This weekend was the first time ever that high-level international racing has taken place in this tiny enclave. The crowds that came out to line the streets were not denied a wonderful spectacle. The athletes raced well, the LOC delivered and the city basked in the glory of hosting four great races.
John Petrides GBR, was the Technical Delegate. Working closely with Jorge Garcia ESP from the Spanish Federation who was wearing his “Director of Competitions” hat, the two succeeded in saving the race after road conditions towards the Moroccan border were found to be in a bad condition. A quick re-think of the options, a visit to ensure the road surface was OK and with the coaches fully briefed to show the course changes all was sorted. A further challenge was presented when it was pointed out that local restrictions would not allow swimming more than 250m from the coast and it was once again a chance for John to put into play his ability to think outside the box and re-design the swim course. This too was checked, re-checked and double-checked before the coaches were updated. A full and detailed race briefing took place in the magnificent town hall so that everyone knew the important changes.
It was the juniors who raced first. With the water at a very pleasant 17.9C and with the air at 21.9C, racing conditions were near perfect. The numbers given out did not really give much of a clue as to who was in the best form and so it was going to be exciting to see who would take the podium. The swim start, in order to comply with the restrictions that were imposed upon the event, saw the athletes have a beach start but then to run in knee-deep water for some 80m until they reached a buoy that signalled it was safe to start their swim.
31 junior women made their way to the carpet for the start. The swim soon broke into two distinct groups but the leading pack veered off course allowing the chase pack to get the advantage. A clear lead of about a body length allowed Spanish hopes to rise as Meritxell Velasco exited the water. A year ago in Quarteira she finished well down but with a year of training behind her and leading the race the big question was, “Can she hold on?”
Following her to T1, which was a 500m run from water’s edge to carpet, was German athlete Jara Brandenberg, in her first international race. Only three seconds separated the two as they left the water but the long run to T1 gave the fast-running Spaniard an extra advantage of a further 7 seconds. It was Oxana Grot, KAZ and Marina Castro who followed but they were caught by Lena Neuburg who had a strong swim but then sprinted up to T1 to post the third fastest transition time.
With the swim allowing a break and a further change in fortunes in the long run to T1 it was a lead pack on the bike with four Spanish athletes and two Germans. After one lap only Lina Völker GER was able to bridge the gap, putting the German team in a strong contending position. The race had been selected by the Nordrhein-Westfälische Triathlonverband as a test event for their athletes and led by their trainer Gerrit Völker it looked like there would be a real battle for the three medals.
T2 was done and dusted in less than 20 seconds by three of the four top places and so it would be that the run would decide it all. It was indeed a German lead by Lina Völker who had to fight a losing battle against the three determined and powerful Spanish juniors.
It was the amazing pace from Cecilia Santamaria Surroca that ensured that gold went to the host nation.
This victory is really a breakthrough for her after her 20th place in Quarteira. Silver went to her compatriot Ines Santiago and bronze went to the swim leader Velasco. Germany just missing out on the medals here with 4th and 5th places.
Victorious Santamaria explained what happened in the race, “The race was a bit strange as we made a mistake in the first group in the swim. We had to then play catch up. The rest didn’t make that mistake so we had to work so much harder t get to the lead group on the bike. Luckily for me the run to T1 was along one. Out on the run I was leading with the German girl (Völker). Ines Santiago caught up with us and then a gap opened with us leading until the end of the second lap and then I made a push again and broke away to get the victory.”
Now it was the turn of the Junior Men. It is always exciting to see these guys race. There is just so much determination to beat the next athlete. Racing amongst the junior men is a wonderful explosion of testosterone. 52 on the start line. 52 charging into the sea.
The swim-strength of Polish athlete Michał Oliwa saw him lead easily but once again it was that long, long run to T1 that changed fortunes. It was once again the Spanish who, racing on home soil, wanted to keep their medal tally high. Alberto Gonzalez Garcia, although losing a few seconds in the swim, soon made that up on the T1 run and was joined by Israeli athlete Omri Bahat. Placido Venegas and then Ignacio Gonzalez Garcia made up the Spanish charge and with the two brothers together it was always going to be hard and fast out on the bike.
