In an afternoon filled with scattered showers, no one was surprised to see Slovakia’s Richard Varga exit the 1.5km swim in first place. Two laps around Strathclyde Loch proved brutal for most of the athletes, with only Jorgen Gundersen (NOR) and Germany’s Linus Stimmelwere able to follow Varga in.
Reigning European sprint champion Varga was first to mount his bike for the 40km bike leg, but was quickly caught in T1 by a group of eight more athletes, including crowd favourite Brownlee, Jonas Schomburg (GER), Pierre Le Corre and Marten Van Riel, among others.
The nine-man group tried hard to work together, building a lead of 1min by the halfway point over a big chase group led by Spaniard Fernando Alarza. A pre-race favourite, Alarza worked tirelessly to keep the gap at a run-surmountable distance.
On the first lap of the run, all eyes were on the two-time Olympic champ Brownlee, waiting for him to make his usual move to the head of the race. And while he flirted with the top three positions for the first half of the 10K, it soon became apparent that he still wasn’t up to full race fitness, slowly dropping back into the clutches of a fast-approaching Alarza, who made by the 4k mark was already in fourth place.
It was then that both Le Corre and Van Riel upped the pace and left the older Brownlee in their dust. Seeing his prey up ahead, Alarza used his considerable run strength to climb into a medal position. With petrol still in the tank, he then set about taking down Van Riel, who lost contact with the Frenchman on the final lap.
Le Corre managed to maintain his lead to the tape to claim his first European title, stopping the clock in 1:47:17, just 11secs ahead of Alarza, who was all smiles in the final few metres, knowing that his was not only the silver medal, but also the fastest run split, by far, of the day: 30:44mins, more than a minute faster than anyone else. Third place went to an exhausted Van Riel, while Brownlee took fourth place and Belgian Jelle Geens rounded out the top five.
“I feel really great,” enthused Le Corre post-race. “That was really tough today with Ali Brownlee. I was really scared of him as he is an opponent who’s really hard to beat. Alistair’s not in his best shape right now, I could see it. But he will be back and thanks for me he was not great today.”
Le Corre’s gold follows his compatriot Cassandre Beaugrand’s bronze in the women’s event yesterday. They will both now be hoping to collect another medal in tomorrow’s Mixed Relay event.
“I am super happy,” said Alarza at the finish line. “It’s my first medal at the European Championships. The swim was a bad swim for me, I had to fight a lot and the bike was very hard as well. But in the second transition I thought I could do this and take a medal but I did not know which colour. So I kept a cool mind. On the second lap of the run, when I passed Ali, then I thought ‘OK, a bronze medal would be good’ but finally Pierre was too fast for me. He was better than me. We are friends so I am happy for him and I am happy with the silver medal,” he explained.
Fourth-place Brownlee said: “I didn’t quite know what to expect today and I suppose that’s about where I was. I have been training really hard so I knew I was probably going to be a bit tired going into it as well. If I can put all my training together I know I can do well. It’s been an awful year and at times I’ve had to question what I’m doing. I’m just happy to be racing.
“I got really beaten up on the first 100 metres [of the swim] and that was really tough. The performance itself is irrelevant, I’m just happy to be here competing again. I knew I was going to struggle today on the run, but I enjoy racing.” He has a few more weeks to prepare for his next race, the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa in early September.
xResults: Elite Men
1 Pierre Le Corre, FRA 1:47:17
2 Fernando Alarza, ESP 1:47:28