Experts say that the departure of the Sella does not decide victory, but that it can leave any boat with no chance of winning. 1,102 people in 772 boats leaving at the same time considerably raise the chances of an unforeseen event. The 85th edition of the International Descent of the Sella, however, left a new twist to the popular wisdom of the river: the Frenchmen Quentin Urban and Jeremy Candy took victory -the second consecutive of the couple- despite a bad exit. Or, as it turned out over the course of the race, turning that bad start into an opportunity.
The fact that Urban and Candy did not start the race in the best possible way allowed for one of the most spectacular finishes on record at the Ribadesella finish line. As they did not pull from the head of the race and imposed a higher pace, up to seven boats had options to stay in front during the 20 kilometers of the test. “Whoever has only seen the start, will think that it was impossible for us to win”, said the French just off the podium. His was excellent crisis management. “We had a problem with the stocks. But we don’t stress. We kept calm. The race is very long and we were confident. It took us 15 kilometers to reach the lead and in the final sprint we were lucid to maintain the strategy we had prepared. We knew we could win”, they explained before highlighting the “extremely high level” of this year’s event. The champions did a time of one hour, 7 minutes and 53 seconds.
Up to seven boats reached the final sprint with a chance of victory. The low flow of the river forced those seven canoes to undertake the final attack together, already in the estuary, in such a way that they left a colorful outcome for the spectators. Given the narrowness of the channel, the strategies emerged. That of foreign athletes, letting themselves be guided by the locals, was the most effective.
The other face -of sadness and consternation- was that of the locals Miguel Llorens and Alberto Plaza. Great favorites -due to preparation, fitness and knowledge of the river- led the race for practically the entire route. “We did the race we had planned, but the fact that Urban and Candy started badly made the leading group bigger and the finish less clean. Perhaps that way we would have had more chances of victory”, they explained with a resigned voice and downcast eyes after taking third place. Hungarians Bruno Kolozsvari and Adrian Boros took second place.
In the women’s K2 category, the victory went to Tania Álvarez and Tania Fernández. The Spanish did a time of 1 hour, 20 minutes and 4 seconds. “Sella is always a bit of luck and a lot of nerves. It is a race in which, no matter how well you are, things always happen that are not under your control. It has been very exciting because the people on the banks were telling us that we were the first. Looking back and not seeing any rival, we have been able to enjoy the final part. We always tell ourselves that we have to enjoy ourselves, that you never know when it will be the last time. And today we have enjoyed a lot. See all those people cheering us on. You have to live it to understand it”, they commented still with goosebumps and a contagious emotion. Walter Bouzán, eight times champion in K2, yesterday added his third victory in K1. With tears in his eyes, he hugged his wife and his son. “With the issue of age and those things, I get more and more excited.” He used to say sarcastically before making an analogy: “for those of us who practice this sport, which is a minority, enjoying Sella is feeling like footballers for a day, with tens of thousands of people cheering us on”. For Irati Osa, women’s champion in K1 with one hour, 28 minutes and 30 seconds, the race was “very hard”. “It has been key to train these days in the river and get to know it better. Sella is impressive… and even more so if you win!”, she says, laughing and quickly forgetting the initial harshness.
Canoes in the seal: sport and party. Or vice versa
Saturday dawned sunny in an Asturias still under the influence of the Patricia squall. By the time the sun began to warm, some were returning to their homes—or to their tents—from last night’s party. This was not the case of María Antonia Rodríguez (81 years old, Gijón), who had been sitting in a chair on the Arriondas bridge since 9 in the morning, to see the exit, as she has been doing for 40 years. “Why do I like the Sella? Because I live it, because I get excited, do you want more?
The International Descent of the Sella mixes the festive and sporting parts. Both meet in Arriondas, where the parade takes place prior to departure. The canoes, as the event in Asturias is popularly known, was the brainchild of Dionisio de la Huerta, the son of an Asturian from Barcelona, an athlete and humanist, who transmitted to the event a spirit that has much of the Asturian essence. A little bit of Olympism here, some references to Asturian mythology there and a lot -but a lot- of irony and partying. Floats, giants, big heads, contemporary music, cardboard signs that read “Long live Asturias”, “Thank you Dionisio”, the official flag of Sella – red, blue, white, green and yellow horizontal stripes, in that order, a Virgin of Covadonga -la Santina- carried by four bearers. A very peculiar union in which the flags – of the councils, of the region, of Spain, of the participating countries – coexist without problems within a single objective: the celebration.
Already in the river, the decibels rise on the banks and silence falls among the athletes. The two unofficial hymns of Asturias sound: that of Víctor Manuel and that of Melendi. Vicente Díaz interprets a song that, in the middle of a sporting event, invites us to enjoy cider and Lydia Valentín, Olympic weightlifting champion and announcer of this edition, admits that, although they had told her what this Sella thing was about, now she could give faith that “it’s brutal.” The irony and the party reach their peak with cheers to the participating countries. “Long live South Africa!”; and thousands of people respond “¡Viva!”. “Long live New Zealand!” And the same. Here everyone who comes is celebrated.
With the start, hundreds of cars, motorcycles and bicycles start to form a parallel Sella, which runs along the National 634. In the middle, the fluvial train that follows the test with the authorities, guests and the people who have taken the bills. Here goes the family of Charles Evans, champion in the 1960s and the oldest person to compete in this edition. His daughter, Verónica, says that her father had told her many times about this, “but until you see it, you can’t imagine it.”
The Ciudad de Oviedo bagpipe band, which in turn is the Rolling Stones of the bagpipe bands, closes the awards ceremony with the Asturias anthem.
Luis González (41 years old, Ribadesella) and Paula Izquierdo (42 years old, Madrid), have taken their eldest son, Pelayo, to discover the Descent. They do it “following tradition and also the orders of the proclamation, which says that with the children we have we will come to Las piraguas… which is something that is understood over time, of course.”
Asked Pelayo about the experience, he answers:
“It hasn’t been that long.”
“You’ll understand,” says the father, remembering that one day he was where his son is now.
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