This last weekend saw a huge number of athletes make their way to deepest Ukraine and to the Dnipro Triathlon Festival that hosted the ETU Dnipro European Cup and the ETU Dnipro Junior European Cup.
The LOC put on a whole programme of events to allow athletes of all ages to race and to then to get really close to the international action for the ETU races.
With glorious weather it was a home victory for the defending title-holder, Yuliya Yelistratova. She had to work hard with Portugal’s Andreia Ferrum chasing her down on the run. Ukraine’s colours made it into bronze-medal position too with the young and promising athlete, Sofiya Pryyma. The Ukrainian national anthem boomed out over the banks of the mighty Dnipro and the words, “Ще не вмерла України, і слава, і воля” were sung passionately by not only the two female medal-winner but by the massive crowds that had gathered.
The Elite Men’s race was a truly international race with visiting athletes from the USA and from Brazil. With Vladimir Turbaevskiy deciding not to race the battle for medals was slightly more open and a tremendous performance from Jan Volár CZE took him in to a nail-biting rush to the line ahead of Oleksiy Syutkin UKR who had just enough of a kick in the final sprint to hold off Germany’s Jonathan Zipf.
So, how did the races unfold?
Under the watchful eye of Head Referee, Leonid Mogilevskiy, the athletes made their way out to the pontoon. For some, they knew the tricky currents that would rush against them as they swam away from the pontoon, then pull them off course as they headed deeper out to the turn that would bring them fast back, with the current for the final leg before a right turn to the river bank. This would be, for both men and for women, a true test for an open water swimmer and it would be very likely in both races that a breakaway would occur.
The Elite Women chose to fill up the pontoon using positions nearer to the river bank, where the water was slower. The Elite Men and their coaches, watching, were checking out how the advantage of the current would work.
With the impressive backdrop of downtown Dnipro on one side and the massive 2km wide river to the other, the heat-beats boomed out and silence fell.
A clean start and immediately in the centre of the pack an athlete lost her goggles. Arms entangled and some, with heads up and sighting on the buoy, they gradually got into the rhythm.
We saw now the deep, long strokes of the confident swimmers pulling them forwards and into the lead.
It was Russia’s Julia Larina who took the lead and the athletes were stretched out into one long line close to the river bank and a smaller group in deeper, faster water. Rounding the first turn buoy and the mighty Dnipro began to push the athletes well off the line for the next buoy. Once again it was the more accomplished swimmers who got to the buoy with ease as the others swam extra metres to fight the current. A massive lead now established, Larina let the river do some work and she created a gap of over 30 seconds over those behind her.
The final turn gave her a chance to glance back and see what a lead she had but relatively new to our sport, she would have a monumental task ahead of her, if Yelistratova was anywhere close behind.
Coming up the steps and then along the promenade to T1, the crowds cheered her along but the question on everyone’s lips was, “where is Yuliya?”
The answer came surprisingly soon as she was second out of the water with teammate, Margaryta Krlova just next to her. The main threat of Sofiya Pryyma was just a few steps behind. Gal Rubanenko ISR, Katrin Zaitseva and Klaudia Sebők were close behind as the athletes struggled up the steps and made their way to Transition.
Larina wasted no time and set off on the bike. In the lead but knowing that she would soon be joined. Yelistratova gave a masterclass in swim to bike transition and was soon on the road, powering the pedals. Larina’s lead of some 200m along the dead-straight road gave the chasing athletes a clear view of their prey and by the time she had passed under the first bridge the lead had been eaten into.
The fast-moving pack were in attacking mode and soon the lone Russian was caught and absorbed into the peloton of a dozen athletes and then they started to work hard and build a lead on the quite challenging course. A flat section was followed by an immensely snappy climb that took them away from the river and into some welcome shade. The sweeping, wide descent gave the athletes’ legs a rest and then they were back on the level, passing transition and the crowds who had come out to enjoy the race.
In the group were some strong cyclists. Portugal’s Andreia Ferrum had made her way into the group and would be weighing up her chances against Yelistratova, who’s run pace off the bike is consistently strong.
Yelistratova was making them all work out on the bike course and soon the peloton had created a huge lead. It was clear at this point that the medals would be shared by the leading dozen or so athletes.
For the three-lap, 19.6km course, the peloton held together on the climb and, completing the final turn to head for T2, it was still the same athletes. Extra caution would be needed in the bike to run transition. Any minor mistake, a faulty dismount or equipment outside the box could result in a ten-second time penalty and that would certainly lead to lost medals, places and prize-money.
A re-designed run into T2 led the leaders to their racks.
It was Romania’s Antoanela Manac who had the fastest gallop through to the run, overtaking Germany’s Lina Völker as they left the blue carpet. Pryyma and Rubanenko were close behind but the threat of Yelistratova was still there. As she made her way towards Manac, who had pulled away, it was Ferrum who was on her shoulder and looking strong.
The penalties that the athletes wanted to avoid were posted and the Israeli coaches saw Rubanenko’s number posted, along with Larina and Daniela Leitāne LAT. Ten seconds would be a massive hit over this 5k run.
