project here and triathlon worked very closely to fit into that project. We saw Sicilian hospitality beyond any description.”

What the LOC did was to provide an extra “mini-transition” for the athlete who exited the water, grabbed their running shoes for a long run to T1, where they then made the transition to bike. Innovative and different and definitely a race-saver. Top marks for seeing a problem, hitting it from thinking “outside the box”.

This year saw US athlete Summer Cook make the short trip from Alanya where she had a great race to take silver.

How she would fare against some determined athletes, especially defending title-holder and race winner from 2014, Elena Maria Petrini ITA ?

The swim was one-lap, 750m, from a beautiful sandy beach out into challenging seas.

Cook took no time at all in stamping her mark on this section and was out of the water and up the beach comfortably before the Netherland’s Maya Kingma. Italy’s Alessia Orla ITA. It was Orla who made up time on the long run to T1 and by the time the bike had settled down there was a group of seven working hard.

A few breaks where the athletes tested each other did not lead to a break away but it kept the crowds lining the course happy. Cook took her time at the front as did Ditte Kristensen DEN and Verena Steinhauser ITA who was looking the strongest of the Italian athletes.

Coming into T2 it was clear that the run would be a sprint in the true sense of the word.

Cook was looking relaxed but had to play catch-up as she left T2 behind Kristensen, Kingma and Petrini.

Shoulder to should with Steinhauser the pair soon caught the leading four. Cook applied pressure. It worked. She broke free and was soon leading the race but behind her the battle was hotting up for the remaining medals and of course the title. Kristensen was digging deep but Steinhauser had her in her sights and pushed. « Sono riuscita a allungare gli ultimi 2km per prendere la danese kristensen in volata sorpassandola gli ultimi 400m. » “I managed to stretch out in the final 2k and take the Danish athlete in the final 400m” but could she hold that position to the finish and where was Cook?

Well, the US athlete was way out front by now and thrilling the crowds with her running. She cruised to victory and was full of praise after the event for the LOC and for the crowds, “I'm really pleased with how today went. Today was the first time that I've entered a race as the #1 seed and it definitely added a bit of pressure. I really enjoyed the race course. Some changes had to be made to the initially planned course and we … had some extra running, but that added to the fun of the race. Part of being competitive in ITU racing is learning to adapt to differences from race to race. There were a lot of spectators out on the course and they did an amazing job of making all of the athletes feel welcome, both at the race and in the city of Catania! I was really impressed with all of the support out on the course!”

Behind her the battle between Denmark and Italy was exciting the passions of the largely Sicilian crowds. Only in the final run to the finish line was it certain and it was Steinhauser who took the silver and by so doing, the Mediterranean title. Beaten for the gold but nevertheless delighted to have taken the title. Once she had collected her thoughts after the race she said, «Finalmente in vacanza! Non potevo chiudere in modo migliore la satagione 2015. Salendo sul podio in coppa europa e vincendo il titolo di campionessa del mediterraneo. Una stagione ricca di esperienze, emozioni, sofferenze e divertimento. Ringrazio tutti coloro che hanno creduto in me facendomi crescere professionalmente. Ringrazio le mie amiche/compagne di squadra e di vita, il mio coach che mi ha portato fino a qui, il grande pres che mi ha dato questa opportunità e da non dimenticare ovviamente i miei genitori e gli sponsor che mi hanno sempre sostenuto.» “Finally on holiday! I couldn't close the 2015 season in a better way. Going up onto the podium in an ETU European Cup and winning the title of Mediterranean Champion. A season full of experiences, emotions, suffering and entertainment. I would like to thank all those who have believed in me, and helped me to grow professionally. I would like to thank my friends and teammates, my coach who brought me up to here, the great press that gave me this opportunity and not forgetting, of course, my parents and the sponsors.”

Kristensen settled for the bronze. After the race she shared it with us, “After the swim I closed the gap to the front very quickly and tried to stay aggressive on the bike. Tried to get away a couple of times, but never really managed to. I was tired when I hit the run, but felt in control. I tried to run with Summer Cook and managed to for a bit, but lost her and I was alone in second place for most of the run. I haven’t really been running any speed the last couple of months, so only had that “one gear” which meant that Steinhauser had a bit more to give in the sprint finish, unfortunately. But very happy, it was a good step towards where I was in the beginning of the season and looking forward to good winter of training!”

“Why Europe?” is a question often asked. Why come to Europe and race? Well, aside from the amazing race calendar, the terrific variety of events and the all-over welcome from athletes, supporters and spectators alike and of course the points and prize-money, Summer Cook has the final word here, “Loved racing in Europe the past few weeks - such great support at both races! I think I'll have to make my way over here more often!”

The women had raced. The transition had been cleared and the Elite Men were checking in. Easily double in size, the line-up looked impressive. The Technical Delegate later described the race as “Thunder” and, hearing from the medal winners, that is a very good description indeed.

How did it go then?

Well, nobody was surprised to see Dutch athlete Marco van der Stel lead the swim. His bronze medal last year gave him the highest ranking at the event.

The exit from the water was not easy, with the waves and tide sucking at the legs and advantages won in the water could be so easily lost in the run to T1.

Soon a group of 14 athletes had formed at the front of the bike and it was here that at each turn, there were small breakaways.
Van der Stel & Egdom bike pic thanks to Inge Huitema

Van der Stel was joined by the younger Jorik van Egdom who is the World U-23 Cross Triathlon Champion and European Sprint Duathlon Champion so it was hardly any surprise that these two were pushing the pace. The group was however caught and soon the men’s field appeared to be one big pack. The crowds loved it. The triathlon was looking good and the media were getting great images of these determined men pushing the pace.

