The inaugural Bucharest ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup saw a massive road closure in place and the full support of the 3rd District of the Romanian capital. With Mioara Matei, head of sports from the town hall there to witness the races, it was a chance for our athletes to show her just how good closed roads, city-centre racing could look.
The local police were in place and managed to secure the roads completely; trams were prevented from operating along one critical section of the roads and the smooth road surface made for excellent racing conditions.
The spectacular thunderstorms in the days leading up to the races held off and the weather, on Saturday, was near-perfect as the Junior Women lined up for the two-lap swim. The lake was a delightful 26.2C and the air a pleasant 18.5C.
The crowds had gathered, having stayed on from watching their children race earlier in the day. For some, this weekend of races was their first experience of the sport, for many, this was a chance to see their friends and family race and to think forwards and wonder, “Can I represent my country one day?” For the Romanian athletes, there was extra pressure as this race would decide who could go to the European Championships in Tartu.
The familiar heartbeats sounded out across the lake, the tension was there and then the horn sounded and the athletes hit the water. 11 nations present.
An early lead was established by some powerful swimming from Erin McConnell who led them out of the water on the first lap. Diving back in with a glance over her shoulder, she could see that she had company and that Augusta Grønberg Christensen was not going to let her get away.
The run from the swim exit took the athletes past the finish gantry and up a sweeping set of steps to T1. It was the turn of the Danish athlete to lead and she was first to grab her bike and set off through the shady park to access the 5-lap bike course.
Before too long, Grønberg had been joined by Austria’s new junior, Lena Baumgartner. Her first international outing had been last weekend in Kitzbühel and between the two of them, they broke away from the chasing pack of McConnell, her teammate, Maeve Gallagher and Croatia’s Zara Baković.
An impressive display of chain-gang riding saw the Danish/Austrian duo build a significant lead to come in to T2 comfortably ahead.
Baumgartner was totally focussed and so locked in to the bike to run transition that she made a fatal error and despite the officials, media and public shouting at her, ran through the cones to take the shortest way out.
Her error would cost her the gold medal as the Race Referees had no choice other than to reach for the red card. A serious mistake but one she will never again make. From her racing here, we are certain that her great potential will shine in the future.
Out on the run course, she had pulled away from Grønberg but behind her the Irish juniors were having a tremendous battle. McConnell’s early swim and bike power was no match for Gallagher, who was quicker on the run and on the two-lap run course, it was the younger Gallagher who had the advantage.
Behind them Daniela Leitāne had locked her sights on McConnell and was eating up the run course to try and catch her. Baković was struggling after the hard bike and saw a number of athletes pass by.
Coming into the finish, it was indeed Baumgartner who crossed the line first only to meet with the officials and her coach.
A jubilant Grønberg saw the finish tape and held it high in victory. Behind her Gallagher had settled for the bronze but found to her astonishment that she had an upgrade and that she and Gallagher would both get podium positions as McConnell just had enough pace to hold off the chasing Latvian.
The Junior Men knew that the race favourite Romaric Forques, with his win in Melilla was on good form and they did their best to keep him under control.
The crowds loved the buzz and frantic as the athletes rushed through T1.
Forques was a few seconds back but it was Luka Grgorinić CRO who led them out onto the bike.
Soon a lead group of 6 had formed with the Spanish race favourite tucked in nicely. Denmark’s Scott Steenberg was there with Hutter, Astafyev and Grgorinić and to the delight of the local spectators, Romania’s hopeful for the Youth Olympics, Erick Rogoz Lörincz was well-placed and with a strong bike to run reputation, there was real hope that a top five placing could come to the hosts.
Off the bike and transition went smoothly. Forques kicked had and then simply dropped everyone, as his run pace was so hot that nobody could stay with him.
As the Spaniard raced around the lake, his lead grew and, recording the fastest run by a comfortable margin, he crossed the line to take his second gold this year.
Behind him the pace was hotting up and Steenberg suddenly had Frederik Holm Wester threatening to push him off the podium. Steenberg was battling with Grgorinić for the silver and bronze and it was only the final 50m that saw the Croatian kick hard and drop Steenberg who had done just enough to claim the bronze.
After the race, the athletes were full of praise for the bike course and its top-quality racing surface. The shaded areas around the lake for the run was also something they liked.
Speaking to Mioara Matei after the race, the weekend of competition had clearly inspired the politicians and the Corporate Relays, already attracting large numbers, will see a team from the 3rd District racing next year. With the host District of the city taking part, we might even see teams from all over the city enjoying the swim, bike, run challenge.
As she presented the medals with ETU’s Vice-President, Chris Kitchen, it was a chance to say thank you to her and to all the firefighters, divers, volunteers and staff who ensured the safety and security of the event.
Once again, Romania has delivered a great racing opportunity to our athletes and this time in the very centre of the capital. Watch this space indeed.
Thanks to Robert Tamirjan, Radu Cristi and to Klaudia Kiefer for the additional photos.