By John Mahnen
The triathlon has become an established part of not only the Olympic games but the Dutch sporting scene as well. The three elements: swimming, cycling and running are three sports with not only high participation in the Netherlands but some success as well. Little surprise then that the sport is burgeoning in this country. The national federation has seen its membership grow from 10,000 to 32,500 members in the last ten years. That number will very likely continue to rise, perhaps even at a quicker pace, with Rotterdam slated to host the premier triathlon event this September. From the 14th to the 17th, the port city will become the backdrop for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.
A triathlon is a multiple-stage competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines. Triathletes compete for fastest overall course completion time, including timed “transitions” between the individual swim, cycle, and run components. The word triathlon comes from the Greek words treis meaning three and athlos meaning competition. Rotterdam and the event organisers have outdone themselves in preparing a memorable sporting event. Originally, the idea was to hold the swimming in the Maas river but the currents proved too big an obstacle. The second choice should prove to be anything but a compromise as the triathletes will take the plunge in the Rhijnhaven by Hotel New York. After swimming the Olympic distance of 1500 meters, the contestants will mount their bicyles, cross the Swanshaped Erasmus Bridge and cycle 40 kilometers through the streets of the Scheepvaartkwartier before slipping into their running shoes and tackling the 10k course winding through the Park.
All eyes of the International Triathlon Union will fix their gaze on the harbor city during their annual congress which will run in parallel to the competition. The Dutch Triathlon federation looks to live up to an impressive bid which gained them not only a fixture on the ITU series, but the Grand Final at that. There will be plenty of racing on offer during the third weekend of September. Not only will the elite men and women compete in the Olympic format race on Saturday, but there will be Olympic and Sprint (half the Olympic distance) competitions for juniors, U23 as well as open paratriathlons. In short, three days of racing in the heart of Rotterdam with plenty to see and do during the entire event.
Grandstand Tickets are on sale for Saturday 16th of September. The grandstands are located on both sides of Transition T2 Elite at the Veerhaven. While the grandstands offer a fantastic vantage point at the changeover from cycling to running and once again as the contestants sprint the finish tape, more ambulant spectators can take up places along the bike parcours or aside the running path in the shadow of the Euromast. On Friday and Sunday, access to these grandstand is free of charge and according to availability.
The best hope for a Dutch medal rests on the slender, athletic shoulders of 27-year-old Rachel Klamer. Klamer got a relatively late start in the triathlon game, taking up the sport at the age of 17 having already become a serviceable distance runner. In 2015, she won the silver medal in the women’s triathlon event of the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. During the Summer Olympic Games in 2016, Klamer took 10th in the Rio women’s triathlon and while she was pleased to be in the top ten, she did not hide the fact that she had entertained thoughts of a podium finish. Her best result this year was a first-place finish in the sprint event at Holten in Overijssel. For Klamer, the women to beat will most likely be Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, Katie Zafares of the United States and Ashley Gentle of Australia. Duffy has been tough to beat in 2017 with 4 first place finishes. She yielded to Gentle in Montreal, taking second. Maya Kingma of the Netherlands will look to make a strong showing on home soil as well.
The possibility of a podium finish in the men’s elite race is a more remote possibility. Marco van der Stel is the only Dutchman in the top 100 of the ITU points table coming in at 81st. Van der Stel was unable to qualify for Rio in 2016 and will look for vindication in his birthplace of Rotterdam while setting his sights on the Tokyo Olympic games in 2020. Van der Stel got his start at 8 years of age in the pool and by the time he took to triathlons at 18, he had won several Dutch 5k titles both in the pool and open water. Despite his 8th place finish in Rio, Spain’s Marco Mola is the man to beat. His ITU number one ranking includes four gold finishes in 2017. He has been pushed this season by compatriots Fernando Alarza and Javier Gomez Noya. Jonathan Brownlee from Great Britain will also likely contest a place on the Rotterdam podium. South African Richard Murray has also been hot on Mola’s heels in 2017. He had a disappointing race in Rio, breaking his collar bone and finishing without a medal. He has been a podium regular this year including a win at the Cape Town fixture. As the boyfriend of Rachel Klamer, he should be able to count on good support in the Netherlands. Like Klamer, he also took the chocolates in Holten earlier this year.
For more information: rotterdam.triathlon.org