Spain dominates in off-road Duathlon

We are into the final straight with the reviews from Ibiza and it is in the final two disciplines that the British domination was finally snatched away by the host nation.

Spain was supreme in the Cross Duathlon, winning medals across the age-groups. It was Spain who also claimed the fastest times of the day but the battle amongst the women was a close one.

The women’s race was won by Spain’s Teresa Pons Munill but she had to work hard on the bike. A former elite athlete, with a top ten place in the inaugural ETU Cross-Duathlon Championships back in Castro Urdiales, her opening run was strong and when added to her 58:50 bike split, made it look pretty certain that she was going to win. However, behind her and storming through the pack was GB’s youngest competitor, GB’s Kim Baptista.

Baptista, winner of silver in the Sprint Duathlon only a few days earlier, had shown her bike power on the streets. Out on the tough tracks of the cross-duathlon course, she once again impressed. It is no easy cross-over, from road to off-road and there are few athletes who can really master the difference in handling, gear selection and positioning but Baptista is one that team GB needs to keep an eye on. An opening run of 28:16 put her in 11th place overall. A good T1 and she was out on the bike and eating into the lead. Returning with a 58:51, second fastest of all female medal-winners and now in 2nd place, she was ready for the run. She held that position all the way to the line, winning gold in her category and taking second-place overall. A BMX rider from an early age, her future is now being supported by the Dave Rayner Fund and in 2019, she will be moving from Wigan to live and race with Westland Wil Vooruit in Holland, located close to the Hoek van Holland. Her parting shot in the UK in the depth of December, was a 25:23 ten-mile TT in her first ever time-trial over that distance.

The men’s race was also a victory for the Spanish, with Aleix Sierra Oliver in his first appearance on the circuit. His opening run put him in a strong position. Followed up by a 47:48 bike split and he was into T2 with gold in sight. Closing with a 15:08 run, the title was his, along with the pleasure of winning the men’s race outright.

With victory going to GB in the 18-19 category for the women, it was the host nation who collected gold for the men. Raul Barrios Brufau marked his debut on the international with a European title.

In the 20-24 category, it was to be a double for the Spaniards, with Anna Vallverdú Cortada claiming the title for the women. This win marked up her second gold of the Festival, following her victory in the Sprint Duathlon earlier in the week.

With Sierra winning the race outright and claiming the 20-24 title, it was his teammate, Aitor Ramírez Martínez, also making his debut, who added to the Spanish medal collection by coming home in second place. Behind him a battle was underway between two German athletes. It was the defending champion, Michael Schaller who led them to the mount line with a solid run and T1 but then out on the bike saw the Spanish athletes and then Lars Holder pass him. Hopes for a defence of his title had gone and once the run began, even with his amazing pace, it was never to be. Sierra was way ahead, Ramírez had too great an advantage. The only hope of a medal was an attack on Holder and Schaller did his very best, posting a 14:55 closing run. A truly thrilling finish but Schaller just ran out of run course to cross the line 50 seconds off the podium.

In the 25-29 category, the two athletes racing were both Spanish and with an opening run that left only three seconds between them, it looked like we would be in for an exciting race. Out onto the bike and a powerful ride from Maria Jesús Sánchez García took her comfortably into the lead, which she held all the way to the line. Silver went to Natalia Badia Busquets.

The men’s race gave us the chance to see a truly stunning opening run from Italy’s Gianfranco Cucco. The powerful runner made his mark early on to come in to transition a comfortable 30 seconds ahead of the pack. Before anyone could blink, he was out and onto two wheels, putting in a solid 49:42 on the tough course. His closing run was as impressive as his first and the title, European Champion was well-deserved. Silver went to Spain’s Manuel García Peláez with bronze going to Javier Marco Estruc.

With only one athlete racing in the Women’s 30-34 category (it remains a mystery as to how the host nation failed to find any athletes), gold went to GB’s Nicola Dinsdale in her debut international race.

