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Henry Sleight's Elite GB Debut
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 6th July 2016


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Frst time GB Elite Henry Sleight at the ETU Cross Triathlon European Championships

The recent XTERRA Switzerland event also co-hosted the ETU Cross Triathlon European Championships in the town of Vallee de Joux, an event which had GB success in the Elite ranks with a Silver medal for Jacqui Slack.

GB's sole entry in the Elite race was Henry Sleight, who was also wearing GB Elite colours for the first time. Having seen some rather epic pictures of the mud in Switzerland, we got in touch with Henry to get his perspective on his race.


Now in its 7th year, Xterra Switzerland is a well established race on the Xterra European Tour, and for 2016 the event also hosted the ETU Cross Triathlon European Championships. For those unfamiliar with the Xterra Cross Tri format, it's the same as an road based tri, however everything is off-road. Typically the courses are 1500m open water swim, 30-40km mountain bike and a 10km trail run, however the terrain often dictates the race times much more than the distances and most race winning times sit somewhere between a Standard distance road triathlon and a 70.3 / Middle distance event.

I began competing in cross triathlon events in 2015 after racing road based tri's and XC MTB events for a number of years. As soon as the ETU Cross Tri Champs was announced in Switzerland I was keen to get an entry in and read up on the Elite selection criteria on the British Triathlon Website. Each nation gets three Elite male and three Elite female starts and after some communication with the BTF Performance Coordinator, I got the news that I had made the cut! 

Some of the perks of racing in the Elite wave is British Triathlon covering your race entry and also race kit. A few weeks before the event I was passing Brit Tri's HQ in Loughborough and had the chance to try out the race suit. The elite suits are slightly different to the AG race wear and only got up to size L - which at 193cm tall was a bit of a concern. Luckily I could squeeze into it, but it was a further incentive to cut down on the mid-ride cafe stops! 

My partner Jessie Roberts was also selected for her first Elite championships and we set off on Wednesday evening via a standard queue on the M25 and further delays in the Channel Tunnel. Arriving on Thursday just after lunch we headed out for a ride of the bike course, which had been extended from the previous edition; a positive for me as it is my strongest discipline. Friday morning was more of the same with another lap of the bike course. Surprisingly the Switzerland event is one of the flattest Xterra events I have done due to the limitations on land access, however that makes for some fast racing with the need to carry as much speed as possible through every section. 

Jessica Roberts and Henry Sleight

The race briefing took place on Friday evening and is always useful due to the more adventurous courses that the Xterra events are raced over. Now that the event was also hosting the ETU Champs there was a requirement for all Elites to sign a register proving their attendance at the briefing. Thankfully fellow GB Elite Louise Fox came over to tell us this because it was somehow lost in translation. A penalty is never good, but getting one before the race has started is even worse!

The days racing began in the morning with the ETU Junior and 'Lite' distance race covering half as many laps as the main event. The thunder / lightening / hail storm had watered the course the night before and they were returning to T2 with a serious looking mud tan. A quick check of the forecast suggested more rain was due early afternoon just as my race was setting off. 

Related Article: GB Age-Group medals - ETU Cross Triathlon 2016

I enjoy the muddier conditions and chose to gamble on fitting full mud tyres, at the expense of slower rolling speeds on the faster road and gravel track sections. As 14:00 approached the rain hadn't arrived but transition had closed so that was my race setup decided, and at the time it appeared to be the wrong one. I set off with the Elite and U23 men, followed by the Elite and U23 women one minute later, and then all AG'ers in wave 3 at 14:05. 

Henry Sleight

The lake had a very shallow bed for around 40m, with the start line somewhere in the middle. So the race began at waist depth with a messy 20m of a walking / dolphin combination before the deeper water began. Swimming is my weakest discipline, but I had been working on it all winter so was pleased when I found my self tucked into the main group. However I soon lost touch and at the halfway point wasn't too far in front of some fast approaching pink hats from the Elite female wave. By this point the rain had well and truly arrived, which was probably the only positive I could take from the swim. 

I was onto the bike around 33rd out of the 56 starters in my wave, so had some work to do. The bike wasn't as muddy as I expected but I managed to pick off a few other riders and was somewhere in the high 20's at the end of the first lap. Beginning lap two it was immediately obvious that the influx of 500+ AG'ers had taken its toll on the sodden fields and the second lap was a much muddier affair. This enabled me to move into the top 20, although the mud was so thick it was impossible to tell who I was overtaking, the National suits were unrecognizable from behind and the names couldn't be read either! Im sure the Czech competitors got their fare share of GB flag waving. 

Henry Sleight

The run was also over two laps, starting with a lake side boggy section, some fast gravel tracks, a 100m vertical scramble through the woods with a fast grassy decent and then road to finish. The Frenchman that entered T2 with me quickly shot off into the distance, and my steadier start enabled me to take on the wood scramble with fresher legs. However this approach still enabled a couple of stronger runners to catch me at the end of the first lap, so I was sitting around 20th/21st. My conservative first lap paid dividends as the quick runners were starting to fade and I moved back past them on the fast 1km road run into the finish, crossing the line in 18th. With three U23's ahead I appeared as 15th on the results board, and with 4 Elites from the Southern Hemisphere also ahead of me, I was the 11th Elite European Champs.

Henry Sleight

My personal target was a top-20 which I was very pleased to have achieved (which ever way you look at the results!), in my first Elite Championship event. It's tricky explaining how I was beaten by two Australians, a South African and a New Zealander in the European Championships but those are the ITU rules - I guess finishing in front of them would simplify things, but that is easier said than done! 

Related Article: Jacqui Slack wins Euro Cross Triathlon Silver

It was great to see some incredible finishes form the GB Elite females too, with Jacqui Slack finishing second, Louise Fox 10th and Jessie Roberts 12th. The next step for me is to move up to the ITU Elite Cross Tri World Champs held in Australia this year, however I have run out of holiday so that might have to wait until Canada in 2017! 

Henry Sleight


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