Rated as one of the toughest Iron distanced triathlons in the world, the Elbaman triathlon is in its ninth year and continues to attract athletes from around the world to take the challenge of swimming 3.8km in the bay at Marina di Campo following that with 180 kms of cycling around the island including more than 3,000m of climbing and finishing with a 42.2km (marathon) run around the town in normally beautiful sunny conditions. This year however saw the race encounter possibly the worse weather conditions possible for the 265 triathletes who decided to start the race.
On the beach at 7am with the sun just about to rise the competitors were faced with driving rain and waves rather than the calm sea swim of previous years. The two lap swim was always going to be a struggle for Michelle Parsons of Team Tri UK due to the swim leg being her perceived weaker of three disciplines but after the first lap of fighting through the waves and around the buoy it was apparent the Evesham athlete not going to let the conditions get the better of her and she plunged back into the water with the thought only another lap of the bay meant she was onto her favoured bike and run sections.
In fact Michelle’s swim proved to be almost better than normal give the conditions were slowing most of the other swimmers significantly. She completed the swim in just over 1 hour and 22 minutes and was now ready for the treacherous 112 miles of cycling over 6 climbs around the west side of the island of Elba.
Her swim had given her an unexpected lead over hot favourite for the race Ulrike Schwalbe from Germany and overall Michelle was lying in 14th position in the womens’ elite field. Meanwhile fellow adopted Worcester Tri club member from New Zealand, Richard Day, was having a torrid time in the swim (also his least favoured discipline) emerging eventually in 1.35.
On the bike and no sooner had the rain stopped it started again making the already slick roads even slicker and the descents a challenge equal to the climb up beforehand. Michelle though was in determined mood and stuck to her race plan, pulling away from Schwalbe on the bike and starting to work her way through the womens’ and it transpired the mens’ field. Midway through the bike section the sun came out and started to dry the roads but it was a false dawn as the biggest storm including some terrific bouts or thunder and lightning was to come and coincided with the trickiest descent of day for Michelle off the Poggio climb for the last time that day. The storm was causing massive problems for athletes in the long and shorter courses and numerous athletes were taken off in ambulances after crashing in the slippery conditions. Michelle as usual had moved her way through the female filed on the bike from 14th up to second thanks to the fastest female bike spilt of the day of 7 hours 2 minutes and 50 seconds. She was trailing first placed Michela Tessaro, an ultra-distanced specialist from Italy, by almost 8 minutes with the marathon run leg to complete. But as most long distance triathletes know the race doesn’t start until mid-way through the 26 miles and so it was all to play for at this stage. Surprisingly Schwalbe had decided enough was enough on the bike in the storm and retired from the race leaving Norwegian Sarah Knudsen and Alessandra Boifava from Italy to chase down the leaders who were on the run some ten minutes behind Michelle and Michela.
Kiwi Richard Day was enjoying his first experience of European long distance triathlon racing and suffered equally as badly in the storm as the others but had similar bike time to Michelle so was now roughly 20 minutes behind her and looking determined to record a good marathon split.
After all the weather experienced in the day it of course cleared up for the running leg and at times the sun shone through quite brightly but the damage for most had been done on the bike almost 100 competitors retiring either on the bike or at the start of marathon. It is a very tough bike course made tougher by the conditions this year.
On the marathon run Michelle was running exceptionally well. The course is made up of 5 laps around the town taking in the seafront twice on every lap. After just one lap Michelle had reduced the deficit to the leader by 6.30 and so was just 90 seconds from taking the overall lead. This she did shortly afterwards and continued to pull away throughout the 4 remaining laps. Boifava from Italy at one point looked as though she going to make inroads into the Tri Team UK athlete’s lead but she also fell back after getting to within 20 minutes of Michelle. In the end Michelle was running faster than most of her male counterparts and even ran herself into 20th place in the men’s field and winning the female race by an astonishing 38 minutes, an unprecedented margin of victory in the race. Proving that no matter the weather conditions she could continue to run phenomenally fast marathons at the end of these Iron distanced races. Her overall time was 12 hours 15 minutes and 37 seconds which although slower than last year was good enough to see the GB athlete home (male or female) and given that the weather conditions had slowed the male champion by over an hour from last year and incredibly impressive result. Richard Day after running a very good on the first 4 laps of the run slowed slightly on the last lap and was extremely relived to have finished in 12.38.34 in 29th position overall and 5th in his age category.
The mens’ winner was Leonardo Simoncini in 10.34.22.
Michelle is now in recovery mode for a week or so before finishing her season at the Powerman Malaysia long distance duathlon race in Kuala Lumpar later this month.