Sat in this group and by now with all the air-miles he had collected put into order, was Daniel Hofer. When he raced in Alanya, the week before, it was clear that he had not recovered from the hours in the plane after the World Military Games in Korea. A strong swim and powerful bike had made the others in the pack work hard but once out on the run he had suffered. Would Catania be a better day at the office for him?

The narrow transition would present a challenge to those who had not made it to the front of the bike pack and over a 5k run this could present a real threat.

As the athletes set off for the 2-lap run, they were led out by Amitai Yonah ISR. Hofer was on his heels, then Genis Grau then Balkan Champion, Hungary’s László Tarnai. The two Dutch athletes were not far behind.

Yonah has the reputation of being a good runner and so Tarnai made sure he had him in his sights. They both knew Hofer and no doubt were also wondering if he had recovered sufficiently. Both knew that they had a few years advantage over the Italian but would that mean they would share the medals?

As the run unfolded it was Yonah in command. The Israeli athlete was pushing the pace as fast as he could and led the entire first lap. At the turn, however, the lactate started to hit. Behind him Hofer, van der Stel, van Egdom and Tarnai were lined up ready to pounce. It was Tarnai who made the move. Having waited until just 1k from the finish and already running at 3-minute per km pace he pushed and it was only Hofer who could respond. The two were pulling away from the pack and suddenly it looked as if both gold medals would be lost from Mediterranean athletes. At 600m to go, Tarnai appeared to hesitate and that was all Hofer needed. With his experience and determination he could run through the pain barrier and, lifted by the Sicilian cheers he took gold with Tarnai, fastest runner of the day, just holding on to silver. Yonah took bronze and the young Dutchman, van Egdom just beat countryman van der Stel. The medal-winning times saw gold being won by just three seconds and silver beating bronze by the same margin.

After the race, Hofer shared his experience with us. “I felt really comfortable in the nice swim course and in the long transition. The bike wasn't so hard. It was totally flat and I tried to save much energy as possible so as to have a good transition because it was quite a narrow entrance to T2! I came out third after the transition and then sat in second position so that I could resist as well as I could any attacks from Chitti, Yonah and the two guys from Holland. We were running at around 3min/km until 1 km to go when Tarnai made a really hard attack. I followed him and we were just two. About 600m out I saw him slowing down a little bit and that was when I recognized it was a battle between me and him. Despite my legs being so tired I attacked him and could hold it to the finish line with the help of the home crowd cheering for me!! A perfect way to end a season with so many ups and downs!! Thanks for everything and the good vibes!”

For László Tarnai, silver medal at this championships was a great result. As Balkan Champion he so nearly won here too. “It was a perfect triathlon course for me with a lot of running. The swim was good for me, as I was in the big group. After the swim I ran to the bike transition as fast as I could to get the best position. The bike was also good for with some sprint sections after the turning points but could save energy for the run. The first part of the running (the first 2K) was very progressive to be on the top of the field. The final was a mental battle. We were 6-8 athletes together. When we started the last 1,5K I decided to make my move, and only Daniel Hofer could follow me. He had a last big push, but I could not stay with him in the last 400 meters. Finally I am very happy with this result and next year I will going to start following the European Cups and hopefully the World Cups too. It would be great to try for the WTS. Beside these races I would like to be the member of a French team and racing with them because I think this is a very good way to get more practice. My aim is to race in the Olympics.”

Amitai Yonah, with his bronze medal, said, “I am happy to finish the season with this podium in Catania. In the swim I was with the big pack and had very quick transition to the bike. I was pushing the pace till the first U-turn and then we became a big group and I was in the front. Out on the run I felt good in the first lap and tried to drop the other guys, but in second lap my legs weren’t good enough for the last km.”

The podium was decided and finally the athletes had a chance to relax and see the sights of the island before heading home.

The ETU season is now complete and our focus moves to 2016.
Has it been good? No, not really, it has been excellent!!

Many thanks to Riccardo Giardina for his excellent gallery of images and to Inge Huitema for capturing the Dutch breakaway on the bike along with images before the race and in the final stages of the run. Thanks too, to László Tarnai for the image from the beach.

Article gallery
Related Event: 2015 Catania ETU Triathlon European Cup and Mediterranean Championships
25 Oct, 2015 • event pageall results
Results: Elite Men
1. Daniel Hofer ITA 00:59:46
2. László Tarnai HUN 00:59:49
3. Amitai Yonah ISR 00:59:52
4. Jorik Van Egdom NED 00:59:55
5. Marco Van Der Stel NED 01:00:03
6. Genis Grau ESP 01:00:04
7. Adrian Haller SUI 01:00:07
8. Aleix Domenech Guix ESP 01:00:10
9. Dario Chitti ITA 01:00:16
10. Henrik Goesch FIN 01:00:18
Results: Elite Women
1. Summer Rappaport USA 01:06:21
2. Verena Steinhauser ITA 01:07:17
3. Ditte Kristensen DEN 01:07:21
4. Ilaria Zane ITA 01:07:32
5. Alessia Orla ITA 01:08:06
6. Elena Maria Petrini ITA 01:08:38
7. Maya Kingma NED 01:09:07
8. Julie Nivoix FRA 01:10:22
9. Laura Gomez Ramon ESP 01:10:59
10. Susanna Murphy IRL 01:11:21
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