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Sitting in lush countryside between the ocean, the Pyrenees and the Southern French border, the dually named Vitoria-Gasteiz, taking both Spanish and Basque titles, hosts the only non-sea swim on the Spanish IRONMAN race circuit.
Shifting away from the coast also brings new terrain and challenges, with the forest lined lake giving way to a rolling and scenic ride. Finish up your Ironman journey by crossing the finish line in the Plaza España, the town square and centre of trade for over 200 years.
An easily accessible destination, in a road-less-travelled location also makes it a great race to be a part of a larger RACE-cation, taking in the unique culture, language and culinary highlights of this autonomous region of northern Spain.
Location - Basque heartland
Vitoria-Gasteiz exists in an unique position, sitting away from the major destinations most often associated with the Southern European vacation hotspot. The Basque region, borne of centuries of unrest, has evolved into an economically diverse, standalone community. Lying as it does close to the French border and the ocean does make it hugely attractive as a vacation and race destination.
Fly into Bilbao airport and enjoy a short 45 minute transfer into the city or opt for the smaller Vitoria-Gasteiz airport, which sits on the edge of town. Vitoria-Gasteiz is also well connected by rail, and it is possible to travel by rail from Madrid in just a few hours.
For the more adventurous, the port city of Santander is a short drive away. From here, ferry connections are possible to a range of destinations, making a driving trip a real possibility.
Whilst the city does have a range of accommodation options, it’s worth bearing in mind that as a relatively small IRONMAN host city, they do book quickly, so be prepared to stay out of town if you enter nearer the race date.
The famed beach communities of Biarritz and San Sebastian are a short drive away, offering a touch of old Hollywood glamour to your trip.
Course - enjoy a lake swim
Looking for a challenge, or stepping up to the full distance for the first time? Vitoria-Gasteiz offers a challenge to all without question, however the favourable conditions, calm lake swim, bike course with distinct climbing sections but plenty of descending and long flat sections through the vineyards, and the multi-lap city run also make it a great option for the first time IRONMAN, or even the first time European racer.
Swim - 3.8KM
A single lap swim in the Ulibarri-Gamboa lake, two simple left turns bring the athletes back into T1. The water temperature often swings into the 20’s (celsius), so make sure you're prepared for a non-wetsuit swim, from a training and kit perspective. As a split transition it's important to be organised with your packing and preparation, and equally bear in mind the necessary logistics for post race. A short transition should make for a quick turn around onto the bike.
BIke - 180KM
The 3 lap bike course in the hills surrounding the ancient city means some extended periods of climbing every 30 or so miles. Whilst this favours the stronger riders, it's also an opportunity to take on fuel and experience the breath-taking views. Over 25 miles of descending across the course also means it's worth hitting the hills in training and getting comfortable shifting between the ups and downs. For the more experienced athlete, take the TT bike and a shallow rim wheel. Outside of the key climbs there's plenty of opportunity to get aero.
Run - 42.2KM
Taking in the cobbled streets of the ancient city, four laps wind through both the historical landmarks and the city's many green spaces. Whilst it is flat and mostly fast, there are several dead turns and back and forth sections, so consider your most stable shoes rather than high tech, but less dependable super shoes. The laps will pass quickly with aid stations every few miles and the support of the crowds as you pass through the finish area. Known for its enthusiastic support, expect the finish line party to go long into the night.
Spectators - preparation is key
Any race with a split transition creates a challenge for spectators, and in the case of Vitoria-Gasteiz, it’s over 20km from T1 to the finish line, so it’s important to plan ahead. Fortunately, IRONMAN provides shuttle buses throughout the morning from the city out to the lake.
As a spectator it’s important to remember that on the early shuttles athletes will get priority so you may have to wait to travel on a different bus to your athlete.
If you have access to a car, a great place to catch all the bike action is Ilárraza, where athletes will pass twice.
Once through T2, athletes will pass through the green belt of the city four times, so aim for one of the many aid stations to experience the atmosphere and support that comes with every IRONMAN race.
For younger supporters, a short walk from the event village is the Galeón Pirata Akua Park, an enormous Pirate Ship themed play area, fantastic for even the biggest kids. For young adults, try the Armory museum or the BIBAT Museum, home to both an archeology museum and the largest playing card museum in the world.
Race-cation - unique culture & cuisine
If you’re planning on spending some time in Vitoria-Gasteiz either pre or post race, there’s a huge range of activities and attractions that celebrate and showcase the unique history of the Basque region.
Straddling the French/Spanish border, yet with an identity all its own, its gastronomy, language and well preserved Old Town, showcase myriad styles and influences on its culture, reflecting its tumultuous history of occupation. The region’s eventual declaration of autonomy in the late 1970’s continues to shape the politics of the region to the present day.
Now a cosmopolitan city with galleries, museums and endless municipal parks, such as the Jardines de Uleta or the Parque de la Florida. For world class exhibits head to Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alava, or head further afield for the world famous Guggenheim exhibits in Bilbao.
The old town of Vitoria-Gasteiz is an unmissable destination during your trip. Whether to enjoy the entertainment, expect live music every evening, or to try the specialist Basque cuisine not found anywhere else in Spain, you’ll be spoilt for choice. If you’re inspired to try some of the dishes for yourself, check out the weekly farmers market in the centre of town or enjoy the cider houses that dot the landscape and allow visitors to enjoy their speciality brew directly from their long drop kegs.