Romania promised. Romania delivered.
We had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with a cup of tea to watch the live feed for the Age Group race last night. With cameras all over the course, it was easy to follow the athletes and watch the different styles of running, biking and skiing in those incredibly tough conditions.
The line-up for Winter Triathlon is rather unique. With the transition Area numbered with the youngest athletes having the lowest numbers, they are closest to the mount line. As each athlete is called by name and country, they walk through the transition area, past all the other competitors, with cheers, high-fives and applause. Gradually emptying, they make their way to the start line and the atmosphere is simply the best.
With the intro music keeping the tension going, the fade out to the heartbeats lets the athletes know that the start is now inevitable. Silence … the loud electronic horn sounds and the snow is kicked up as they sprint and jostle for position.
Early leaders are Angus Young GBR, wearing #4 along with #12, Lukáš Cintula SVK and #19, Daniel Vera Palacín ESP. They gradually upped the speed and created a break, taking Romania’s Darius Hanganut, wearing #1 with them.
Within this group, it was Hanganut who won here last year, Young took bronze, Cintula won silver here and then went on to take two top ten places in Ibiza in the Cross Duathlon and Cross Triathlon events.
A tough mix but it was Young who capitalised on this initial attack and galloping down the slopes, digging in on the climbs, he created a lead of some 37 seconds as he entered T1. The chasing athletes had been caught by #38, Slavomír Praj SVK who had won silver in Asiago and despite being considerably older than those leading, was impressively fast and looking good.
For the women, who started with the men, it was #89, Serena Piganzoli ITA, bronze medal winner from Asiago, #84 Anna Artamonova RUS and #81 Pavlína Jordánová CZE who set the pace, with Jordánová taking control and entering T1 11 seconds ahead of Piganzoli.
Starting a minute behind the Age Group athletes, it was once again the multiple-title, many medal-wearing duo of Robert Tamirjan and Rafa Solís, representing Romania and Spain, who were racing for individual medals in the PTS4 and PTS5 categories.
These two athletes have known each other for a number of years now and their friendship is solid.
Before the race, there was some discussion as to how many people they would both be able to overtake; competitive? Oh, yes!
Back to the leaders and Young was powering away on the bike in difficult conditions and his lead was being attacked by Praj and Cintula. They caught the Brit and it was Cintula who kept the pressure up and forged ahead. The bike was energy-sapping and the 1,300m altitude was making the athletes use every cubic centimetre of their lung capacity. Into T2, it was Praj leading and Cintula close behind. Praj struggled with frozen fingers and lost valuable time trying to release the helmet fastener. Seeing Cintula ready to go, he summoned up a last effort and nearly removed his ears as he slid the helmet strap over his head. Skis on and he set off first on the final leg and his strongest discipline. Young struggled too but with his shoes and as he set off he could see Cintula and Praj way ahead as they moved in synchronized style up the first climb.
Praj then put on the pressure and broke away from Cintula; a move that could not be responded to and slowly but surely, his lead grew. Back down the pack and in the 55-59 Category, it was Russian superstar Oleg Sukhodolin, a disappointing DNF last year, who was carving his path through the pack.
Praj cruised home to take the overall victory amongst the Men, along with the title in his 45-49 Age Group. Cintula came home in second place, taking the title in his 25-29 category and third across the line was none other than Sukhodolin.
The women’s race was a runaway victory for Jordánová to the cheering delight of the Czech supporters. Overall victory and gold in the 25-29 category. Second across the line was Artamonova, who won gold in the 30-34 category and third was reigning World Champion, Sabine Greipel AUT, also in the 55-59 category. It was indeed a good day for the older athletes.
Taking part is all-important. Wearing your national uniform and being part of that team representing your country – that is important and we saw a small but dedicated group of athletes race in Cheile Gradistei in pretty tough conditions. The beauty of Winter Triathlon is that conditions can change so quickly and it is the adaptability of athletes that will take them through the pack to a medal.
Let’s have a look at the age-group wins by category.
In the youngest Age-Group, it was a gold to Romania’s Darius Hanganut who had featured at the front end of the race in the early stages. Winning here last year, it would have been nice to see him race in Asiago but at so young an age, his boasting rights are pretty impressive; A World and a European title.
