The very heavy rains over the past few days ruined plans for the swim here in Tønsberg. A Government ban on swimming in the bay of Oslo confirmed the concerns of the Technical Delegate who had checked the water quality tests and seen record levels. The weather conditions suggested that within a couple of days the water in the river would be as clean as ever but race-day dawned with no possibility of a swim. The beautifully set up pontoon was not to be used.
The contingency plan provided for a duathlon and so the announcement was made. The coaches and team managers briefed the athletes and as they checked in the Technical Delegate was there to answer any questions.
A 2-lap run making 4.8k would be the first leg, followed by a 20k bike and a final short run of 2.4k would decide the medals today. With dry roads and little wind this meant that we would be guaranteed an exciting race. There would also be the matter of time penalties that had to be served by those athletes who missed the briefing. In a race that does not have a swim as its first segment, athletes who miss the briefing do not now get moved to the end of the line-up and then have the less favoured place on the pontoon. Since the end of last year ITU Rules impose a time penalty on the first run. This would see race favourite Yuliya Yelistratova UKR amongst others take the ten seconds before the bike.
From the start it was Yelistratova who took command of the race and ran at a pace the truly pushed the other athletes.
Alongside her at the end of the first lap was Kseniia Levkovska AZE and Danish athlete, Alberte Kjær Pedersen who, as a strong Junior was now suddenly racing alongside one of the most experienced women athletes on the circuit.
Levkovska and Yelistratova both chose to serve their penalties on the first lap, leaving Kjær alone to run. Behind them came a large pack of runners, including the two Russians, Valentina Zapatrina and the younger Ekaterina Matiukh, Amanda Bohlin SWE, Sara Pérez Sala ESP and Brittany Dutton AUS.
Just before this pack reached level with the penalty box, Yelistratova and Levkovska burst out and back onto the run, with Yelistratova once more kicking hard to catch up the Dane. Another lap brought the groups all together but the pace was too much for Kjær and as they entered T1 it was Yelistratova, Zapatrina, Matiukh, Bohlin, Levkovska, Dutton and Deborah Lynch NZL.
Some determined and strong solo rising from Pérez took her into the peloton and it was this group that entered T2. Team Australia now had two well-placed athletes in the lead group and the shortest of runs to finish might give them a medal chance.
Into T2 - no chance for any errors now.
A moment’s hesitation with her helmet seemed to give Yelistratova extra speed as she shot out of transition and immediately put her mark on the pace of the final run. The only ones who could keep with her were the two Russians and as they ran down onto the waterfront it was the younger Matiukh who was leading by just a stride.
As the crowds began to shout their encouragement the strength of the Ukrainian athlete was just enough to take her up to the shoulder and then beyond and as the pace increased she created a gap between her and Matiukh.
Gold went to Yelistratova. Silver to Matiukh and just behind her, bronze went to her teammate Zapatrina.
After the race, Yelistratova, heading off to Rio on Tuesday said, “I came here to use this as a warm up for Rio. It was a shame about the swim but I wanted to work hard on the run, my husband, Vladimir, has helped me really well and my running, with the high cadence, helps me save energy.”
She then very kindly helped interpret for Matiukh, who, terribly shy with her first live interview, said, “It is much harder to keep pace at this Elite level, compared to racing as a Junior but an important development in my career. My next race will be the Russian National Championships and then to Cozumel. This is my first race here and I hope to be here next year.”
Zapatrina, also using Yelistratova to interpret, said, “I would have loved to have the swim today. This is my strongest discipline. I felt much more confident on the run in other races. Today was not so good but I hope to be stronger for the Russian Championships and then for Cozumel. The bike course was interesting. I liked it but I think there could be some more barriers to secure the course.”
The men’s start was moved to accommodate the larger number of athletes and, although the distance was some 50m less than the women this decision was taken by the Technical Delegate, working with the LOC and the coaches, to ensure the athletes’ safety. It was a good call as the massed ranks of the men took off at top speed from the start.
Justus Nieschlag GER, with gold last week, was hoping to do the double but he was up against a massive wall of gold and green Australian uniforms. Leading the team from down-under was Declan Wilson AUS wearing #1.
