French double in Karlovy Vary

By Paul Groves | 25 Aug, 2015

Well, the Fédération Française de Triathlon must be delighted after this weekend’s performances in the Czech Republic. Both golds went to French athletes in the toughest race on the ETU European Cup Circuit.

Back in 2001 it was the scene of one of the most spectacular European Championships with a nail-biting finish that gave Filip Ospalý the title. 14 years on athletes still dare to take the challenge that is the Karlovy Vary course.

It was the women who started the day and, with the water temperature just a little too fresh, it was a wetsuit swim. Over the two laps it was Kimberley Bell GBR who led them out of the water. A short run to T1 and just a couple of paces behind her were French athlete, Audrey Merle and from across the Atlantic, US athlete Michelle Mehnert. The bike course takes the athletes to the city where they then commence a series of laps. Each lap will take them up a staggeringly tough hill and it would be out on the bike that the damage would be done.

Behind them in the swim was Germany’s Lisa Sieburger who was having a bad day in the water, “I had a bad swim - but on the second lap in the water I recognized Kaidi (Estonia’s Kaidi Kivioja)  next to me – and then I started to look forward to a really tough bike part with her to close the gap to the first group.”

The leading group on the bike was formed. Deborah Lynch NZL, Margie Santamaria ITA and Merle with fellow French athlete Léonie Périault. Soon they were joined by Sieburger, Kivioja and Giorgia Priarone ITA. After the race Sieburger explained, “And as we got to the bikes, we did exactly what I hoped for.  With no hesitation the two of us and the Italian girl (Santamaria) worked perfectly well together and closed a gap of nearly 1:45 minutes within the first three laps.” For the Czech supporters there were cheers when Jana Macháčová joined the group.

In front of them Merle had thrown down the gauntlet and had broken away. It was to be a lonely run for her as she pulled further and further away from those chasing for medals. With the fastest run of the day she crossed the line over two minutes ahead of Sieburger who was getting faster as the race unfolded. It was bronze to France as well with Périault just having enough to hold Kivioja off the podium.

After the race Kivioja, who has been steadily improving over the season, spoke, “It feels great when the hard work is starting to pay off.  Since the swim is still my biggest weakness I came out of the water quite behind, but together with great cyclists Lisa Sieburger and Giorgia Priarone we moved ahead with every lap and were in the main group quite soon. I felt really good on the bike. Last year I was struggling a lot on the hill, but this year it just felt so easy. That bike course is really honest, you have to be a strong cyclist to stay in the group and I love it. I didn't feel that great on the run to reach for the podium. Congrats for the girls who did. They were really strong and totally deserved it. But I gave my all that day and I'm happy with that result.”

For Périault, “3rd place in the European Cup in Karlovy Vary behind the unbeatable Audrey Merle and a very nice prize. Slowly but surely I am getting back to form and now a place on the Grand Prix in Quiberon with Poissy Triathlon and then the Worlds, U23, in Chicago.”

Sieburger gave us further insight into the race, “Once we got together on the bike nobody really wanted to go after Audrey Merle, who was riding 45 seconds ahead on her own and as I was pretty sure she was the fastest runner of the day, I didn’t really try to catch her either. I’m totally happy with my 2nd place and will go into 5 weeks with training now to return to Sochi hopefully even stronger.”

The last word goes to our winner, Merle, “I leave this European Cup absolutely delighted with the organisation and the location. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique course. It was also so beautiful. It was for me a race where I had to work and it just felt as if I had to take control of things.  I’m really happy and if other courses could be more like this I would not be against that!”

For the men a far larger group dived into Lake Rolava. With the sunshine beating down on the lake, the temperature had increased enough to allow for a non-wetsuit swim and this gave Norway’s Jørgen Gundersen the lead. He pushed harder and broke the group out on the 1500m swim and exited the water in a strong position. As Gundersen was leaving T1, the other athletes were just arriving. Last year’s winner, Andrey Bryukhankov RUS, was 13 seconds down and then followed a stream of athletes exiting the water ready for the frantic ride into town before the laps and the hills began.

Gundersen explained, “The swim was controlled the first lap and then I wanted to stretch out the field in small pieces, so the next two laps I swam harder. Exited the water about 15 seconds ahead of Bryukhankov and I was biking alone first kilometres. At the end of the hill on the way to the city laps 2 guys from the group of 15 broke away and joined me. We went full gas down to the city. Suddenly we had 30 seconds.”

The athletes soon re-grouped and the crowds were treated to a spectacle of a huge peloton of athletes racing around the closed streets of this magnificent city. With the victory of Merle already known, Aurélien Lebrun FRA was way back after the swim but with his power on the bike he was making up ground. Australian Matthew Baker was well placed too and so it would be that the run.

The threat of former winner here, Yegor Martynenko UKR ended when his chain snapped. “Something gone wrong. 3 races in a row- absolutely unpredictable results. Firstly, I got ill before the Riga European Cup and have started the race with a temperature. Today I got a DNF because of broken chain. Of course, I'm disappointed. Especially when I had a great performance. But I understand - sometimes “the machine breaks. That's why I decided to take a rest! No regrets- all going to be fine.”