For Angus Young GBR, this race was him hitting the headlines, with a powerful display of running to ensure that those who dared to go with him had to work hard. Holding the lead in his Age-Group proved easy and gave him more than enough in the bank to stave off the faster skiers, both Romanians, who claimed silver and bronze. He gave everything for this race. Silver went to Romania with Zsolt Keresztes showing just a little more power than teammate, Áron Incze who has the impressive race history or 4 events and 4 podiums. Any suggestion that Angus will be running “palinka-drinking courses” in the near future is entirely speculation.
Pavlína Jordánová CZE, won the race outright and of course took gold in the 25-29 Age-Group.
At one point it looked as if Lukáš Cintula SVK would win the race. His hopes for overall victory were snatched from him by fellow Slovak, Praj on the last leg but he comfortably won his category and started the impressive medal haul for his country. Silver went to Romania’s Paul Dimbean. A member of Mureș Runners, we can expect to see him again later this year in deepest Transylvania for the Multisport Festival that will be based at his hometown, Târgu Mureș.
For the 30-34 Category, the combined bike and ski power of Russia’s Anna Artamonova was just too much for Germany’s Carmen Putz. The Siberian-based biathlete upgraded her Asiago bronze to a gold and Putz, missing out on a medal in Italy, upgraded her bronze here last year to a nice, shiny silver.
The Men’s race was another gold for Slovakia, with Martin Hikaník adding another title to his impressive collection. Having won the title in Jämijärvi in 2012, becoming a World Champion, he added the European title in 2013 in Tartu (when it was so cold that for some, the journey home saw their cars struggle as the thermometer dropped to -40C). Later that year he was runner-up in the Worlds in Cogne but returned in 2014 to claim his second World title. A silver here in 2018 and now the European title once more. Silver went to Great Britain’s Christopher Gouldsmith the defending champion from his Etna victory. This time around he was outpaced by the Slovak but so much stronger on the bike and skis that bronze medal-winner, Daniel Vera Palacín who missed the podium last year but beat Gouldsmith. No doubt there was added incentive for the Welshman to push harder this year. No rest for Vera, who has now thrown himself into the Cross Duathlon circuit in Aragón. So, a big shout to him that Cross Duathlon features in the Multisport Festival in Transylvania.
Serena Piganzoli was supreme in her 35-39 Age-Group. A strong run took her to the front and after her bike, it was a chance for her to show her skills on skis as she pulled further way from the challenge that was mounted by Russia’s Oya Gritskova. For Piganzoli, in her first outing on the international circuit, this is an excellent result and her club back home, Trisports.it, will no doubt be encouraging her to continue racing the ITU/ETU circuit. Gritskova, coached by no other than the magnificent Pavel Andreev, has enjoyed a busy few months, with a top ten finish in the Ibiza Cross Duathlon, then a bronze in Asiago and now a European silver. After the race, she shared a little secret about the Russian team, “Очень здорово, что мы - одна команда, без разделения на элиту и age group. It’s very great that we are one team, without separation to elite and age group.” Bronze medal went to Germany’s Hella Eggeling who also makes her international debut. Her write-up, sent to the German Triathlon Federation, is a full of passion from start to finish and conveys the ups and downs, highs and lows of the sport. “Diese Finishermedaille ist mit Sicherheit die am schwersten erarbeitete! This finish medal is without doubt the hardest-earned ever!“
The Men’s category saw more medals going to the host nation. It was Istvan Csergedi who added the ETU title to the World one he won last year. Along with teammate, Adrian Costea they pulled away from GB’s Simon Hedley, the defending champion by putting the pressure on during the bike and ski segments.
It was Costea who certainly won the “frozen beard” contest along with the silver. Bronze went to Hedley making it two bronze medals on this course.
For Eliza Pop, the venue has a special place in her heart. Bronze last year and a gold in 2019 in the 40-44 category.
Russia was once more on top of the podium with the 45-49 Age-Group women. Zoia Tikhonova missed out on a medal in Aisago but was oh, so strong here, taking the title in style. Silver went to Edit Laczkó ROU, who adds this to her ITU silver from last year.
For the men, 45-49 gold and the overall victory went to Slavomír Praj SVK. Romania’s Gustav Robert Mircea upgraded his Etna bronze from last year to a silver having put in an impressive bike leg and Markus Denz GER rounded off the podium with bronze to match the medal he won here last year. It was also a chance for GB’s Simon Ward to complete the whole course without damaging it, or himself. His spectacular DSQ in 2018 came as he tried to race with concussion after twice breaking his nose and completely losing count of the number of laps he had to do.
