The Elite had watched the junior athletes race in the morning and, amongst them, had worked out where on the bike course a break away could take place. They knew the turns and they knew just where they could get the maximum advantage. The sunshine was now high and the crowds even greater.
As the Elite Women lined up with the top three spots being shared between three nations. This was one race where the Spanish could not automatically claim domination.
In no-man’s land was Italian athlete Verena Steinhauser but she could see the leaders and sprinted into T1. Then followed the long line of athletes up the beach and into T1.
It was Godoy who got to the mount line as Steinhauser was ripping of her wetsuit. Next out was Perez, then Vanek. Steinhauser had the power and determination to catch up the leaders and it was “game on”!
These four worked hard on the bike and with the same discipline we saw from Lucy Hall and Jess Learmonth in Quarteira, they established a lead that would not be challenged.
Behind them, possibly already aware that they were racing for the minor placings but still able to collect valuable ETU points, the peloton was delighting the crowds as they rode in tight formation.
With the leaders each taking their turn at the front, they soon clocked up the 40k on the bike and it was into T2 for the 10k run.
Soon it was Vanek who had taken control of the run with Godoy tucked in as close as possible behind the tall Hungarian. Godoy knows the course well. Her silver last year was an “oh, so close” medal that 2016 would be her chance of getting the gold.
Vanek simply upped the pace and this left Godoy fighting to secure her second silver but knowing full-well that Steinhauser behind her would do all she could to try and catch.
Vanek’s run power was stunning. She created a massive gap and had the blue carpet to herself. Godoy did enough to claim her second Melilla silver and a delighted Steinhauser took bronze for Italy.
Vanek was delighted, “I was so happy to win, especially as it was my first race this year and that’s always hard to race for the first time after six months. I was lucky to have some strong swimmers and bikers with me, so the four of us could push the bike together. I didn’t really know what to expect on the run, but my legs were feeling well, so I managed to win the race. I haven’t been to Melilla before, and I really liked the race and the city as well!”
Godoy, smiling and with great support from the crowds, “I’m really happy that I can start the season with a second place in this ETU European Cup in Melilla. I gave everything today and my running went well (Editor’s note – she has cut over 4 minutes off her 2015 run split!) Thank you for all the support I got, especially the people from Melilla! A big thanks to my boyfriend and brother who came to support me too. You gave me extra strength!”
Italy will be very pleased with the result. Steinhauser, “It feels great to be on the podium. It’s a great season start. It was a really hard swim. I lost the lead group immediately after the start. So I was alone for the whole swim. Fortunately T1 was good and I could catch the leaders in the first meters on the bike. We were 4 in the lead group. We worked well together and the gap to the second group increased immediately. The run was OK. It was my first triathlon of the season so I tried to start not too fast. The 2 leaders run really strong. But I’m very happy with my race. The feeling was good.”
The buzz from the Elite Women’s race had barely subsided and it was time for the Elite men to line up.
The swim was tight, with no distinct lead being set.
As the athletes emerged from the water and raced up to T1, 35 athletes crossed the timing mat in just 25 seconds.
It looked like transition would be a frantic place and that anyone missing the Great Escape would have a tough job on the bike.
The public crowded along the safety barriers. They lined the streets. They waited.
In this leading group were all the big hitters. We were assured of a great bike ride but would the Elite Men follow the example set by the Elite Women and would there be a break away?
No escape in this race. The swim did not break up and aside from some attempts to break away from the front of the massive peloton, the bike was a parade. This would mean that there would be some strategic positioning along the course, to avoid the turns and any irregularities on the road. A crash would mean no medals and possibly an end to the season.
For Abuín this race would be one to forget. Despite placing well in the swim and then staying out of trouble in the main group his race ended soon due to mechanical problems. “I’m leaving Melilla with a bittersweet taste ... Very happy with the silver medal of Cecilia Santamaria Surroca and her selection for the Junior European Championships but that is mixed with a bit of grief after my withdrawal due to mechanical problems when I was at the front end of the peloton on the third lap of the bike. We’re looking forward to the next race. That’s what’s important, so go for it!”
