The triathlon of Vitoria-Gasteiz is one of the oldest triathlons in Spain and was hosting the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships for the first time. A star-studded field, including Sylvain Sudrie (winner of the event in 2010), Chris McCormack (winner of the Ironman Hawaii World Championship in 2007 and 2010), and local hero Eneko Llanos (Hawaii runner-up in 2008 and winner of the ITU LD Worlds in 2003) were set to push Dirk Bockel, recent winner of the IM Regensburg and the Chiemsee Triathlon, to the limit.
"I'm very, very happy and proud with this bronze medal. It was a hard day and it didn't start off well in the swim, but I kept going. I'm happy I could take this medal for Luxembourg."
The long distance World Titles in Vitoria-Gasteiz were decided over a 4km swim, 120km bike leg and a 30km run, and some of the best triathletes in the world have won the title in the past. Vitoria-Gasteiz, European Green Capital in 2012 and surrounded by a green belt of six large parks, proved the perfect venue for such a prestigious event.
At 8:30 AM the men's elite took the start. Denmark's Emil Dalgaard was the first to finish the swim course in the waters of Ullibarri-Gamboa lake, in the heart of the Provincial Park of Landa close to the city. Bockel came sixth out of the water, together with Sudrie and Llanos, about one minute behind the leader. Also Chris McCormack wasn't far behind.
Bockel: "My swim was really bad, I don't know why. I was pretty far back in the first half and I pushed harder in the last third. When I got on the bike, I learned that Llanos and McCormack were behind me, so that wasn't too bad."
After the first, long lap on the rolling course (between 511m and 597m above sea level), Dirk Bockel had moved up to third place, three minutes behind Dalgaard, who was still keeping his pace high. With Bockel were Sudrie and Llanos, quite the chasing company.
The bike course ran through the beautiful landscapes of the plains of Alava, along the lake Ullibarri Gamboa and parallel to the Elguea mountain range, through small towns and sharing part of the course with the Camino de Santiago. "The scenery was great and there was a big crowd on the road. It was a beautiful experience", says Bockel.
Halfway through the bike, Dalgaard yielded to Martain Krnavek (Czech Republic), who had been steadily closing the gap to the Dane for twenty kilometers. However, the Dane didn't take long to catch Krnavek back and build up a gap again. By the end of the bike, Dalgaard had 1:08 advantage to Krnavek, with Llanos and Bockel just ten seconds back (+1:18) and Sudrie at 1:28.
Bockel: "I increased the watts in the last bit of the biking, because I felt really comfortable."
The closing 30km run course (4 laps of 7,5 km) went through the heart of the old town of Vitoria-Gasteiz and its beautiful pedestrian promenades. Bockel, Llanos and Sudrie started chasing the two leaders down with high motivation. Llanos, originating from Vitoria-Gasteiz, had clearly left the best for run, because he didn't hesitate to take the lead and after 1 lap Krnavek was following at 12 seconds, with Sudrie (+0:25), Bockel (+0:32) and former leader Dalgaard (+1:06) behind.
That was the sign for Chris McCormack to unleash his demons. The Australian was more than two minutes back, but sped to the race lead in the second lap, leaving Llanos behind and building up a gap of one, then two minutes. Bockel, a strong runner, meanwhile had passed Krnavek and Sudrie and kept steady in third place.
McCormack, despite being handed a 15 seconds time penalty for not putting his swimming cup in his bag in the first transition, increased his lead and finished the race 1:52 ahead of Llanos and 5:07 ahead of Bockel.
"Once I was in medal position it was all about defending. I struggled on the last lap, but I was able to hold on. This was a tough day, but it was all worth it! On a terrific day, I might have been able to challenge Llanos and McCormack, but I'm very satisfied with my result."
The ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships have been annually held since 1994. The distance of the championships varies between that of an Olympic-distance and an Ironman race.