Aileen Reid misses out on triathalon medal and automatic Rio spot

Reid comes sixth after Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig leads breakaway group to win gold

Aileen Reid finished sixth in the triathalon at the European Games. Photograph: Epa

Aileen Reid finished sixth in the triathalon at the European Games. Photograph: Epa

 

For an event that comes in three parts, the women’s triathlon at the European Games proved decidedly one-sided. And Ireland’s Aileen Reid simply ended up on the wrong side of it – finishing in sixth place.

That’s because the three medals – among the first to be won at these inaugural European Games – were decided early into the 40km cycle, not long after the 1.5km swim, and well before the 10km run. A trio of women got away and never looked back, Nicola Spirig from Switzerland then winning the gold medal, just like she did at the 2012 London Olympics.

Joining her on the medal podium was Rachel Klamer from the Netherlands, the 2013 European Triathlon champion, who won silver here, with Lisa Norden from Sweden, the silver medallist from London, winning bronze. All serious competitors, obviously, although by then Spirig had opened a one minute and 16 second victory margin, with a time of 2:00.28.

For Reid, who came to Baku with genuine medal ambitions – and targeting the guaranteed Rio Olympic qualifying spot that was the bonus prize – it made for a clearly frustrating two hours, having missed that crucial break, early into the cycle. The Derry woman chased hard on the run, naturally, yet still ended up three minutes and 30 seconds behind Spirig at the finish. Reid’s time was 2:03.50, and that inevitably came with some disappointment, given she was actually the top-ranked starter.

The 32-year-old had expected better after a stellar season which saw her claim fourth place in the World Triathlon Series race in London late last month.

“I prepared properly for these Games and I was feeling good – I was expecting higher than sixth,” said Reid. “But I don’t feel sorry about not finishing first because I did my best and I came in the top 10.”

Reid, whose place at next year’s Rio Olympics is already all but secure after her rise in the world rankings coincidentally also to sixth, said she found the windy conditions in the Azeri capital hard.

“It was windy and wavy, but that is part of the race and I enjoyed it,” Reid added. “It was different and it is better to have something different than something normal.”

For Spirig, now 33, it was another brilliant performance. She took time out after her London Olympic gold, giving birth to her son, and has come back as strong as ever. Coming off the cycle, Spirig, Norden and Klamer all had two minutes and 37 seconds to spare on the rest – and unless one of them fell over at that stage, that gap was never going to be closed. Indeed Spirig quickly opened her winning gap in the run, affording plenty of time to enjoy the golden moment.

Indeed it was a beautiful setting, along Bilgah Beach, about a half-hour north of Baku, although with precious few spectators – even though the triathlon was one of the few events freely open to the public. There was hardly anyone at all watching out on the roadside, beyond the occasion security guard.

So, Spirig secures the significant bonus prize of the one automatic qualifying spot for the Rio Olympics next summer – and a coveted one, clearly, given she has been racing so sparingly since London, and is now guaranteed the opportunity to defend her Olympic title.

Starting at 12.30pm, local time, it was hot, sunny and also extremely windy - those conditions most apparent, and indeed treacherous, in the 1.5km swim. No wonder Baku is known as “The City of Winds”. Twice a month that wind reaches its off-shore peak – and this happened to be one of those days.

In fact the swim route had to slightly modified, keeping the triathletes closer to the shore. At times it was positively stormy, particularly as they rounded the buoys, further off short. It certainly made for exciting viewing, although for the competitors – being tossed around as if in a washing-machine – it clearly wasn't ideal.

The early leader was Klamer, chased by the Russian Anatasia Abrosimova, who came out of the water together - about 20 seconds ahead of the rest. At that stage Reid was still ideally placed, in around 10th position, some 244 seconds behind Klamer and Abrosimova. The Derry woman was also one of the quickest through the first transition, but it wasn’t long into the 40km cycle that everything changed.

The route – six laps of 6.6k through the clearly affluent seaside resort – made for high-tempo cycling, and Klamer kept the pedals spinning fast. As Abrosimova dropped off, suddenly Norden surged, catching Klamer with relative ease. Then Spirig shot from the chasing pack, again going solo, and with that also latched on to Klamer and Norden.

So, that quickly put the trio ahead of the chasing pack, and already, it seemed, they were intent on establishing a medal-deciding margin. After two of the six laps they had one minute and 20 seconds; by halfway into the cycle they had two minutes, and that effectively was where the medals decided.

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