Photography by Michael Rauschendorfer
Markus Stierli of Switzerland and Inger Liv Bjerkreim Nilsen of Norway took out dramatic wins at the 11th Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway on Saturday. It was Stierli’s final triathlon competition, and Bjerkreim Nilsen’s first ever. Extra tough conditions, with strong winds and erratic weather, made this year’s edition of Norseman the toughest ever.
Isklar Norseman starts in a west Norway fjord and finishes on top of a mountain in southeast Norway. Between those points competitors will cover 226 kilometers of terrain that is both stunningly beautiful and incredibly challenging—2.4 km of fjord swimming, 180 km of cycling across Europe’s largest mountain plateau with five mountain passes, and a marathon that starts with a 25 km gentle slope and finishes with a grueling 17 km climb to the top of an 1,883-meter high mountain. The course has a total ascent of approximately 5,000 meters, and offers plenty of challenge even under ideal weather conditions.
Before the race, the buzz around the tiny fjord town of Eidfjord was all about weather. Forecasts for Saturday included torrential rains and gale-force winds across the plateau. As Saturday dawned, reality proved tough enough, with waves during the swim, and hard cross- and headwinds, heavy rain and thick fog rendering the tarmac on the bike leg extra slick and treacherous. The iconic silhouette of the Gausta mountain was also shrouded in fog as the first athletes approached. Markus Stierli’s winning time was a good hour behind Henrik Oftedal’s course record, set under considerably better conditions last year.
This was 38-year-old Stierli’s final competition before he retires from the sport. “Today everything came together. It was a very long and very tough competition, but rain, cold and lots of wind are actually perfect conditions for me,” said Stierli, who prefers cold to heat. “Still, in a competition like this, anything can happen, and today luck was on my side.”
Stierli said he knew all along that he would finish the race, but was far from certain he would win it. Dirk Wijnalda of the Netherlands in second place was only 16 minutes behind Stierli, while Allan Hovda of Norway placed third.
Inger Liv Bjerkreim Nilsen took out the women’s competition with the 11th best time overall in her first triathlon ever. “Today’s race was very tough,” admitted Bjerkreim Nilsen, who kept her spirits up by setting intermediate goals throughout the day: “I dreaded swimming the waves, but actually felt the swim went very well. I know I’m a good climber, so in the wind across the plateau, I kept looking forward to the four next ascents. The hard cycling leg made the start of the run difficult, but little by little I fell into a good pace.”
Austria’s Lydia Waldmüller was in the lead throughout the women’s race, but was unable to hold Bjerkreim Nilsen off on the climb. Bjerkreim Nilsen came into her own with a formidable ascent over the final few kilometers of very rough terrain up towards the mountain peak. Line Foss of Norway placed third in the women’s race.
Out of the 233 athletes on Saturday’s starting line in Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, 215 athletes completed the race. Eighteen athletes did not finish, among them former three-time winner Susanne Buckenlei.