It was Alberto Gonzalez who was in command and working well but the chase pack finally caught up. T2 was incredible and with an amazing injection of speed his younger brother Ignacio pushed to the front. This was a position he would not let go of. What a way to celebrate his birthday !
Gold went to Gonzalez, silver went to Gonzalez and bronze was snapped up by Italian athlete, Franco Pesavento.
After the race, Ignacio said, “I was very happy. Last year I was injured and this year luckily I am taking part on international events. After the disappointments of last year it is really thrilling to be able to share the podium with my brother. In the beginning I had a bit of a struggle in the swim as the run in the water for the first 80m and that really knocked the rhythm. Slowly but surely I got into the lead group. On the bike we got a pack together that really worked well. I was able to catch my brother because of this pack work. On the run I gambled everything and really went for it. It was the first gift I could give to myself for my birthday. Thanks !”
Older brother Alberto said, “Silver medal in the ETU Junior European Cup in Melilla – no words needed ! Absolutely incredible ! really good swim, a great bike leg and then a run that was so, so tough. Congratulations to my brother, who apart from turning 19 today, came back to give a big bang on the table in such a spectacular manner. Next stop Alcobendas for the ETU Championships Duathlon. We’ll give our best !”
For the Elite Women, the water temperature was a bit warmer at 18.2C and the air warming up nicely to 23.9C. This ultimately would test the elite and the crowds. Reports came in from the juniors that they had never seen so many people along the course as they cheered and shouted them to the finish line. With the Elite Races about to begin it was amazing that even more spectators came out to see the swim/bike/run.
A small field of Elite Women took to the start line for that run through the water and then the two lap swim. The expected lead from AZE athlete Kseniia Levkovska proved to be a battle between three at the front. Levkovska swam well with the two Spanish athletes Anna Godoy Contreras and Marta Sanchez who is moving up this year from the Junior ranks.
Once again that long run into T1 would challenge the leaders but Godoy dug in and maintained her lead. In her last year in the U23 category, strong swimming Godoy was the best-placed Spanish Elite Woman in the Quarteira race and would here in Melilla be hoping to improve on her 9th place.
Godoy said after the race, “The race was very tough and exciting, a difficult swimming, and a long transition, the bike was hard by the wind, although fast, and the run was really suffered from the heat and temperature in Melilla. As for the atmosphere was incredible, because there were many people cheering all along the course.”
After the bike, a group of athletes set off together on the run. Marlene Gomez-Islinger GER, Elena Maria Petrini ITA and Godoy pushed and pushed on the run in the intense afternoon heat. Gomez, former ETU U23 Cross Triathlon Champion clearly had the stamina. Petrini, Mediterranean Champion from her Loutraki victory last year, had the pace and knew the weather conditions well. They had Sara Papais ITA with them but a fast-finishing Spanish athlete, Sara Bonilla Bernardez was closing with each lap.
Gomez, Petrini and Godoy kept the pressure up and eventually dropped Papais and after another lap it was Gomez who made a decisive move with about 200m to go.
Almost as if the elastic had been cut, her lead increased. Godoy kept her in view but Petrini had to watch as Gomez and Godoy pulled away. It was Gomez who took the finish tape with an 8 second lead on Godoy. Italian cheers were heard as Petrini crossed the line to take bronze.
A jubilant Gomez shared her thoughts about the race, “The race, due to the heat and the flat water was pretty tough and I am very happy with the result. It was out on the bike that I think I made the best move for the race as I was in the lead group. Out onto the run I held back as I didn’t think I had much energy left. It was only towards the end of the 10k that I upped the tempo.” I think we can safely say that this “upping of the tempo” was a kick that left everyone behind.
Big thanks to the Godoy Lafont partnership for the photos.
So far the medal table looked pretty well-stacked to the Spanish who had taken 6 of the available 9 medals. Would the Elite Men be able to deliver?