The run course is dead flat, along the promenade and in full sight of the crowds who were now lining the course and cheering the athletes along.
Yelistratova had to work hard but was soon up at the front but with Ferrum and Manac alongside. Ferrum led them to the turn as Manac dropped off the pace and at the wide turn just before the finish, Yelistratova kicked and dropped the Portuguese athlete. It was now two more laps of 1.650k for the local favourite to stretch out her initial lead and then push all the way to the finish tape.
Behind her, Ferrum was holding her position and Pryyma was gaining on Manac. Rubaneko, with her ten second penalty, lost out badly as the seconds ticked away.
Coming to the finish and the crowds were shouting out their delight as Yelistratova took the honours. Ferrum, with a great performance and her first ever international podium, came home for the silver and Pryyma rounded off with bronze.
A truly international event, the top ten showed eight different nationalities.
The Men’s race was a big affair but sadly without Vladimir Turbaevskiy, who pulled out before the start. He nevertheless had a busy day supporting his victorious wife, Yelistratova.
The pontoon was soon filled with Elite Men and it was a brave Technical Official indeed who ventured out there. As with the women, the favoured position was closest to the shore but some, Alec Wilimovsky included, decided to go deep and chose the far end of the pontoon, out where the river was running fast.
Under starter’s orders, the heart-beats once again ringing out across the river Dnipro and the magnificent start saw a clean but dramatic start as the pontoon kicked back, suddenly relieved of the great weight of the Elite Men.
The swim was broken into a jagged group as they neared the first turn and it was Wilimovsky whose crafty selection out in the fast water, had paid off. He had a clear swim, free of arms and legs and alongside Jakub Powada CZE, they had a clear view of the next buoy. The current tested the athletes but, once around the turn, it was a chance for the swim experts to create distance and break up the pack.
Up the steps and along to T1. A long line of athletes ran to grab their bikes.
Powada stormed through T1 and it was he, with Wilimovsky, who started the bike together. A pack behind was fast-moving and would have to work hard to catch up on the initial long, flat section.
In that pack was Volár, who in past seasons had raced long course and was known to be strong on the bike. His power took him from the pack and with Powada being unable to keep pace with Wilimovsky, the American managed to break away and hit the climb first.
Taller and more powerful, Volár, having left the pack was able to catch the smaller American. Behind them the peloton was doing its best to try and catch up, urged on by Yegor Martynenko UKR.
Over 20 seconds behind the leaders, the main group was eating into the lead and pulling away from a smaller group behind them. Lap one, done and dusted.
The hill was surprisingly testing and for those who wanted to have an easy spin on the descent, this was where they lost time and positions. The attacking riding up the hill and powerful riding down the long, fast descent had helped the two leaders on the first lap. This time, there was no attack from Wilimovsky, instead they worked together up the hill and then on the downhill.
The chase group, now a touch closer, could see them in the distance and knew that they had made up some time.
Volár and Wilimovsky, crouching low over their handlebars, kept the pace high. Back onto the flat by transition and they had extended the lead. The two chase groups had merged and now the ungainly peloton was a mix of those wanting to go faster and those happy for a chance to rest their legs in the pack.
On the final lap, the Czech and American athletes continued to work together, chain-ganging along the flat sections and up the hill, going aero down the descents until they were back on the flat heading to the final turn before heading towards T2.
The peloton, with the fast runners, had lost time but would certainly have more energy in the legs.
Coming into T2 and Volár and Wilimovsky wasted no time.
Shoes on, helmet in the box and off they set for the three laps. Volár led. Wilimovsky followed and behind them the frantic T2 saw more penalties handed out for discarded equipment.
Syutkin stormed out onto the run, looking strong and looking fit.
At the first turn, the tall Czech was still leading. Off the turn, a small kick and the pace increased, shaking off the US threat. Wilimovsky tried desperately to hold on to the silver medal but behind him was a wall of athletes; all of them wanting a place on the podium.
Volár’s long strides were keeping him in front but behind him the threat was beginning to show as Syutkin, Zipf, Ivanov and Martynenko cranked up the pace.
Entering the last lap and his lead was about 20 seconds but behind him, Zipf was leading the chase, with Syutkin and Martynenko close by. The Czech athlete would see just how close they were on the final dead turn and then have just over 800m to hold on for victory; a terrifying prospect when you see the likes of Martynenko, Syutkin and Ivanov so close.
17 seconds lead on the final turn, Martynenko stormed around the turn and led the chase.
A glance over his shoulder and Volár could see them and most likely hear them as they chased.
He had done enough and the title was his but behind a massive kick from Syutkin took him to silver ahead of Zipf. Martynenko simply could not hold on and despite posting the fastest run, had to settle for 4th place.
7 different nationalities in the top ten, with Wilimovsky taking 8th.
As the sun began to set, day 1 of the Dnipro Triathlon Fest ended. A great day of racing and a clear sign for the LOC that they had delivered a stunning race.
This really is a great course, where there is no risk of athletes missing out on a finish due to the first runner, last biker scenario (perfect for development races).