Only The Toughest Tackle Teide Xtreme

This was a day of extraordinary athletes, nature had designed the most unforgiving of all courses and as the sun rose over Guaza Mountain some 200 sportsmen and women lined the shore of Las Vistas beach in Los Cristianos. Five hours, twenty seven minutes and fourty nine seconds later Kevin Thornton from Galway, Ireland, burst across the Teide Xtreme finish line as the winner but Tenerife was every bit the star as the drama unfolded.

A tractor resurfaced the beach in the half light and the water lapped at the feet of the eager athletes as 8 am approached. The swimmers splashed into the waves, some in cut off wet suits and others in shorts and steered across the bay via the marker buoys as support boats and surf board mounted stewards watched over them. Two laps of 850 metres was the opening challenge with a few toes full of sand as they rounded a beach marker before submerging again.

It was amazing how soon they spread out and even more impressive how quickly the leaders came bounding out and up the sand to the promenade and on towards the transition zone. Competitors had arrived from 13 countries and must have been impressed at the slick organization of Tenerife Top Training. Everyone knew where their bikes were stationed with cycling kit neatly laid out alongside for a lightning strip down to dry basics and a new layer of lycra and helmets.

Triathlons are booming world wide but few countries can match the beauty and rugged resistance of the roads leading up into the hills and villages on the 96 km second stage. I boarded the press bus and we shadowed the cyclists as they climbed through Guia de Isora and then pulled ahead for a stop at Bar Las Estrellas at km 34, one of the top up points for the hot peddlers. Teams of volunteers handed out bananas (Canarian of course) water, isotonic drinks, and energy bars and mopped up the empty water bottles that just missed the bins as they slowed their pace a fraction.

Then the muscles and sinews got stretched a little further as we followed the climb through Chio and across the edge of Teide national park to Retamar at 2,200 metres high. It was a cloudless day and the volcanic landscape looked magnificent, talking to competitors later it was clear that even in their heightened state of race focus they appreciated the wonders that spread around them. Sadly on the downward stretch, back marker Carmen Hernandez Paez lost control of her bike on a corner between Las Lajas and Vilaflor and fell knocking her head on a wall. Although she was rushed to hospital she died later, a very sad accident on an otherwise smooth day. I was impressed by the level of stewarding by the volunteers, police, and Civil Protection, each junction, village, and crossroads we passed was well manned for the entire route.

Heading down through Arona, I thought we might get back to the coast way ahead of any riders but within minutes of arriving at the transition point Kevin Thornton came whizzing into the enclosure, dismounted, changed clothes, and was off for the 21 km run, three circuits of the promenade between Las Vistas and Playa el Bobo. It was early afternoon and even the keenest sun worshippers were opting for the shade or the sea but these athletes are a tough bunch and pushed themselves for the final stage. Back at the transition point the countdown had begun with Kevin Thornton strengthening his lead and burning off the kms on the way to the finishing arch. As the leading group turned into the final stretch, others were still evolving from bikers to runners and continued chasing their personal goals as a crescendo of cheers greeted the winner.

It was a tremendous achievement from Kevin Thornton, shaving nearly ten minutes off last years inaugural time. I managed a few words with the winner, he hardly seemed out of breath. Recovering from collarbone and achilles injuries he had only booked his place a couple of days before after a Seville comeback event was cancelled. It wasn’t a bad way to celebrate a first ever visit to Tenerife, the water bottle he clutched was soon emptied but he looked good for a lap of honour. As a spectacle it was a fabulous day, big respect to everyone who took part and those who made it all possible. As a promotion for Tenerife it had everything, a Canadian magazine journalist was among those lapping up the action, our island is perfect for such high octane events, I can hardly wait for next year.