For the men, it was Austria’s Arnold Eibensteiner who split the podium, by claiming the silver. The former World Winter triathlon champion was well-placed as he entered T1 and then pushed hard on the bike. His final run was spectacular but try as he might, he could not catch the leading Spanish athlete, Manuel Piñeiro Lopez, whose sub 49 minute bike split was enough to tip the balance. Coming across the line just 24 seconds behind the winner, it was to be the first of Austria’s two silver medals in the championships. Mario Sáez Mateos silver medal winner in 2015, claimed bronze, having struggled on the bike.

It was Kelly-Marie Briggs GBR, who stormed out of T1 with over 20 seconds’ advantage. Having placed 6th in Fyn, she was setting the pace and making the others work hard to keep her in sight but once out onto the bike course, Elisa Nardi ITA, used her power on two wheels to catch and pass the leading Brit. Austria’s Christina Herbst, with her immense experience of racing off-road and on snow, the former ETU T-Natura Champion soon caught her too and so the early lead from Briggs became a case of hanging on to the last spot on the podium as Nardi pushed on. With the final run another chance for Briggs to catch up, she did her best but could not catch the Italian or Austrian athletes. It was gold to Italy, silver to Austria and bronze to Great Britain as the medal-winners pulled far away from those chasing them.

For Briggs, the appearance on the podium was a major step up for her. Coming from a background of running and badminton, she has been supported by the team from trimoore coaching.  With only 2 years’ multisport experience, she has gone from strength to strength and in 2018 added mountain-biking to her skills. 6th in Fyn was a clear indication of her potential and her opening run in Ibiza was impressive.

Buzzing with delight after the race, Herbst shared her feelings with the world, “Dass ich bei einem Duathlon starte, war mehr ein versehen, und während des Wettkampfes habe ich mich doch ein paar mal verflucht, für meinem Anmeldefehler. Doch am Vortag, beim Streckencheck musste ich feststellen: diese Strecke liegt mir, eine technische Mountainbikestrecke mit steilem Anstieg der 3x zu fahren war, beim Laufen einen Trail, der im Vorfeld Diskussionen auslöste, da scheinbar zu gefährlich, also „genau mei Wetta“. Somit erklärte ich, da geb ich alles, da will ich aufs Podest. (…) Endlich am Bike rollte ich das Feld von hinten auf! Lächelnd erklomm ich die steilen Anstiege um juhizend die Trails hinabzurauschen. Schließlich stieg ich als 5. Dame vom Rad und musste nur noch schauen, dass die hinter mir nicht einholten. Meine Lungen pfeiften förmlich aus dem letzten Loch, aber irgendwie gings und ich lief 50sec hinter der ersten meiner AK ins Ziel!  Vizeeuropameisterin im Crossduathlon, wahnsinn, ist das geil!
Starting in a duathlon, was more or less a mistake and during the race I must admit, I did curse a few times at my mistake in having entered. But checking out the course the day before I had to admit: the course appealed to me. A technical MTB section with steep climbs and three laps of it, running on trails that some thought was too dangerous, perfect for me. So I thought there and then, I’ll give it everything and try to get onto the podium. (…) Out onto the bike and I carved through the pack. I was smiling as I climbed the hills and screaming as I hit the descents. I came off the bike in 5th and then had to make sure that those behind me didn’t catch up. My lungs were whistling out loud but somehow it went Ok and I came home 50 seconds behind the winner. Runner-up in the Europeans, absolutely brilliant.” 
How good does it feel? Check out the video.

In the men’s race, it was Salvador Pruaño Acuña ESP who led them into T1. Over a minute ahead, he set off onto the bike course but was soon caught by a supremely fast Juan Carlos Nieto Gracia. The 2015 ETU Standard Distance Duathlon Champion, 5th in the world in 2016, had made a huge effort and was blasting through the pack. With the bike leg over and with a comfortable lead, Nieto cruised home for victory ahead of Pruaño. The first of only two clean sweep of medals was secured by their teammate, Ernest Palau Vila.

