TW Race Report: Valencia Tri

We headed to the Spanish city for the perfect end-of-season triathlon challenge



by Dominique Brady

Valencia crowds

Distance: Olympic 1500m/ 40K/ 10K & Sprint 750m/ 20K/ 5K
Where: Valencia
When: September 11, 2011
First man: Xavier Llobet 2:11:02 (Olympic distance)
First woman: Fátima Maestre 2:34:59 (Olympic distance)

Valencia has come up trumps with the perfect end-of-season triathlon challenge. Where else could you swim in a world-class marina, take in some of Europe's most exciting modern architecture and - the piece de resistance - lap a Formula One street circuit?

Such obvious assets easily seduced this triathlon newcomer, who was already twitching to do another race after taking part in the Dextro Energy Hyde Park Triathlon relay. And so, a few weeks later, I boarded the plane at Heathrow with only sheaf of Triathlete's World articles and my mounting hysteria to keep me company. But once I'd landed, dumped my humongous kit bag and scoped out the Marina Real Juan Carlos (the main hub of racing action), my worries seemed to evaporate into the city's blue skies and balmy 37C heat.

I caught the end of the women's triathlon - Saturday was given over to various promotional events - and was impressed by the atmosphere generated by supporters, and relieved by the range of abilities on show. Far from being the preserve of the elites, the Valencia Triathlon appeared to be all about just mucking in and loving the sport - an ethos that suited me just fine.

All that was left was to collect my race number from the small-but-perfectly-formed expo and relax before the big day - hardly a feat in such a charming tourist hotspot. Carb-loading on paella in La Marcelina (lamarcelina.com), one of the many restaurants lining the Playa las Arenas, was the perfect pre-race preparation.

It would have been easy to lapse into holiday mode, but I managed to ignore the lure of the city's Saturday night party atmosphere and, with nerves beginning to tingle, I set my alarm extra early for the second Valencia Triathlon. 

Valencia before start

The race

At 6.30am I made my way across the still-dark city, watching the last of the previous night's revellers amble home. The race hub was already busy with 1,400 competitors ready to get started. This year the Valencia Triathlon came under the Tri Grand Prix umbrella and the slick professional touches were immediately obvious - the cheery race commentary, the hordes of eager volunteers and the addition of paratriathlon.

The race was a predominantly Spanish affair, but the friendly atmosphere easily overcame any language barrier. As the sun began to rise, spectators and sprint-distance competitors lined the marina stretch by the Vele et Vents America's Cup building, designed by British architect David Chipperfield, to cheer on the Olympic-distance competitors.

Valencia swim start

The Swim

In the sprint category there were only 300 challengers and of those a tiny minority were female - we even had our own wave start. We jumped in off the jetty near the sail school, then the buzzer sounded and arms and legs started thrashing towards the inner marina. With the water temperature at 26C and so few competitors in the wave, this open-water swim provided a more comfortable and, frankly, safer environment than I usually find in my local pool. And the cheering crowds really helped us power home on the final straight. 

Valencia bike

The Bike

Scrambling out of the water, I ran briefly through the crowds, before hopping on the bike for a thrilling cycle ride. Crossing the swing bridge, we hit the glorious Formula One street circuit. With its long, flat stretches and generous bends, this section of the course practically demanded that I pedal faster. The race was draft-legal, too, so I was able to tuck in and enjoy the slipstream.

The course then took us back onto traffic-free city roads; a long downhill stretch was followed by the only minor hill on the route. There was a short ramp before I veered down into the City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia's dazzling series of buildings devoted to science and culture. My teeth chattered as I bumped over cobbles and my steering was tested on a series of sharp bends, but I didn't really mind because we were racing past some of the most remarkable structures in this, or any other, city.

However, this was still a race, and it was with relief that we exited the cobbled section and returned to the smooth, fast Formula One circuit leading back to the marina. 

Valencia run

The Run

After such an exhilarating bike ride, it was with a heavy heart - and legs - that I started the run - two pancake-flat laps of the marina's America's Cup buildings. I had done handful of brick sessions as part of my training but my legs were like jelly for the first lap. 

Then, on the second lap, my legs started to respond and my erratic stride pattern started to more closely resemble running. The circuit was a little monotonous but at least it was flat and the cheers from the small crowd of supporters lining the route gave me a much-needed boost. Nevertheless, the relief I felt as I started to climb the small ramp towards the finish line was immense.

I crossed the line and was passed an isotonic drink, a cold beer and a small bag of grapes. I leant against the marina wall, exhausted but enjoying the post-race high that comes from completing an exhilarating race in a stunning city. Whether you're a novice, an end-of-season PB-chaser or a sun seeker, you won't be disappointed with this racing gem. 

Find out more at valenciatriatlon.com

Valencia woman running

Travel Notes

Fly

You can fly to Valencia from the UK with EasyJet (easyjet.com),  Iberia (Iberia.com), Ryan Air (ryanair.com) or British Airways (britishairways.com).

Stay

Stay at the AC Hotel Valencia (espanol.marriott.com), which is a 15-minute cycle from the race start. They provide an early race-day breakfast and the hotel becomes quite a hub for triathletes. More hotels can be found at turisvalencia.es.

Pre-race fuel

For a large dish of the region's speciality, paella, and some wonderfully fresh seafood, La Marcelina (lamarcelina.com) is a great spot with superb views of the city's sandy beach, the Playa las Arenas. Or try a pre-race meal at the atmospheric Restaurante La Lola (lalolarestaurante.com) in the old town, which offers a tasting menu for €29, with rice dishes and fresh bread providing a moreish carb fix.

When you're not racing...

Soak up Valencia's rich culture and history with a guided cycle tour. Find out more about the fascinating City of Arts and Sciences, the Jardines de Turia and the historic old town. valenciabikes.com.

Meander around the old town's maze of chic boutiques, restaurants and soak up the Moorish and Roman influences. The Cathedral of Valencia, with its three different doorways (Romanesque, baroque, and gothic), and the formidable Torres de Serranos are must-sees.

City of Arts and Sciences: Avoid the scorching sun and indulge your inner child with a visit to the magnificent science museum, aquarium or planetarium. Or just find a shady spot in the landscaped Jardines de Turia. http://www.cac.es


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