Triathlon met the snow as athletes from 15 countries gathered in Cheile Gradistei, Romania, for the 2018 ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships on Jan. 26-28. About 178 athletes took part in elite, junior, U23, paratriathlon and age-group programs.
The planned course was a 7.5-kilometer run, 13-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer ski, which consisted of 5 laps on each course, with a significant amount of climbing in each discipline. I was surprised to meet a lot of British athletes here, wondering where they trained for skiing.
Only three triathletes from the USA signed up — perhaps because the 2018 Winter Triathlon National Championships were held the same weekend in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Molly Breslin (WY) and Jason McDonald (CO) completed Team USA.
Packing for the Trip
I thought summer triathlons demanded a lot of equipment. Winter triathlons are worse: skis, poles, ski boots, vices, iron, adapter, multitude of brushes and wax for changing conditions, winter bike boots, warm clothes, various gloves, and if you bring your own bike, a bigger, heavier bike.
The logistics turned out to be surprisingly easy. As I exited security I heard, ”Sheri!” and ran into Peter and Marianne Gruenebach from Germany. I competed against Marianne at the 2015 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Sweden. We took a 4-hour shuttle to Cheile Gradistei, a biathlon/ski complex on a mountaintop at 1,350 meters altitude, with stunning panoramic views of the Piatra Craiului and Bucegi mountains in Transylvania. The 2017 Winter Triathlon European Championships and the 2015 Biathlon Junior World Championships were held here. I can hardly imagine a more beautiful place.
Cheile Gradistei is a complex of chalets, ski trails, biathlon arena, restaurant and a pool. There is nothing to do but run, bike, ski, swim and eat — no sightseeing or shopping. I felt like I was at camp. I spent my days with my German friends, at least until Molly and Jason arrived.
Poor Jason; his journey followed Murphy’s law. A Denver snowstorm delayed his departure so he missed his flight out of Chicago. He left there 24 hours later, having now lost his direct flight within Europe to Bucharest. Instead he was routed through Rome with a long layover there. He used that layover to search for his lost luggage, then waited in Bucharest for it to arrive. It took Jason 3 1/2 days to arrive at the venue!
All meals were included. We saw about the same food every day, laid out in a buffet. Europe is on a later schedule than the U.S.: lunch 1-3 p.m. and dinner 7-9 p.m. The young Romanian athletes — who stayed in a dorm — came to dinner early, went straight to the dessert table and piled their plates sky high, so sometimes I missed out on the best cookies!
It was easy to mingle during meals. I made a new friend, Vlad from Russia. We biked the course together and he coached me on the technical turn. Vlad traveled 32 hours from Siberia. Four of his hometown teammates came too, so Siberia was better represented than the U.S.!
Ski and Run Courses
It was snowing when we arrived and continued for another two days. Their big groomer was broken. All venues take place on the snow, so nothing was being groomed and visibility was difficult as well these days.
We packed the ski course down by skiing over it. Since the groomer was broken the course had to be changed. More climbing and a sketchy (everyone agreed on this) downhill was added. I was not looking forward to skiing the scary downhill five times.
Half of the run was on our ski course. At the time, this seemed odd. U.S. skiers don’t like footprints messing up their piste. I wondered whether they’d groom between the run and the start of the ski.
Since we had packed the ski course down ourselves we were able to run on it. Another section of the run course went up and down a steep snow-covered hill that was not part of our ski race course so was not packed down. I never saw anyone else’s footprints on this hill but mine.
Bike Course and USA’s “Rental Fleet”
Looking at photos of previous Winter European and World Championships, it became obvious that the Europeans do not ride fat bikes. They ride mountain bikes on (hopefully) snowy roads. All three of us contacted Peter Klosz, President of the Romanian Triathlon Federation, and he offered us rental bikes. We hoped for the best ...
On my second night there my bike arrived in the back of a vehicle. It was a medium size Giant Talon at 31.5 pounds and a size too large. There was no bike bottle cage, but luckily, I brought one — just in case! When Molly arrived she received a similar bike but caked with mud. Her seat post was too long and needed to be cut but no cutter available. The following day she noticed someone riding a brand-new fatty at transition and asked if any rentals were available. She was able to rent that bike — the only fatty around — which seemed like an excellent idea, because it was difficult to get traction on certain areas of the course.
Yeah!!! The groomer was fixed three days before our race, and it forged a 1/4-mile cross country pass from transition out to a road we would continue on. We all stared at that deep soft snow and no one even tried to ride over it that day.
The forged path met up with a snow-covered dirt road. It was hard to tell it was an actual road. One day I saw cars at the top of the hill we would climb and I wondered what it the world they were doing there!
Coming soon: Read more about Sheri's experiences in Part 2 of this series.
Author Sheri Schrock won her age group at this event. Schrock is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach. Learn about the 2018 Cheile Gradistei ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships at triathlon.org and view more photos from the event on facebook.com/wintertriwch2018.