France’s Pierre Le Corre secured this afternoon at Strathclyde Park, in Glasgow, his first ever European title, with Spaniard Fernando Alarza claiming silver after an astonishing run leg and Belgium’s Marten Van Riel finishing in third place.
In an afternoon with bits of sunrays and bits of rain, it was to nobody’s surprise that Slovakia’s Richard Varga finished the 1500m swim in the first place. Two laps around the Strathclyde Loch that were brutal for most of the athletes, in which only Jorgen Gundersen (NOR) and Germany’s Linus Stimmel were able to follow Varga.
The reigning European sprint champion was first to mount his bike for the 40km cycle section, but he was quickly caught in transition by a group of eight more athletes, including local favourite Alistair Brownlee (GBR), Jonas Schomburg (GER), Pierre Le Corre and Marten Van Riel, among others.
The nine-man group tried to work together and halfway through the bike they had a lead of over one minute, with the big chase group, led by Spaniard Alarza, struggling a bit in the narrow course. The Spaniard knew that his options passed by keeping the leaders no more than one minute away, and he worked tirelessly to avoid that gap increasing.
But in the lead group, the aim was just the contrary. The leading pack was very compact and seemed very well organized and together they entered the second transition for the final 10km run. The race started taking shape on the first lap with Le Corre, Van Riel and Brownlee quickly breaking away and Varga out of the competition due to cramps.
And it was the moment then for Alarza’s show. He kept a cool head and produced a monstrous performance on the run. On the first lap he attacked and overtook the second group of chasers, and by the fourth kilometer, he was already in fourth place.
It was then when both Le Corre and Van Riel increased the pace and left the older Brownlee behind. With him on sight, Alarza flew looking strong and confident, and it was a matter of a couple of kilometers that the Spaniard managed to pass the British star. He still had petrol in his engine to catch Van Riel, who lost contact with the Frenchman on the final lap.
Le Corre managed to maintain the lead until he crossed the finish line to claim his first European title, stopping the clock in 1 hour 47 minutes 17 seconds, just 11 seconds ahead of Fernando Alarza, all smiles in the last few meters of the race knowing that his was not only the silver medal, but also the fastest split, by far, of the day: 30 minutes 44 seconds, more than one minute faster than the second one. The third place was for an exhausted Van Riel, while Alistair Brownlee finished in the bittersweet fourth place and another Belgian, Jelle Geens, closing the top five.
“I feel really great. That was really tough today with Ali Brownlee. I was really scared of him as he is an opponent who’s really hard to beat”, said an extremely happy Le Corre with the gold medal hanging on his neck. “Alistair’s not in his best shape right now, I could see it. But he will be back and thanks for me he was not great today”, he recalled. He only looked a bit worried when he looked back a few meters before crossing the finish line and saw Alarza coming like a bullet. “I was looking at the end and I saw him coming strong, so I was like ‘I have to open the gap between me and him’, just not to do a sprint. I’m pretty good at sprinting, but I was really tired after all the energy I gave”, he said. Enough to grant him the European title and make the French team extremely happy, with the bronze medal yesterday for Cassandre Beaugrand and opting tomorrow to another medal in the Mixed Relay event.
Also really satisfied was the Spaniard. “I am super happy. It’s my first medal at the European championships,” he said. “The swim was a bad swim for me, I had to fight a lot and the bike was very hard as well. But in the second transition I thought I could do this and take a medal but I did not know which colour. So I kept a cool mind. On the second lap of the run, when I passed Ali, then I thought ‘OK, a bronze medal would be good’ but finally Pierre was too fast for me. He was better than me. We are friends so I am happy for him and I am happy with the silver medal,” he explained.
·I feel exhausted, but I am extremely happy to go home with a medal”, said Van Riel. “Of course it is hard to see someone pass you in the end especially from the group behind. Fernando was running super strong and I had no chance to keep up. I used all my energy trying to keep up with Pierre and I had nothing left to give. But I came here for a medal and I have got the bronze. It is the first of my career and I am very happy”, he recalled.
For Alistair Brownlee it was not a happy ending. “I didn’t quite know what to expect today and I suppose that’s about where I was. I have been training really hard so I knew I was probably going to be a bit tired going into it as well. If I can put all my training together I know I can do well. It’s been an awful year and at times I’ve had to question what I’m doing. I’m just happy to be racing.”
An exhausted Brownlee recognized that the course was “really hard. There’s not much flat - there’s ups, downs, corners, slow roads - so it is quite hard to get a group moving on it. But I really enjoyed that race today. I got really beaten up on the first 100 metres [of the swim] and that was really tough. The performance itself is irrelevant, I’m just happy to be here competing again. I knew I was going to struggle today on the run, but I enjoy racing, ” he said. He has a few more weeks to prepare for his next race, the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa in early September.