Belgium’s Marten Van Riel held off Germany’s Justus Nieschlag with a frantic dive across the finishing tape to secure the European sprint triathlon title, writes Marthe de Ferrer in Funchal.
Van Riel’s victory came as no surprise, starting the race as the highest ranked athlete, and with top ten at the Rio Olympics on his resume.
The top group made up of Van Riel, Nieschlag, Anthony Pujades of France, Mark Devay of Hungary, and Ricardo Batista of Portugal dominated the event from the start.
These five athletes were first out of the water, before then putting a solid 40 seconds into the second group on the bike, with Devay leading much of the run.
Only Azerbaijan’s Rostislav Pevstov managed to make any headway in catching the leaders, purely down to his phenomenal run time of 14.42 – the fastest of the event by 12 seconds.
A youthful British team remained in that frustrated second group, unable to clinch back any time on the determined leaders in the bike and run.
Sam Dickinson, 21, was the first Brit off the bike, but after clinching the U23 European Aquathlon title just three days earlier in Ibiza, quickly ran out of power on the run finishing 15th overall.
Ben Dijkstra, one of the rising stars in British triathlon, managed to put in the fifth fastest run time of the event, breaking into the top 10 and securing a respectable seventh.
Dijkstra’s season has been marred by injury, after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his hip in January.
This weekend’s race was only his second international start this season, but a top-ten finish in a competitive field demonstrates his return to prior form.
Fellow British athletes Jack Willis and Cameron Harris, in his first senior season, also made the top 20.
Russia’s Alexandra Razarenova stormed to victory in the women’s race while Britain’s Zoe Thomas was left frustrated.
The elite women’s event provided an exciting field, with stiff competition from the likes of Olympians Razarenova and Ukrainian Yuliya Yelistratova.
Both Razarenova and Yelistratova are in their first full season after giving birth last year, with Yelistrova dominating the European rankings this season.
Until just an hour before the race it was unclear whether the athletes would be facing a triathlon or a duathlon, due to concern over contaminants in the water.
The choppy conditions proved a challenge, particularly for Thomas who was one of the last out after getting caught in a scuffle during the swim.
The cycle course was tough, incorporating a long, steep climb as well as some challenging technical points to really test the athletes.
Razarenova managed to stay in the lead group for the cycle, gaining 15 seconds on Yelistratova, while Thomas posted the eighth fastest time in the bike, making up for the disappointment of the swim.
However, it was during the run that Yelistratova and Razarenova really showed their class, delivering the fastest two times in the field.
Yelistratova’s incredible 16.12 5km run brought her up to third position, but she was unable to catch Lena Meißner who took second place behind Razarenova.
Thomas put in a respectable run but struggled to keep pace after her impressive bike performance.
“The bike took a lot out of my legs and then I just didn’t have it on the run,” she admitted. “That’s not what I came here for, but it is what it is.”
While the gold medal went to Razarenova, the overall European Cup title went to Yelistratova who has won every year since 2014, apart from her break last season.