Triathlon: Hobson passes intense test of endurance: Adrian Holloway on the iron triathletes at Ironbridge

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The Independent Online
TRIATHLON is an impossibly gruelling sport. They say competitors are not necessarily obsessive but it takes some believing. There is a unique intensity about it all and a unity of purpose. At the British Middle Distance Championships yesterday, here in Shropshire, every mind was set on endurance.

Nevertheless, the start was great fun. Half a mile upstream from Abraham Darby's famous bridge, the first wave of swimmers thrashed around in the river Severn as they waited for the hooter to sound. When it did, there was a sudden flurry as the wet-suited bodies splashed away, their pink caps visible through the spray.

As a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, Darby might have been pleased to know that athletes would finally imitate machines at Ironbridge, but he probably would not have relished the thought of having to swim 1.6 miles, cycle 56 miles and then run 13 miles without a break.

The growth of the sport has been a very recent phenomenon. Ten years ago, it was virtually unknown outside California, but it now boasts 12,000 active participants in Britain alone.

That said, many competitors faced an old problem yesterday in the transition area. This is where finely tuned athletes struggled to pull off their wet suits after the swim to launch into the bike ride. It is also the place where the best laid plans went to waste. One hunk arrived to find his bike already had a puncture, others lost valuable time manfully trying to put their cycling shoes on.

Then, after two and a half hours cycling through the countryside, the triathletes returned to the transition area, ditched their bikes and ran three times round the perimeter of the town before heading for the finish and the medical tent.

The Ironbridge event attracts the world's best. As the sixth race in the International Professional Triathlon tour, it offers nine qualifying places for the most prestigious event of the season, the Hawaii Ironman in October.

Richard Hobson, 28, from Portsmouth, earned the title of British champion by being the first Briton through the tape. He came an impressive second overall, to Eimert Venderbosch, a Dutchman who was competing at Ironbridge for the first time.

Venderbosch, 28, was a surprise winner because he trailed the race favourite, Greg Welch, until the final four miles of the run. Welch, an Australian regarded as easily the best runner in the sport, faded badly at the death. There was some consolation for him, however, when his compatriot Bianca van Woesik won the women's race for the second year in succession.

(Photograph omitted)