How do you motivate yourself to become a champion? Well, Nieto has shared his secret with us. “Un puñao de CONSTANCIA. Un chorreón de DISCIPLINA. Un toque de SACRIFICIO. Una pizca de LOCURA. Una miajita de SUERTE y un montón de ILUSIÓN. Esta lleva siendo durante estos últimos años mi receta y para finalizar el 2018 he querido compartirla con todos vosotros. Porque para mi ha sido un gran año. Pero todo esto no sería posible sin toda la gente que me apoya, que me sigue y que me anima, que le da a un “me gusta” en facebook o hace un comentario. A mis compañeros de equipo (MUY GRANDES) por todas las experiencias vividas y las batatillas antes, durante y después de las carreras. 2019 está lleno de nuevos proyectos, ni mejores ni peores, ni más ni menos que los acontecidos en años anteriores, pero ILUSIONANTES. Iremos informando. Muchas gracias por todo y felices fiestas.
A handful of CONSISTENCY. A sprinkle of DISCIPLINE. A touch of SACRIFICE. A pinch of MADNESS. A little bit of LUCK and a lot of HOPE. This has been my recipe for the last few years and to end 2018 I wanted to share it with all of you. Because for me it has been a great year. But all this would not be possible without all the people who support me, who follow me and who encourage me, who click “like” on Facebook or make a comment. My teammates for all the experiences before, during and after the races. 2019 is full of new projects, neither better nor worse, neither more nor less than those that occurred in previous years, but HOPE. I will keep you updated. Thank you very much for everything and happy holidays.”

The Category win by Spain’s Teresa Pons Munill was emphatic. A bike split over 5 minutes faster than anyone else in her 40-44 age-group and powerful running made her unbeatable. Silver went to Nadine Schuler FRA. Schuler’s husband, Pascal, was racing as well. He raced in the same age-group and came away with bronze. Schuler had a battle against Great Britain’s Amanda Whitehouse who, with an impressive bike leg, caught up and passed Schuler but then lost time in T2 before succumbing to the faster running of the Frenchwoman. Whitehouse makes her first outing in GB kit and comes home with a medal, comfortably making the podium. With riding like that we can expect to see her racing for a few more years.

With Mr Schuler claiming the bronze medal, to add to his Sankt Wendel ETU Powerman title, a race that really tested the athletes over massive climbs on the bike and run, it was no surprise to see him lead the first run and then to dig deep and post a closing run almost a minute faster than anyone else. His race was lost on the bike against the immense power of Spain’s David Malagón López. Swiss athlete, Patrick Lanz was a few strides behind Schuler as they entered transition after the first run but was off with his bike in superfast time, leaving the Frenchman to play catch-up.  Lanz, steadily improving over the years, with a 6th in the ETU Vallée des Joux event in 2016 and 5th in Târgu Mureș in 2017, was now trying out the duathlon and doing rather well. Holding the lead until the Spaniard stormed past, he now had to build the lead over Schuler. Malagón’s victory was set. Lanz held on to silver despite the 14:53 closing run from Schuler.

In the 45-49 Age-Group there was going to be a true battle between the Brits. It was Claire Hitchings, who stormed into the lead with a breath-taking 27:10 opening run. It looked as if the multiple world and European champion would do it again but …, well, let’s hear from her, “For the Europeans in Ibiza I was really excited to race the off-road duathlon as I was in the form of my life. I came off the first run with a 2 min 9 sec lead on the next girl in my age group. This was up to 2 min 26 after a fast T1. Time to have some fun on the bike. What could possibly go wrong? As soon as I got on the bike, I knew my rear tyre was soft. I rode a bit and stopped to check it. It was soft but not flat so I carried on to see if I could get away with it. I got up the first big 10-minute climb but it was really sketchy, so I pulled over to re-inflate the tyre and the valve just flew off. There was nothing I could do - my race was over! Time for a long, lonely walk back to transition. It wasn’t really the way I wanted to end a pretty perfect season. But DNFs are part and parcel of racing. Sometimes it’s your turn to be unlucky. There’s plenty more races, so roll on 2019!”

