Each year, it seems, the U23 Championships are held under “interesting” conditions. Extreme heat has been the norm until this year when the worst weather in living memory swept though the region, forcing the Organisers to re-schedule and ultimately reduce the race down to half the usual distance.
The event would span two days, allowing for the Mixed Relay on the Sunday.
It was a great swim from them both and, significantly, it was ahead of Austria’s Therese Feuersinger, who was just behind Hungary’s Dorka Putnóczki. This attack from Alden and Ulatowska was a sensible tactic, as Feuersinger has been able, in the past, to use her swim power to escape and then ride solo. It was not to be here and the tall Austrian had to play catch-up.
Soon enough, though, she was in command on the bike and set about pushing up the pace to see who had the power to stay with her. A pack formed but the six were strung out, with Feuersinger doing all the work at the front.
The pace was relentless and as the leaders neared T2, the group was down to five.
Some intense riding out on the course had taken Belgium’s Kiara Lenaertz into a strong position to attack the leaders but her move had delivered Germany’s Lisa Terstch into contention. Lenaertz sped through transition with Valentina Riasova RUS and Pauline Landron FRA chasing but there was Tertsch and, seeing the line of athletes ahead, wasted no time in kicking through the gears, ready to attack.
The inevitable happened and the lead went easily into Tertsch’s hands. She was unbeatable on the run and she soon opened up a lead that left Riasova and Landron, last year’s Junior Champion from the Tartu Championships, to battle for silver and bronze.
Back in June, Thorsten Eisenhofer, a Triathlon reporter writing for DTU asked her, “Was willst du im Triathlon noch erreichen?/ What would you like to achieve in triathlon?” Her answer, “Ich möchte zu Olympia. 2020 ist ein Ziel, ich habe Tokio auf jeden Fall im Hinterkopf. Aber ich will das nicht Hals über Kopf erreichen. Wenn das nicht mehr klappt, peile ich eben die Olympischen Spiele 2024 oder 2028 an. Ich bin ja noch jung. / I’d like to go to the Olympics. 2020 in a goal, I’ve got Tokyo in any case in the back of my mind but I don’t want to run into that. If it doesn’t happen, then I’ll focus on the 2024, or 2028 Olympic Games. I’m still quite young.”
Well, looking back at her performances this year, culminating with a World Bronze only a couple of weeks ago and now the European title, her future certainly looks golden.
The Men’s race was always going to be intense and with 23 nations fighting it out, the action was full-on from the deep water start.
A steady stream of athletes filed up the run towards transition, all hoping to keep contact with the leader and to be part of the giant peloton that could follow.
For some, it was a real struggle to get onto the exit ramp, with the 750m swim not really thinning the pack out.
At one point it looked more like rugby, as the athletes struggled with the narrow exit.
Somehow, in the mêlée, Vasco Vilaça POR managed to break away.
As huge group gave chase but the three at the front were strong and knew they had to escape.
Vilaça was successful in his gamble and was first out onto the run.
Dijkstra, the pressure of his exams now gone, looked relaxed as he focussed on catching the escaping Portuguese athlete. Behind him, sheltering from the wind, a line of hopefuls. With Mantecon looking good the crowds now had more reason to cheer, as first Javier Lluch Pérez and then Carlos Olivier Vives clung to the slipstream created by the tall Brit.
Upping the pace, Dijkstra caught Vilaça and Lluch hung on desperately as the British athlete added power relentlessly. As the pack watched the leading two pull away, the realisation that just one medal remained must have been in everyone’s minds.
Dijkstra used every turn on the course to add pressure to the Spaniard tucked in behind him.
We had seen Dijkstra’s breathtaking pace before but following injury a couple of years back, he had not been running at full power. Today, in Valencia, all systems were set to “FULL POWER” and over the final 2k, he simply outran the rest to claim victory and the title.
Lluch, assured of silver, had time to celebrate before the finish-line and, with a well-timed attack right at the end of the 5k, it was Sweden’s Gabriel Sandör who took the bronze.
So, the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games Champion, the 2015 World Junior Duathlon Champion has grown up into the 2019 European U23 Triathlon Champion.
For Lluch, “Me sentí muy fuerte desde el principio de la natación y me permitió enlazar con el primer grupo en el inicio de la bici. La bici fue muy dura por el viento y pronto nos juntamos un grupo muy grande donde no había un respiro entre los continuos ataques. Nos bajamos a correr y empiezo detrás del británico Dijkstra y lo sigo sin mirar atrás y al poco tiempo nos quedamos solos y es con quien me juego la victoria, obviamente Ben estaba un punto por encima de todos ese día y me tuve que conformar con la medalla de plata. / I felt strong from the start of the swim and this allowed me to catch up with the lead group on the start of the bike. The bike was extremely hard, due to the wind and soon enough we were in a big group and there was constant attacks. We got off to run and I started behind the Brit, Dijkstra. I carried on, not looking behind and soon, it was just the two of us and with him, I gambled on a win. Obviously, Ben was much better than us all on the day and I had to settled for silver.”