The same went for Swiss athlete, Adrien Briffod who we know can run fast off the bike. At least for them, no injuries.
Meanwhile, back in the pack, the athletes clocked up the 40k and then, as they approached T2, there were moves within the body of the peloton to get the best and safest position for the dismount.
It was British athlete, Beau Smith who broke off the front just at the right time and had a clear run into T2. As he was leaving T2, the rest were just coming in but behind him were the faster runners. How far ahead could he stay?
The chasing athletes filed into T2, filling up each side of the racking and then, from within the centre, the fast runners exploded out onto the 10k run course.
Leading them out was GB’s Sharp. Right at the back was team-mate Johnson. In the middle was Massimo De Ponti ITA. We have seen his run pace in Istanbul and Tartu but what of Johnson? Back in 2013, with amazing run pace, he took World Gold in the Duathlon championships but moving up to the Elite … could he find that pace again?
Well, he was doing just that and doing it in the first few strides of leaving T2. Tucked in well and seeing Sharp ahead of him, he made his way through the runners and soon was alongside the more experienced athlete. The two of them upped the pace. Sharp pulled away, Johnson stayed ahead of De Ponti.
Sharp sealed his victory with Johnson taking a well-deserved silver. Italy once more secured bronze.
After the race Sharp was full of praise for the young Geordie athlete, “I was super impressed with Calum Johnson, his run was strong and I’m happy for him to get an ITU podium.” With regard to his own race, Sharp had this to say, “Defiantly nice to get the win after last weekend in Portugal. The Melilla race went very smoothly, I had an OK swim but was able to make the lead group onto the bike which really opened up the race for me. The bike course was pretty technical but I stayed near the front for most of the ride mainly to stay out of danger if there any crashes or unannounced pot holes. I took the run out hard and settled into a comfortable but strong pace after the first 1km.”
Johnson was clearly thrilled, “I felt strong from the beginning all the way through to the finish so am over the moon with second place. My swim was solid which put me in a good position for the start of the bike. I was able to make the front group and ride well in that group. The bike course was interesting and very technical, so it was important not to make sure I was in a bad position at any time within the group. A poor T2 left me with a lot of work to do for the first part of the run, I made up a lot of ground but was never able to close the gap to Matt who lead the whole 10k. He was very strong and never slowed down which meant it was really difficult for me to get onto the back of him. I managed to maintain the gap for the full 10k and finished comfortably in second place. Matt was very good out there, he had a great all round performance. The other British lads were strong on the bike and were always near the front of the group which was great. This is my first ever European cup podium, I barely raced as a Junior at European cup so its really positive to be up there competing well in my first few years as a senior athlete, especially after having 2015 out due to illness and injury. Hopefully this is the beginning of an exciting senior career!”
Italy’s De Ponti, “I am very happy to be on the podium in my first ETU cup of the year. In the first races of the season you never really know how strong you are or whether you are in good shape and I am satisfied mine is good. I managed to stay in the first group after the swim. On the bike I pushed a lot to stay in the first part of the group to ride my bike at the best way in the technical parts of the track. In the last part of the race I didn’t run my best, I had some cramping problems but I managed to get the bronze medal. Sharp and Johnson really had another pace on the run, congratulations to both of them!”
Full gallery of photos from Melilla.
Photo credits to the Spanish Federation go once again to Jorge Jiménez.
So great racing over the weekend in Melilla. Another huge success. Just can’t wait until next year !
Related Event: 2016 Melilla ETU Triathlon European Cup
|Results: Elite Men|
|3.||Massimo De Ponti||ITA||01:52:30|
|4.||Ignacio Gonzalez Garcia||ESP||01:52:44|
|6.||Jordi García Gracia||ESP||01:52:56|
|Results: Elite Women|
|2.||Anna Godoy Contreras||ESP||02:06:28|
|4.||Sara Perez Sala||ESP||02:09:30|
|5.||Camila Alonso Aradas||ESP||02:11:12|