The DNF opened the door to Kirsty Prior, GBR. Coming to the event as reigning champion after her Târgu Mureș victory, she is in her second year in this category and won the title back in 2015 in Castro Urdiales. Racing across the distances, she has even targeted Zofingen and in her first attempt, returned home with a 5th place. Going back in 2017, she improved to 4th and on the back of that solid training came to Ibiza strong and ready to defend her title. With Hitchings out and pushing her deflated wheel along the tracks, Prior was able to use her bike power to extend her lead and, with the fastest closing run of the group, to cross the line and take the title. Spain’s Beatríz Molina García had run into third place but then lost a place out on the bike as GB’s Julie Bratton rode past her. With Prior out on her own, the battle was on for silver. Bratton wasted no time in T2 but was unable to match the pace of the Spanish athlete who was able to edge past her on the final run. Gold and bronze to Team GB. Silver to the host nation.

Post race and Prior was her usual understated self, “GOLD!!!! How much fun was that… amazing set up with transition on the beach and a proper technical climb. Somehow my legs recovered from Sunday’s race and carried me round. The support out there was incredible, both on and off the course. Team GB rocks!”

For the men, there was to be no Spanish presence on the podium. Instead it was Italy and Giovanni Maiello, silver medal winner at the Vallée des Joux Cross Triathlon Championships in 2016, who led Jim McConnel GBR, into T1 and who then sped away on his bike. A 14:27 closing run was unbeatable and the Italian took home the title.

McConnel’s silver in Târgu Mureș back in 2016 showed us that he was strong off-road but he lost out to Jeff SatgéFRA, bronze medal winner from Fyn who was awesome on the bike and who took almost three minutes back from the Brit. T2 was swift and clean and despite McConnell’s superior run pace, the Frenchman was able to keep his hands on the silver.

In the 50-54 category, it was a clear victory for the Danish athlete, Anne-Mette Mortensen. Coming into T1 with Diana Mull GER just ahead of her, the Odense Triathlon Club athlete was quickly into her bike shoes and out of transition before Mull could react. The tough and challenging bike course was just what the Dane needed to pull away from any challenge and soon she was in a position of complete control. Mull, bronze medal winner in the ETU Powerman Vejle race, lost time on the bike but her running over the final leg was impressive and she easily held onto silver ahead of Christine Corneux FRA. This was Mortensen’s first international duathlon and she later added to the title with a victory in the Cross-Triathlon.

Belgium’s Didier Vandenbosch led them into T1. The runner-up last year and defending Cross-Triathlon champion was on good form. An opening 23:02 took him into T1 with a clear lead but time was lost to Norway’s Frode Engelund.

As part of the small team of Age-Group athletes from Norway, he came to the event as a top-ten finisher in Fyn over the sprint duathlon. Off road and he was still fast on the run. Out onto the bike and he was powerful on two wheels, off-road and was soon pulling away from the Belgian athlete. But … isn’t there always a “but” … behind them both was the defending champion, Ángel Lencina Alonso. His fifth place in the sprint duathlon was clearly a disappointment but now, off-road, it was a chance for him to go for the title once more. Having won the inaugural event in Castro-Urdiales and then again in Târgu Mureș in 2017, he was unbeatable on the bike. Taking control of the race, he came into T2 in the lead and then had only to keep the fast-paced Norwegian at bay. Engelund was much faster than Lencina but had lost out too much on the bike and although it was close, gold and the title went to Spain. Watch out for Engelund in future. With a closing 15:17 on this tough course, he will be one to watch in Romania. Lencina was interviewed about his race. Click here for the full 6-minutes.