That would all be decided by the 60 athletes who set off from the blue start line into the quite unique sea run before the swim.
As expected, it was a close swim with the first athlete out of the water in 19:49 by Kevin Tarek Viñuela ESP . Then followed a further 16 athletes in the next 10 seconds. Britain’s Gordon Benson was well-placed a few seconds behind him but then followed a long stream of potential podium athletes, including the determined Spanish
The bike course was soon a lesson in pack riding and hard work. The crowds lining the streets were impressive and the cheers for the athletes certainly raised the pulse.
A break away took 2014 Kitzbühel Junior Silver medallist, Antonio Serrat Seoane ESP, Italy’s Gregory Barnaby, GBR’s Beau Smith and Spain’s Ricardo Hernandez Marrero away and into a clear 70 second lead as they entered T2
Out onto the run and it was down to Serrat to set the pace, soon establishing a 50m lead over Abuin who had himself a lead over a large chasing group.
But back down the field it was a storming Gordon Benson who was taking scalps as he tore through the field. By the end of lap 2 Benson had caught Abuin and was less than 60 metres behind Serrat. By lap 3 Gordon and Serrat were racing together and with 300m to go Benson, with the fastest run of the day, accelerated away to take the gold medal.
A minor drama on the blue carpet meant that the race for silver and bronze was more like a run for the hills as athletes appeared to be chased by an over-excited dog. It was a DNF for the dog who gave up when he lost sight of the muscular legs of the Spanish athletes who took the remaining podium spots.
Spain was not disappointed through as Serrat held on for silver and with bronze going to Uxio Abuin Ares it was a bonanza day of races for the Spanish Federation.
After the race Benson said, “I was happy to get the win out here. I went to Melilla with hopes of a good performance and was happy to deliver. The race went to plan and it was a well-organised and enjoyable event. Jorge and Triathlon Spain did a great job. I can now go into my next races, Antalya and Yokohama off the back of a win and get stuck in. Congratulations to Antonio & Uxío also, I enjoyed a good honest race against them.”
For silver medallist Serrat, “I am very happy with the race today. I enjoyed the break-away on the bike with my training mates, Luis Velasquez and Ricardo Hernandez and gave my coach, Omar Gonzalez Sampedro, reason to panic. Carry on working ! Still looking for a bike sponsor ;-)”
Rounding up on the race Abuin said, “I felt comfy in the swim and I was out of the water in the top group. On the bike I didn't see the break-away in time and that was a problem, but I tried to run as fast as possible to try to be in the podium and finally I got it, so I'm very happy with the result!”
Although he did not have any of his athletes racing in the ETU events, Héctor Infante García, had the chance to capture lasting memories of the races, which he will no doubt use as inspiration for his own athletes, “My athletes were not racing in the ETU Waves but I was very impressed with the swim as the new and changed course was really improved and my athletes, racing in the open wave did well. The LOC did a great job in organising this event. A great and unique experience and we are all hoping that the event can be run again. Well done to them all. I took loads of photos and they can be seen on my page.” His enthusiasm is proof of the legacy that this event has delivered to the city.
Technical Delegate John Petrides was very pleased with the event, “A small region of Spain with a very big heart. 5 races in 1 day stretched the LOC and Technical Officials to their limits, BUT they all worked together and gave the people of Melilla and the ETU a spectacular event. All the athletes were asking if this was going to be on the calendar for 2016.”
Related Event: 2015 Melilla ETU Triathlon European Cup
|Results: Elite Men|
|2.||Antonio Serrat Seoane||ESP||01:53:55|
|3.||Uxio Abuin Ares||ESP||01:54:08|
|5.||Massimo De Ponti||ITA||01:54:23|
|7.||David Castro Fajardo||ESP||01:54:39|
|Results: Elite Women|
|2.||Anna Godoy Contreras||ESP||02:11:14|
|3.||Elena Maria Petrini||ITA||02:11:23|
|5.||Sara Bonilla Bernardez||ESP||02:12:34|