Following the victory yesterday of Norway’s Solveig Løvseth at the 2023 European Games, the action on Wednesday morning in Krakow, Poland, was the Elite Men’s race.
The debut edition of the European Games came eight years ago in Baku, Azerbaijan (and triathlon was not part of the 2019 program in Minsk, Belarus), where Great Britain’s Gordon Benson became the first British European Games gold medallist in any sport, in what was a brilliant team effort, supported admirably by Tom Bishop and Phil Graves.
No British medal today though, as Norway once again showed that the ‘hype train’ extends well beyond the names of Blummenfelt and Iden.
The new European Games champion is Vetle Bergsvik Thorn, who delivered a tactically perfect race to hit the front with around 300m of the run remaining, showing the strength to hold off Shachar Sagiv (ISR) and Adrien Briffod (SUI) as the blue carpet came into sight.
Swim – Kolkman sets the pace
It was another non-wetsuit swim at Nowa Huta Lake, for the 1.5km, two-lap opener which featured a start list of 60+ athletes. As with the women, a good sprinkling of WTCS and World Triathlon Cup regulars and podium finishers were present, including the likes of Richard Varga (SVK), Sagiv, Casper Stornes (NOR), Briffod and three-time World Champion, Mario Mola (ESP), recent winner of the Duathlon world title. In fine form, Great Britain’s reigning U23 World Champion, Connor Bentley, also started with very realistic podium ambitions.
Mitch Kolkman (NED) lead the way at the end of the first lap, but with 30+ athletes separated by less than 25 seconds, the field was far more tightly grouped than we saw with the Elite Women yesterday. Kolkman had Gianluca Pozzatti (ITA), Zsombor Devay (HUN) and Gergő Dobi (HUN) among those on his feet.
No significant change over the next 750m, and as Kolkman lead the way into T1, surely a significant grouping would form early in the bike. That was not going to include Mola however, who was a whopping 80 seconds in arrears. His hopes were surely over, less than 20 minutes into the action. Better news for Brits Bentley and Hamish Reilly, who were in perfect position to make the front group from the get-go.
Bike – all together now…
Two laps (10km) in and the leading pack comprised circa 30 athletes. Alongside the two Brits, notable names included Norwegian pair Thorn and Stornes Paul Georgenthum (FRA), Sylvain Friedlance (SUI) and Rostislav Pevtsov (AZE), the man who took the bronze medal on home soil eight years ago at Bilgah Beach.
Having started so strongly, bad luck then hit Reilly who punctured, but fortunately was close to a wheel station and able to make a rapid change, but slipped back into the chasing group in the process.
With little sign of the rain that did appear yesterday, the course was less challenging today meaning that breaking away from that number of athletes was going to be difficult. Could the process of attrition reduce the numbers, with the pace kept high? Panagiotis Bitados (GRE) featured in the Super League Championship Series in 2022, and he was certainly doing more than his fair share at the front to keep the bike effort honest.
The lead pack was down to 23 at the halfway mark (lap four), as surges from Bentley, Briffod and others proved too much for those hanging on at the back. Varga was one of those to be dropped. Unusually perhaps, the Norwegians – Thorn and Stornes – had been quiet and largely anonymous in the pack. Inspired by Tuesday’s result from Solveig Løvseth, perhaps they were keeping their powder dry for the run.
Rather than get smaller, the group actually swelled with 10km to go, as a significant chase group from behind bridged up. Collecting Varga and co. in the process and returning them to the lead group, that also meant that the likes of Barclay Izzard (GBR) and Emil Holm (DEN) were right back in contention. 44 athletes started the last lap on the bike within 11 seconds – this was all coming down to the run.
Run – Vetle secures Norwegian golden double
Once the opening kilometre had been ticked off, it was Sagiv leading a small group, and he had Izzard, Yanis Seguin (FRA), Briffod, Simon Henseleit (GER), Bentley and Vetle Bergsvik Thorn among a loose grouping of around 14 athletes in the early stages. Gaps were forming as the pressure started to tell.
5km down, and the gold medal was surely going to come from a lead group which was now 11 athletes, with just three seconds between Sagiv, Briffod, Pevtsov, Seguin, Henseleit, Cantero Del Campo (ESP), Thorn, Bitados, Sarzilla (ITA), Pozzatti and Izzard.
Into the final lap, and Briffod – bronze recently at the European Championship in Madrid – moved to the front and pushed the pace, but was unable to break clear, and there were still eight athletes in gold medal contention on the final circuit around the lakeside. Sprint finish coming up?
As the blue carpet approached, Norway’s Thorn hit the front for perhaps the first time all day and made his effort for victory. Sagiv chased, and while the margin at the line was barely one second, the Norwegian had time to celebrate his success before breaking the tape.
Speaking post-race to World Triathlon media, Thorn said:
“I am tired but really happy. I travelled to Montreal to do the Mixed Relay but unfortunately that race didn’t happen. I then had a long travel back here but it looks that this has worked really well for me and Solveig.
“My goal was to win here, I put a lot of pressure on myself but I am very happy to take the win today with so many great guys in the field. Now I’m looking forward to the relay this Saturday, we have a really strong team and we are looking for the best,”
2023 Krakow-Malopolska European Games Triathlon results
Wednesday 28 June 2023 – 1.5km / 40km / 10km
- 1. Vetle Bergsvik Thorn (NOR) – 1:46:50
- 2. Shachar Sagiv (ISR) +0:01
- 3. Adrien Briffod (SUI) +0:02
- 4. Yanis Seguin (FRA) +0:04
- 5. Panagiotis Bitados (GRE) +0:07
- 6. Rostislav Pevtsov (AZE) +0:08
- 7. Simon Henseleit (GER) +0:12
- 8. Gianluca Pozzatti (ITA) +0:18
- 9. Barclay Izzard (GBR) +0:31
- 10. Michele Sarzilla (ITA) +0:35