With a thunderstorm approaching the swim segment of the 2019 Swissman Xtreme Triathlon was shortened but competitors still had to endure rain and cold during this hard and stunningly beautiful event.
At 5am the athletes from all over the world started their journey in Ascona but only swam 1,000 meters instead of the typical 3,800 meter swim. The decision of the race directors proved to be correct as thunder arrived 30 minutes after the last athlete had exited the water.
The bike segment is super tough even on a perfectly nice day, with athletes having to conquer 3 big mountain passes, but on this day the cold and rain forced athletes to dig deep into their reserves and courage. The Gotthardpass with 2,091 meter elevation, Furkapass with 2,436 meter elevation and the Grimselpass with 2,164 meters of elevation are the three mountain passes, and while the athletes do not descend back down to 200 meters where the bike segment initially started, there is still plenty of climbing and thus many athletes opt for road bikes.
The sun then came out for the run and that made for great images and memories as the athletes ascended the Kleine Scheidegg from 561 meters to to the finish at 2061 meters.
All in all 218 athletes from 40 countries had to deal with 5,500 meters (18,044 feet) of altitude difference on a 223 kilometer course, and thanks to Kai-Otto Melau we have captivating images.
It is very rare to see athletes in close proximity on this undulating and very scenic course. Here Robert Franzin passed Giuliano Conconi on a climb. Conconi however finished the race in 14:22:53, 23 minutes ahead of Franzin.
It was still very dark when the athletes emerged from the Lago Maggiore after that 1,000 meter swim.
Once on the bikes it does not take very long for the course to point uphill. And with the rainy conditions in place athletes surely bundled up.
The course has plenty of switchbacks and other athletes at times appear so close but still so far away.
Smart decisions about gearing will help athletes on this course, but the climbing still has to be done. And with the focus required the scenery sometimes is impossible to appreciate.
As mentioned earlier, road bikes are a very popular choice on this course, and aero helmets are also not very common.
Up, up, and up we go.
In the higher sections there was still plenty of snow.
Sébastien Granié with bib 69 on the way to 25th place in a time of 13:33:04. Renaud Boulvert with bib 48 in the end finished 34th and a time of 14:00:33.
On that final climb to the Kleine Scheidegg athletes are required to have a support person along, and here Valentine Moschini from Switzerland is all smiles on the way to a 15:23:04 time and 78th place overall.
Colin Robinson from Ireland could have competed at home today at Ironman Cork, but he opted to challenge himself in Switzerland instead. His time of 14:56:51 meant 64th place for him.
Swiss Chantal Hager finished right behind Colin Robinson in 14:57:27, and when you look closer you see that her support person is also displaying a badge with the matching bib number. This way officials know that everything is in order.
Swiss Christian Bächli arm in arm with his support person.
Brit Flora Colledge grabbed the win and thus repeated her title from 2018. Colledge also has a 3rd place at the 2018 Norseman Extreme Triathlon on her resume. Her winning 2019 Swissman time of 12:40:52 was good enough for 12th place overall.
2019 Swissman Extreme Triathlon
1. Flora Colledge (GBR) 12:40:52
2. Julia Nikolopoulos (GER) 13:19:20
3. Heleen de Hooge (NED) 13:23:03
1. Mathias Nüesch (SUI) 11:13:06
2. Stefan Graf (SUI) 11:17:05
3. Lorenz Erland Linde (NOR) 11:51:04
All images © Kai-Otto Melau / Swissman