In the 55-59 category, it was a chance for GB’s Nicky Dick to show the team that she was not just a motivator and Director of Age-Group teams for British Triathlon but also a pretty nifty athlete in her own right. It was however, Anne Paul IRL who sped into T1 with a 29:05 run. Dick was 4 minutes adrift but Paul pulled out leaving Dick to push the pedals out on the bike course. Germany’s Susanne Apfel bronze medal winner already for the standard distance duathlon was quicker on two wheels but could not match Dick’s run pace. Running to the line with a two-minute lead over Apfel it was gold for GB and silver for Germany. Dick used this as a warm-up for the Aquathlon the next day, returning with a top ten finish and then the title for the Cross-Triathlon on day three of her racing.

For the men, it was the second clean-sweep for the host nation. It was Manuel González Ojea gold medal-winner in Pontevedra back in 2014, gold in Zofingen in 2015, gold in Soria in 2017 and gold in the duathlon earlier in the week, who led them into T1. His lead of over 30 seconds was soon eaten in to by defending champion, Carmelo Gómezwho pulled four clear minutes out of any challenger on the bike. Into T2 and his run to victory was assured ahead of González. Behind them came Antonio Ferrer Guasch to complete the podium.

The final three age-groups were all male.

In the 60-64 category, gold went to Denmark, with victory in the hands of Karsten Olsen. He ran pace for pace into T1 with Danilo Basso  ITA but then wasted no time in transition before setting off to post a 57:19 on the bike and a final run that could not be matched by Basso. It was Basso’s teammate, Stefano Piolanti, who posted a mighty 18:46 for the final run but having lost out on the bike, he had to settle for bronze. Olsen, from the triathlon capital of Denmark, Fredericia Triathlon Team, came to Ibiza as race favourite. Back in 2013, he took the World title in Kijkduin in the Cross-Triathlon championships. Runner up in 2014 in Zittau, winner in 2015 in Sardegna, winner at the ETU Powerman Copenhagen Championships, runner up in 2016 in Vallée des Joux and in 2017 in Sankt Wendel at the ETU Powerman Championships, he came away from Transylvania as a double champion. Sadly, he was unable to finish the Cross-Duathlon here in Ibiza to make it a double, double but 2018 saw him win in Fyn in the Cross-Triathlon before coming to Ibiza. For Basso, the silver matched the one he won in Târgu Mureș last year and for Piolanti, he wins a bronze in his first attempt at an international cross-duathlon, adding to his silver back in 2015 in the World Cross-Triathlon championships.

In the 65-69 category, Portugal’s Fernando Pombo opened up a massive advantage at the start with a run that gave him a three minute lead over Frenchman, Francis Viet. Viet has great power on the bike over long distances, winning in Zofingen in 2016 but this was not his race. Perhaps he had given too much in his race to victory in the Standard Duathlon a few days earlier but soon enough he was overtaken by GB’s Colin Hunt who was too strong on the rough and tough bike course. Hunt did his best to catch Pombo and managed to eat into the lead with some powerful riding. T2 saw Pombo lose time against the speedy Brit and on the second run, Hunt was flying. Despite all his efforts, that early lead by the Portuguese athlete as enough to see him clear and onto the top of the podium. Gold to Portugal, silver to Great Britain and bronze to France.

Our oldest athletes were born in the late 1940’s. The final category, 70-74 saw victory go to the host nation. William Hammerton, double European Champion, reigning World Champion, was unable to match the run pace of José Pérez Martínez. Entering T1 over a minute ahead of GB’s other elder statesman, Mick Anglim, the Spaniard came close to losing his lead when Germany’s Helke Wannewitz posted a 1:15:36 bike split but onto the final run and Pérez was back in his element. 21:51 was his final run and this was enough to secure the title. He would go on to win the Cross-Triathlon to make it a European double.

The Cross-Duathlon done and dusted, after a race that was hot and tough and in complete contrast to some of the other events, saw the medal table led convincingly by Spain.

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