Owing to a cancelled flight from Moscow, many members of the Elite, U23 and Age Group team, as well as technical officials, did not arrive at the venue until 03:00hrs on the day of the Elite Races. One of those athletes, Nataliya Sila-Novitskaya. She wasted no time and was part of the Technical Officials’ Registration Team and then, for the Sunday, was ready to race. A European Champion twice over, with victories in Tartu and Reinosa, she was runner up in Otepää in 2016 and 2017 and won bronze recently in Asiago. She was stronger on the bike and skis and at the finish, comfortably ahead of Germany’s Beata Pelani. It was Pelani who had been inspirational to teammate, Hella Eggeling. Eggeling came into T2 and described how she was struggling to get her frozen feet into her ski boots. With frozen fingers, numb and unable to manage the clips, she was on the point of giving up but it was Pelani who urged the novice on. They left T2 together and crossed the line a ski’s length apart. Great teamwork from Germany.
For the Men, it was not a good day for defending champion and Asiago-based Cy-laser athlete, Gianni Sartori. Watching Slovakia’s Peter Sitarik pull away on the run and then speed through T1, putting in a strong bike leg and then posting an 18 minute ski leg, it must have been pretty unsettling but take a look at Sitarik’s history and see his world and European results. Sartori was also bettered by Estonia’s Aivar Veri, who improves his two European bronze medals to a 2019 silver.
Austria’s reigning World Champion, Sabine Greipel showed the youngsters just how to race and was more powerful than Germany’s Angela Boczek on the run and ski but the German’s long history of racing, which she has put to international use since 2016, gave her superiority on the bike. Boczek, completely new to cross-country skiing, only took up the sport at the start of 2018 and pretty much won her Etna title on her run and bike power. Enticed into the Winter Tri scene by the Grünebach duo, she was full of enthusiasm for the sport and respect for Greipel.
More gold for Team Russia, with Oleg Sukhodolin putting to rest the ghosts of 2018. Based in Tomsk, he was a runaway victor in this category and, just like Greipel, sent out a firm message to all the younger athletes. He holds 7 international titles but not restricted to snow-based events. Hopefully, his enjoyment of Romania will not end here and we will see him racing in Transylvania later this year. Andrey Gudalov is so often seen and heard at events as he provides unlimited support to his athletes. As Russia’s most experienced winter triathlon coach, he is a key member of the team and when news arrived on Friday that the flight he and his team members were supposed to be on had been cancelled, there was great concern at the venue. As noted above, they all arrived but at 03:00hrs on the day of the Elite, U23 and Junior races. As expected, Andrey was there for his athletes and was there ALL day. His chance to race came on Sunday after a few hours’ rest and having built his bike. His last medal was in 2009 in Latky Mlaky; a bronze. His hard work here in Roman upgraded that to a very well-deserved silver. Bronze went to a delighted Emil Bituleanu, increasing the host nation’s medal haul.
Great Britain’s Frances Hooper is more than at home on snow now after making her 3rd appearance wearing GB kit. Putting behind her the broken bone drama of 2018 along with a disappointing DNF last year at this venue, her performance in Asiago was a clear indication of good things to come and she came away with a gold medal and the 60-64 title in Cheile Grădiştei. With top ten finishes in Vejle last year and in Ibiza over all duathlon distances, what did she think about her race and her gold medal. “So this was nice to get after a tough, tough race in start line temperatures of -14°C. Wibbly-wobbly on the bike and sod-all ski technique but SO glad to have done this fab race with my amazing Team GB winter tri teammates….you rock, guys.”
Team Austria was delighted when Joachim Rathbauer set the early pace in the men’s race. He lost time in T1 as Russia’s Iskandar Shakhov sped past him but then worked hard on the challenging bike course to overtake and pull away from the Russian. Again losing time in transition as he moved from two wheels to two skis, he was strong on the final leg and claimed his first international title. For Shakhov, who has been seen on the international circuit since 2002 and who will race summer and winter anywhere in the world, this was to be his second silver medal of the year after missing out on the world title in Asiago. Russia was to dominate the age group, with bronze going to his teammate, Vladimir Musienko, who gets his first podium. “Yees. Бронза первенства Европы по зимнему триатлону. Жаль австриец опоздал на награждение, подпортил нам фото. Гонка была жаркая.Британец и румыны не догнали. Yess!!! Bronze in the European Winter Triathlon Championships. Sad that the Austrian was late for the ceremony, but we go a good photo. The race was intense. The British and Romanian athletes could not catch us.”
