The current World Marathon Champions, Walter Bouzán and Álvaro F. Fiuza from Spain (Team Feve-Oviedo Kayak), have continued to expand their curricula, with a third consecutive victory at the 76th edition of the Sella Descent; held last Saturday, 4th August, between the Spanish locations of Arriondas and Ribadesella. Meanwhile, José Julián Becerro (Club Bañezano) claimed victory in K1 after some of the most competitive racing seen in K1 or K2 in recent years.
The race was already predicted to be very tight after the entries of so many good pairs aiming to put their names upon Ribadesella's promenade. The river was in low, and even in the preceding days, nerves could be felt. The start, spectacular as usual, was lead after the first 50 metres by the South African boat of Anthony Stott and Cameron Schoeman, followed very closely by Jesús R. León/Miguel F. Castañón (Fluvial O Barco), and Vicente Tortajada/Omar Calzón (Piraguamadrid). Some of the favourites fell into trouble getting into their kayaks in such a crowded start, but began to appear in the front bunch after a few hundred metres and a lot of effort. First to show up were Julio Martínez and Javier Hernanz, Sella record holders, followed further down by the rest of the favourites: Bouzán/Fiuza, Merchán/Alonso, and Busto/Llamedo, the last ones who managed to close the gap, despite the race already entering its second km. Tortajada/Calzón, on the other hand, lost contact with the leaders.
It is not usual to see such a tight group leading the Sella, especially one composed by such strong pairs. The first difficult point of the 20 km race was at Triong Island, this year taken by the left with a wavy and narrow pass that caused gaps to emerge between crews. In the fight, León and Castañón lost contact and suffered for the next kilometre trying to get again on the wash, but eventually had to give up as the leading group hindered their efforts, not wanting any more paddlers in the group on such a narrow and shallow river.
With now five boats in the lead, the pace was set by Martínez/Hernanz, with Bouzán/Fiuzam and Merchán/Alonso on first wash, and Stott/Schoeman, and Busto/Llamedo on secondary. But drama came for this latter crew at the point known as Picu la Vieya, where, on a very tight left turn, the stream caused them to capsize and lose their paddles, drifting apart from the fight for victory.
Meanwhile, a hundred metres behind, the Czech couple: Jakub Adam and Michael Odvarko were coming back with a strong pace after a bad start and were already leading the chasing group. Further back, the first K1 was Luis Amado Pérez (SCD Ribadesella) who had an advantage from the very start over his teammates Kiko Vega and José Julián Becerro. Finally, the two of them managed to close the gap at half-way, having another unusual front group at the K1 category.
In the K2 leading group, the three Spanish couples started to feel that the podium was going to be for them, as the South Africans Stott and Schoeman never looked comfortable on the back wash, until they finally fell off the wash, and were caught by the Czechs, Adam and Odvarko, who already were alone in the chase. For sure, with a better start, this crew could have caused problems for the Spanish leaders. But they were already in another game, surpassing each other on some of the rapids and turns of the river. Finally Bouzán and Fiuza were the ones leading the race when they faced Ribadesella's bridge for the last 500 metres. In an effort to make Bouzán and Fiuza paddle on shallow water to weaken their renowned sprint finish, Martínez and Hernanz moved left to look for deeper water and try to go on the lead. Bouzán/Fiuza and Merchán/Alonso then reacted, and the sprint was launched from very far away.
Already at the buoys guiding to the finish line, Martínez/Hernanz gave up after giving their best, while Merchán and Alonso couldn't find a way to beat Bouzán and Fiuza, looking really strong at the finish and entering the bridge as winners of the 76th Sella Descent, in a victory that crowns them as the couple to beat nowadays on marathon distances.
Just ten metres behind, Merchán and Alonso were about to encounter a strange situation: happy at the prospect of finishing second, they were trying to cheer each other by clapping their hands when they capsized in front of the finish line. As a result, Martínez and Hernanz finished in second and Merchán/Alonso had to think fast, and try to scramble back into their K2, with the water almost at their necks. They needed to avoid being beaten by the Czechs and South Africans, who were already sprinting for fourth position. Eventually they managed, and grasped the third place on the podium after a superb race.
Six minutes further back were the three first K1s in a close fight for victory. But Becerro was looking stronger than his two rivals and managed to use the two K2s’ sprint in their group to get on the wash and gain an advantage of a few metres, securing him the precious title at this Sella Descent, while Kiko Vega took second position and the very young Luis Amado Pérez was finally third. Just half a minute later crossing the finish line were Rafael Carril in fourth position and David R. Dorado fifth.
In the Women’s race, Mara Santos, after more than twenty titles in K1, tried this year in a K2 with former Spanish National Team sprinter Mª Isabel García, reaching a new victory, with silver for the Argentinian crew and bronze for the Swedish. Meanwhile, in K1, there was a fantastic victory for the South African Michele Eray, Beijing 2008 Olympic finalist, who was taking part in her first Sella. She claimed the title with great authority and an excellent time of 1h29', despite a capsize at La Presa rapid and the low river. Her gap of more than 6 minutes over the second paddler demonstrates by itself how great Michele's race was.
You can download all results below.