What a weekend!
For so many, Melilla was a name that was new for them. A bit of research showed it to be a small bit of Spain on the northern Moroccan coastline but once here, the athletes, coaches and supporters of the many triathletes who made the journey found that the welcome was warm, the organisers had a “can do” approach to everything and the sun shone warmly.
The junior races in the morning provided excitement and as the city slowly woke and as the sun got warmer, it was time for the Elite Athletes to provide the entertainment and thrills.
With the organisers providing €25,000 in prize-money and the ETU Executive Board adding a further €40,000 for the Cup Final, this was an important race and a potential money-spinner.
Over the year, athletes have been collecting points at the 5 different scoring events:
- The ETU Triathlon Continental Championships (Kitzbühel and Düsseldorf);
- The ETU Triathlon European Cup Final (here in Melilla);
- The ETU Triathlon Premium Continental Cup events;
- The ETU Triathlon Continental Cup events and
- The ETU Triathlon Regional Championships (Balkan, Baltic and Mediterranean Championships).
The points go to the athletes but the chance of the big, end of season bonus pay-out only goes to those athletes who race the Cup Final.
We were fortunate that for both the Men’s and Women’s Elite race we had the rankings leaders. It was always going to be a thrilling afternoon and the action started with the Elite Women.
Russia’s Anastasia Abrosimova, a late entrant after she shook off the injury that gave her a rough race in Rotterdam, was wearing #26 and her bike was at the very back of T1.
Behind came a steady stream of athletes who would work together and catch the Russian.
The group of 14 pushed hard.
Tucked in there and working as hard as anyone else was the young Dutch athlete Kirsten Nuyes who has moved up from the junior ranks only this year. Her consistent racing this year put her in a strong position to get some of the big prize-money at this Cup Final and she worked really hard to ensure the best result.
Quite early on in the race, a misjudged turn sent Cecilia Santamaria Surroca crashing to the ground. She lost contact with the pack but did not give up. Instead she dug deep, made T2 and then worked hard on the run to overtake as many as she could, to the delighted cheers of the home crowds.
A strong team effort from the French saw Dodet, Emmie Charayron and Youth Olympic Games bronze medallist, Emilie Morier secure key positions in the pack but the presence of such experienced athletes as Kseniia Levkovska AZE, Annamaria Mazzetti ITA and Switzerland’s Julie Derron meant that the pace would hold to T2 and then it would be an all-out battle for the final 10k.
By the time they entered T2, the 14 had become ten.
It was Charayron who was first out onto the run with Michel not far behind. Frintová had crashed and was carrying road rash on her shoulder. She had a lot of work to do.
Derron was tucked in behind Charayron but behind them was Michel, with her powerful running background.
She was running with Dodet and Morier, with Mazzetti just at the back. A small gap separated them from Abrosimova and Levkovska and Nuyes.
Ulatowska had stayed in contention and she was the first victim of Frintová who now pushed the accelerator and began to pick off the athletes, one by one.
As the sun blazed down on the athletes, they took every opportunity to take on fluids. Soon, Frintová had joined Abrosimova and they raced, side by side, trying desperately to catch the leaders.
Michel led the two Frenchwomen.
At the front now, Michel had kicked and was in a clear lead. But had she gone too soon?
Dodet had edged ahead of Charayron and on the dead-turn by the finish, Frintová could see just how much she had to do to catch them.
It was mesmerising. Frintová’s determined running steadily took her to within striking distance. Abrosimova had to keep the Czech athlete in her sights to ensure that the victory was not too great and Michel was powerless to prevent the attack. As first Frintová and then Abrosimova went past her she was focussed on one thing and one thing only; the finish line.
Frintová was a deserved winner. A crash that must surely have hurt at the time and with road rash that will hurt for a good few days, she gave a masterclass in race strategy to overcome all the challenges and to win the race. Abrosimova dug deep to keep not only a podium place but also the overall ranking title but Michel, collapsing on the finish line gave a performance that had the crowds cheering.
A tremendously exciting finale to the season and a race that thrilled from start to finish.
The crowds were now building and the Elite Men had racked their bikes and made the last-minute checks in T1.
The race was on and with the reigning world champion, Raphaël Montoya FRA going head to head against the holder of both European titles, João Pereira POR we had two of the world’s top athletes in the line-up. With Spain’s Uxío Abuín Ares here to fulfil his early season wish of winning the overall ETU Rankings Series and Azerbaijan’s Rostislav Pevtsov also in the top three in the rankings, this was a race upon which so much rested and the tension could be felt by all who had been following the series.
A suitably impressive presentation of the athlete ensured that the crowds knew just who was racing.
The athletes took their step forward at the booming command, “Take your marks!” and with sand kicking up from the 20m run to the sea and then with the 60m of knee-deep water, spray surrounded the athletes as they made their way to the deeper water.
It was the strong swimming from Márk Dévay HUN that led up to the street where T1 was located.
Hungarian swim power was also present with Bence Lehman who had Pereira on his shoulder.
Abuín, in his fifth race in as many weekends, exited the water just a couple of seconds back, with the young Polish athlete, Michał Oliwa who showed last week in Funchal that he is not just a swimmer and biker.
Abuín kept his eye on Pereira.
Montoya and Pevtsov followed, some way back but still in contact with the leading men.
A crash and a damaged bike ended the chances of Pereira finishing on top to the rankings and so it was that a leading pack of 8 men pushed the pace on the bike. In that group, and to the immense cheers of “Uxio, Uxio, Uxio!”, the local crowds urged on their hero.
By no means was the race over, as Montoya was sat in the group as were the two Hungarian athletes. Winner from Funchal, Delian Stateff was working hard and with his strong run, was a real threat to both the Frenchman and the Spaniard.
Oliwa was having the race of his life and working the pace within the pack along with GB’s Christopher Perham.
The chasing peloton was some distance back and for everyone watching, the medals were surely going to come from the leaders.
Montoya and Abuín racked their bikes next to each other but with the vocal support from the spectators it was Abuín who sped out of T2 and onto the run.
It all looked like it would be Montoya and Abuín all the way to the finish line.
But, as the two athletes pushed and pushed the pace from behind and with a stunning display of pace and control, the Belgian athlete, Geens ran away from his group, bridged the gap and then joined the leaders.
The crowds were now three deep along the run towards the finish and to everyone’s amazement, Abuín was not the athlete who headed to the finish tape. It was, in the best race of his career, Geens. Montoya had just that bit more pace than Abuín and he took silver. The cheers, however, were for the Spaniard, as he crossed the line for bronze.
A massively exciting race, with a victory for Geens that has to be extra sweet.
The computer genius in Madrid, Enrique Quesada, worked his magic in record time and after the awards ceremony had finished, after the special Melilla Cider had been sprayed everywhere from the six medal-winning athletes, the end of season pay-cheques were presented to the top three athletes in male and female categories.
The city of Melilla had welcomed our top athletes. They were treated to a special experience in this very special bit of Spain. The Spanish Federation has plans next year to build upon the successful history of Sprint Distance events here and to offer an early season test for athletes over sprint and standard distances. The Federation’s tried and tested formula guarantees a top race. We are already looking forwards to the trip.
Thank you Melilla for the great race and for the athletes too, a very big thank you for racing such a great season and to finish it in such style.
We will be looking in greater detail at the ETU Rankings Series towards the end of the week.
Related Event: 2017 Melilla ETU Triathlon European Cup Final
|Results: Elite Men|
|3.||Uxio Abuin Ares||ESP||01:51:46|
|5.||Antonio Benito Lopez||ESP||01:52:39|
|Results: Elite Women|