Words & Photos: Chris Hitchcock
Triathlon in the Western Cape is evolving into something big, and it's doing it in a hurry.
Photo credit: Chris Hitchcock
Only a few years back, events were hastily put together by volunteers and harassed officials from the local triathlon administrative body (In many cases, those poor officials were coerced into helping.) They did a sterling job with what they had, pulling help from wherever they could, liaising with local authorities for permission and organising road closures, marshals and traffic officials on the day. Organising a triathlon is not a job for the faint hearted or those with a short attention span.
In 2014, things have changed. The sport has grown, and the small child that was a fringe sport in the late 90s has had a spectacular growth spurt and is now a petulant teenager of the new millennium. It is a sport that is demanding its proper place in a society filled with similar ‘edge’ events. It is also a sport that needs proper organisational skills and talent.
With the World Triathlon Series coming to Cape Town this April (talk about an older sibling and massive peer pressure), the eyes of the triathlon world are on Cape Town, and the sport in the Western Cape, like any kid in its first year at high school, needed a new set of clothes and a proper haircut.
Luckily, the Western Province Triathlon committee aren’t short sighted. Realising that they are administrators and not organisers, they roped in the help of professional event organiser Olivia Ness and her team from Raw Events to run the logistics of the Western Province Triathlon Championships. Good move. Greater success.
Those who entered the race on Sunday, 19 January probably thought that a 6:30 a.m. race start was stupidly early. They certainly changed their tune when the temperatures soured into the thirties by midday. With the weather playing along like a well conducted orchestra (without the wind section, which is unusual for any event held in Cape Town in the summer), the athletes were treated to the first of many pleasant surprises on the day, the venue.
The Val de Vie Estate in Paarl is simply stunning, with manicured lawns, perfect water quality and a secure environment for spectators and family. Val de Vie threw its doors wide, gave the athletes a huge welcoming smile and made a lot of friends
in the process.
So the triathlon circus rolled into town for what was going to be an amazing day of racing. With Raw Events doing the rah-rah side of things, and the indefatigable Tony Bradford of WP Triathlon and his team pulling the strings, making things happen and just being everywhere, this event took sprint triathlon in the Western Cape to a whole new level.
Checking the line-up at the start, it was clear that this was going to be a quality race, despite many top contenders treating it as part of their taper before Ironman 70.3 in East London a week later.
In the men's race, Xterra Champ Stuart Marias, Ironman star Matt Trautman and up and coming local star Frederick Wagenvoorde were all on the line, along with a host of other class talent like Theo Blignaut. There was also the added entertainment of multiple Olympic gold medallist and Val de Vie resident Ryk Neethling lining up as the swimmer in a relay fun team. That must have got a few egos twitching.
Heading up the women's field was race favourite Di McEwan, Olympian (on the serious comeback trail), Marie Rabie and Robyn Williams, who although concentrating more on off road races these days was looking to pick up the pieces left by those in front should they have a bad day.
First out of the water after a brilliant swim was Theo Blignaut, followed 18 seconds later by Fred Wagenvoorde and then Ryk Neethling, who gave the others a fighting chance by swimming backstroke. Stuart Marais was trailing by a massive 2 minutes going into the swim/bike transition and had set himself up for a huge effort if he wanted to take the win.
Photo credit: Chris Hitchcock
Onto the bike and it was out on the road towards Paarl, looping through the verdant vineyards before heading back towards Franschhoek and then the return road to Val de Vie. Stuart Marais was hammering the ride on his mean, green Trek tri-bike to claw back the minute and a half he had lost to the leaders on the swim. He eventually managed to pull a minute back on Wagenvoorde and 4 minutes and 30 seconds on Theo Blignaut, to come into T2 second with less than 30 seconds to close the gap. The run was frantic, with Marais slowly closing on Wagenvoorde to eventually power into the lead 1 km from the finish with his customary kick, eventually winning by a miserly 20 seconds.
The women's race was a far more sedate affair in comparison, although no less fast at the front with Marie Rabie clocking the fastest swim time of anyone (male and female) on the day. But it was Di McEwan who was the runaway winner, taking the win by almost 4 minutes from Rabie, with Robyn Williams another 1 minute 45 seconds back. Such was McEwan's domination that her coach, Neil MacPherson, was on course calling split times and urging her to slow down in an effort to save herself for Ironman 70.3, where she will be starting as one of the favourites.
After the hustle and bustle of the big boys and girls in the early races, the day moved on to include youth and kiddies races later in the morning before the prize-giving at the polo club. Here, the farmers market was in full swing and competitors were able to get a delicious bite to eat and a cold beverage to quaff, while catching up on race tales with their mates.
1. Stuart Marais
2. Frederick Wagenvoorde
3. Theo Blignaut
1. Dianne McEwan
2. Marie Rabie
3. Robyn Williams
For more information and the full race results, visit www.wptriathlon.org.za