Lining up the athletes in transition was a good call. Looked impressive. So was the start, showing so many national uniforms.
As the first run lap finished it was indeed that wall of gold and green that led the 20-strong group of men through transition.
Nieschlag found himself in the chase pack some 10 seconds adrift. The gap grew on the second lap and it was clear that the medals would come from the leading group. Norwegian hopes were raised by the presence in that group of Gustav Iden, Jørgen Gundersen and Casper Stornes. The cheers from the many spectators who now lined the course rose in intensity every time they saw a Norwegian uniform and by the time the athletes came into T1 the noise levels were dangerously high.
Out on the bike and that lead pack of 20 worked hard, really hard to maintain the advantage they had over the chase pack. Supreme bike control ensured maximum effort and speed around the technical course and despite a few wheels kissing, there were no spills.
There were however some thrills especially when Stornes broke away from the front and raced through transition to the delight of the crowds and astonishment of the other athletes.
Coming into T2, no mistakes were made and it was Iden and Gundersen who led them out onto the run, with the Aussie uniforms of Wilson and Joel Tobin White very visible. Tobin White had a disappointing race in Malmö but here in Tønsberg, things were looking good. As the run unfolded, things got to look even better and for only the second time he was able to edge ahead of team-mate and friend, Wilson.
The crowds now lined the riverfront and cheered the Australian athlete as he raced to the line, being chased all the time by Wilson.
It was Tobin White who took gold and, taking time to high-5 some spectators lining the finish chute it was Wilson who got silver. Behind them was a huge smile. The huge smile was on the face of Anders Lund Hansen DEN.
After the race, Tobin White said, “Not beaten him for a long time. We are like best mates, training together and it’s really like having a brother on the podium next to me. I’m off to the French Grand Prix soon in about three weeks’ time. I’m from Melbourne, best city in the world, and the weather is pretty much like this. I love the races here as you get to see loads of different places. I loved it here but it was a shame that the 20-25k I swim each week was not used here but that is how it goes.”
Wilson said, “If this had been a triathlon I’d have won. Ha-ha. It was tough as a duathlon. I tried to hold my position in the run and the bike and then give everything on the final run. Loads of us here today. Some from France. Joel and I came from Thailand and Spain as part of the build-up for Cozumel. My first time here but I definitely want to come back. The bike was great, wheels touching, swearwords as it got sketchy. It was great in the peloton. I find it a ball. You can rail the corner and then accelerate out like Gundersen was doing.”
Lund said, “No swim was good for me after a terrible swimming season for me. It hurt a little bit out on the run but you don’t give everything on the first lap. It was almost like a WTS of World Cup out there on the run. It was great. Soon we have the Nordic Championships and Danish Championships in Fredericia. It will be nice to race these guys again.”
Arild Mjøs Andersen, President of the Norwegian Triathlon Federation spoke after the event and after the 600+ age group athletes had raced the open event, “This has been a major step for us as a Federation. Having this event here in Norway, despite the challenges that made the swim impossible, I am happy that triathlon has left its mark in Tønsberg. I am sure that for any spectators who knew not very much about our sport, the race today showed them how exciting triathlon can be and now, when they watch the triathlon in Rio, they will be even greater supporters of our athlete there, Kristian Blummenfelt. You know, his father worked here as part of the registration. I am proud of all our athletes who raced here today. The organisers here delivered a great event and I am hoping that we will see you all again next year, here in Tønsberg.”
So, not quite what was planned but with each challenge the LOC worked hard to ensure the show went on. Asking the athletes and spectators after the race, it was certainly a hit and the big question on everyone’s lips was “can we come back next year?”
Related Event: 2016 Tønsberg ETU Sprint Triathlon European Cup
|Results: Elite Men|
|1.||Joel Tobin White||AUS||00:54:45|
|3.||Anders Lund Hansen||DEN||00:55:05|
|9.||Casper Stenderup Korch||DEN||00:55:23|
|Results: Elite Women|
|9.||Danielle De Francesco||AUS||01:02:57|
|10.||Sara Perez Sala||ESP||01:03:22|