As a couple, Peter and Marianne Grünebach have invested a huge amount of time and great passion in promoting this wonderful sport. They have encouraged many athletes and are always there to cheer. Faced with the risk of having to be a spectator, Marianne found a solution to her respiratory problems with a small device that warms up air as you breathe. Having been checked by the Medical Delegate and pronounced OK, she was thrilled to be able to start and with great support around the course, ran, biked and skied her way to her first Winter Triathlon title in the 65-69 category.
The men’s race saw an impressive performance from the Czech Republic’s Jaroslav Balatka. Coming to the race with a World silver, he outran, out biked and outskied the challengers to make this his race. Silver went to the 2016 European Champion, Estonia’s Anti Oot who won here last year but who lost out in different condition sin Asiago. The defending champion, Reinhardt Engert suffered across all three disciplines and dug deep to claim bronze.
In the 70-74 Category, it was the reigning world champion from Estonia Juhan Lukk who scored a perfect ten with his victory. His finish time was even faster than that of teammate Oot, in the younger category. Lukk was unbeatable and it was really a question of who would get silver and bronze behind him. Hans Peter Grünebach GER, who had the distinction of being the 2018 World and European Champion, proved far too strong for Valter De Rossi ITA, who came home for bronze. A published author, Grünebach, using few words, conveyed the atmosphere perfectly, “Bei dem Amateurrennen am Sonntag, Start 1000Uhr war bei minus 15 Grad die Kälte der ärgste Gegner; dazu kamen drei kraftraubende, stark coupierte Laufrunden mit Einsinken in den tiefen Schnee, drei naturbelassene Radrunden auf Schnee mit etlichen Schiebepassagen und drei Skatingrunden mit langen Anstiegen und flotten Abfahrten. Trotz Stürzen, verfrorenen Fingern und Dauereinsatz am Puls-Limit schlug sich das DTU-Team hervorragend und wurde mit einem Medaillenregen für die Mühen belohnt. For the Age Group race on Sunday, it was a 10:00hrs start and the biggest challenge was the -15C; added to that were three energy-sapping, rolling run laps where your feet disappeared into the deep snow, three bike laps in pure snow, with several sections of ice where the wheels slid and three ski lap with long climbs and swift downhills. Despite falls, frozen fingers and pushing the pulse-rate to the limit, the German Team performed well and was rewarded with a cornucopia of medals.”
Part of that German team was Steffen-Luis Neuendorff. His grandson had travelled all the way from Canada to watch him race. He came, he saw and he was impressed. Granddad has a huge collection of medals and titles. Most recently, he won the world title in Asiago and now, he can go home as a World and European 75-79 Champion.
The final age-group saw just one athlete on the start lists. Sadly, Reinhold Wolter was unable to race due to illness after claiming silver in Asiago but instead, his teammate Günter Birnbaum was there to race. With the early-morning temperatures so low, many athletes were suffering but as the day warmed up, the snow conditions became more and more challenging. With the Mixed Relay scheduled for the afternoon, the Head Referee and Medical Delegate spoke to Birnbaum as he came into T1 and advised him, for safety’s sake to compete only two of the three bike laps and only two of the three ski laps. This is exactly what he did. A remarkable achievement for a man born in 1939.
The Age Group racing was watched by Eric Le Lostec, who had delivered the Winter Triathlon test event in Beijing not so long ago. This was his first chance to see just how good we are in Europe at staging top-quality events. He loved the venue, was impressed by the delivery and blown away by the after party. “What an amazing race! European championship of Winter triathlon congratulations for the winners and all the athletes – a big round of applause for Peter Klosz & the LOC for a great organization.” Eric went away with a phone full of contacts, a brain filled with new ideas and the lasting impression of an event well-delivered.
For a full album of photos, please click here. Photo by Radu-Cristi. All rights reserved.
Do you want to watch the whole race again? Then click here.
Championship events are about being there. Being part of your team and of course about winning medals.
The first medals of 2019 having been won, let’s see who was strongest.
Related Event: 2019 Cheile Gradistei ETU Winter Triathlon European Championships
|Results: Elite Men|
|Results: Elite Women|
|Results: U23 Men|
|Results: Junior Men|
|2.||Leonord Stefan Hincu||ROU||01:28:08|