Baker was looking good on the run. With his team-mates from Victorian Institute of Sport they have been using the European Circuit to build up valuable experience, points and prize-money but, coming through the pack and having a blast on the run was Lebrun. He was to put in an incredible show of pace and steal the gold with the fastest run of the day.  A 28:55 on this course, after the bike course is one performance to remember.

Lebrun was victorious. “You know, this victory is particularly sweet. It was my first ever European Cup back in 2010. I finished 10th then and in 2013 I had a DNF, which rather ruined my run of good races.  I wanted to come back to Karlovy Vary to see if I could win. The course is unique. It really is. And a beautiful course too. Things didn’t start too well. I didn’t feel good in the days before the race and out on the swim I didn’t feel good and simply could not follow the pace of the leaders even though I was in a pretty good position at the first buoy. I sort of drifted back through the pack in the water and missed the leading group as they set off on the bike. Once out on the bike I began to feel a little better but the lead was huge and I pretty much accepted that it was impossible to win. Quite bizarrely and against all expectations, I felt amazing on the run and even with that difficult course I was able to turn that around. What a delight. Especially as I didn’t really realise I was going to win until the very last moment.”

For a delighted Gundersen it was silver to Norway. “Really a breakthrough for me and when my goal was to get some points(top 15) and finally got 2nd and really close to the victory. The race was really hard, first time in Karlovy Vary. I have heard from other athletes that the course was really challenging. I came down from altitude camp with the national team and my shape was good. The bike course is the toughest I have ever done, but my legs were good and we cooperated very well. I knew this was my chance to do something so we continued to go hard. In T2 we had almost 2 minutes to the chasers and 3 minutes to group with Lebrun.  I made my move on the second lap on the run, got a gap of 20 Sec. Hard run course as well. But the last lap my tank was empty and Lebrun passed me. Anyway I’m really happy with 2nd after ranked 30th into the race. After a lot of injuries last couple of years I have had no chance to perform at this level. But now I know I can do it.”

Matthew Baker explained the attraction of Europe, “As an Australian it would be too difficult to simply go to Europe for one or two races on the ETU circuit. So with my fellow Victorian Institute of Sport athletes, as part of the triathlon programme, we travel to Europe for the best part of 5 months to train and prepare for world championships. Half of the Australian selection process is based on the European level of racing as well as taking in to account the domestics season in Australia. Having to be relatively fit during the summer months of Australia as well as the summer months of Europe can be quite difficult so it's crucial that we plan what races we are doing and what we want to gain out of said races. For me, racing Karlovy Vary was important as it is an incredibly hard bike course followed by a challenging run. Basically mimicking how the race should pan out in Chicago later in the year.”

The home crowds were delighted to see a Czech athlete get so close to the podium. Jan Volár CZE was so powerful on the bike but just could not quite hold on to his position on the 10k run. “I was injured in winter so start of the season was not as good as I hope. Now I feel good and I wanted to show it in the race. The European Cup in Karlovy Vary is probably hardest course in Europe. There is very technical course with steep climb (21%) and lots of cobblestone sections and this is a reason why I like it.

My race began well.  I was in first pack after the swim. After 3 km of cycling I saw 2 guys, who broke away on bike, so I decide join with them. We were riding very fast and little by little increased the lead. On the first run lap we ran side by side with athletes from the breakaway, but then I have little crisis and I started slow down. On last lap I felt better and so first I caught the German (Jonas Breinlinger) but then Lebrun and Baker ran past me. Anyway it was definitely my best result yet and I am very satisfied with 4th place, especially when it was my home race. It was great to see how many people supported me around the course and I would like to thank all of them, they really help me a lot.”

The Organisers have provided a great photo gallery, with some really artistic photos. Check the album, CIS CITY TRIATHLON 2015, by following this link Photo gallery by Roman Knedlik
Other photos credits to Jan Řehula and the Gundersen Family.

Article gallery
Related Event: 2015 Karlovy Vary ETU Triathlon European Cup
23 Aug, 2015 • event pageall results
Results: Elite Men
1. Aurélien Lebrun FRA 01:51:46
2. Jørgen Gundersen NOR 01:52:04
3. Matthew Baker AUS 01:52:12
4. Jan Volar CZE 01:52:29
5. Jonas Breinlinger GER 01:52:42
6. Andrey Bryukhankov RUS 01:52:55
7. Matthew Sharpe CAN 01:52:56
8. Jonathan Zipf GER 01:53:07
9. Marcel Walkington AUS 01:53:15
10. Tom Richard FRA 01:53:32
Results: Elite Women
1. Audrey Merle FRA 02:01:28
2. Lisa Sieburger GER 02:03:44
3. Leonie Periault FRA 02:04:45
4. Kaidi Kivioja EST 02:04:54
5. Giorgia Priarone ITA 02:05:06
6. Margie Santimaria ITA 02:05:35
7. Jana Machacova CZE 02:05:55
8. Verena Steinhauser ITA 02:06:13
9. Deborah Lynch NZL 02:06:37
10. Anna Schmidt GER 02:08:49
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