The individual event over, it was time for the Team Managers to look closely at the splits and work out any last-minute changes for the relay teams, who raced the following day over the super-sprint distance.
The Relays really do showcase our sport and with the U23 Championships featuring many athletes who had raced in Lausanne as part of their National Teams at the Worlds, the anticipation of a close race was strong. 12 teams lined up and presented to the crowds, who cheered the athletes as they walked through Transition down to the swim start.
It was Germany, with newly-crowned U23 Champion, Lisa Tertsch who led the first leg.
With work to do after the swim, that was led by GB’s Sophie Alden, Terstch dug deep on the bike and soon was alongside the British athlete as their pack did their best to catch the leading group.
Out on to the run and she was away, free to hand over to Scott McClymont, who flew into action.
Team Switzerland was next to the hand-over, just 8 seconds down but 13 seconds behind was Team GB and the handover was going to none other than the U23 Champion, Ben Dijkstra.
He wasted no time in the water but could not catch the German in the water. As he passed Arnaud Mengal BEL on the run to T1, he knew that McClymont could not be far ahead.
The host nation, despite the cheers from the spectators, had a lot of work to do. Javier Lluch Pérez was doing just that, as he pushed hard on the accelerator.
He found support with Ukraine’s Oleksiy Astafyev and the pair chain-ganged their way back into contention.
Dijkstra was now flying and in the lead.
Switzerland and Germany chased.
Lluch had carved through the pack but the new Champion was going all out to hand over to GB’s fastest runner, Bronwen Owen.
Lluch had run into third place, behind the German team but had fought the whole run with Portugal’s Ricardo Batista.
Owen raced sensibly, allowing the pack to catch her and using the protection within the group of 4 to prepare for the run. Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.
All three athletes knowing that once in her running shoes, Owen could not be caught.
Out on the run course and Owen delivered a master-class in pace, clocking 5:59, pushing Team GB even closer to a win. Annika Koch did well for Team Germany but the combination of Dijkstra and Owen was simply too much.
As the men lined up for the final handover, Harry Leleu knew that he had been delivered a gift but that he had to give everything he had to maintain the lead. Looking around him and seeing the likes of Roberto Sánchez Mantecón ESP, Jannick Schauffler GER and especially, Simon Westermann SUI, it would have been a moment of pure panic for mere mortals but Leleu held it together as he swam, while behind him the intensity of the final handover reached fever-pitch.
Schauffler could see Leleu as he exited the water. The excitement grew. Could Team Germany snatch the win?
Sánchez was storming but ahead of him, the German and British athletes had gone all-out on the bike.
T2 was immense, with Leleu and Schauffler side by side as they sped out onto the run.
Schauffler edged into the lead, watched carefully by Leleu.
The crowds were screaming encouragement to Sánchez, who rose to the occasion and delivered the race of his life.
Leleu timed his kick perfectly. Having watched the German athlete, he waited until it was just right and accelerated past Schauffler to hit the carpet, drawn to the finish by his team-mates whose voices threatened to drown out even the Spanish supporters.
Gold to a jubilant Team GB, silver to the worthy runners-up from Germany but behind them, the biggest cheers of the day went to Roberto Sánchez, who had posted the best time for the final leg and secured a place on the podium for the host nation.
Ben Dijkstra, U23 Champion and now part of the winning team in the U23 Mixed Relay Championships had these simple words to say after the race, “What a way to round off the year!”
A quick look at the ETU U23 Rankings suggests that it was indeed, a pretty good year.
Many thanks to FETRI’s David Pedregosa (Triathlon In The World) for his excellent photos and to Dani Márquez , FETRI’s Media manager for the truly reliable support given to ETU Media. You can see the whole album (including the ETU Para Championships) by clicking this link.
Related Event: 2019 Valencia ETU Triathlon U23 European Championships
|Results: U23 Men|
|2.||Javier Lluch Perez||ESP||00:51:33|
|6.||Vetle Bergsvik Thorn||NOR||00:51:45|
|7.||Roberto Sanchez Mantecon||ESP||00:51:46|
|Results: U23 Women|
|8.||Sara Guerrero Manso||ESP||00:58:50|
|10.||Madalena Amaral Almeida||POR||00:58:55|
|Results: Mixed U23 Relay|
|1.||Team I Great Britain||GBR||01:18:02|
|2.||Team I Germany||GER||01:18:07|
|3.||Team I Spain||ESP||01:18:48|
|4.||Team I Switzerland||SUI||01:18:50|
|5.||Team I Belgium||BEL||01:18:58|
|6.||Team I Hungary||HUN||01:19:03|
|7.||Team I Norway||NOR||01:19:34|
|8.||Team I Poland||POL||01:19:41|
|9.||Team I Russia||RUS||01:20:52|
|10.||Team I Portugal||POR||01:21:37|