Challenge Roth is a legendary iron distance race steeped in history and often described as the world’s biggest long-distance triathlon. It is famous for the massive crowds of spectators it attracts. Think 2.5x the maximum capacity of the AFL grand final at the MCG or about 260,000 people. I don’t even know how they count them all, maybe they just estimate the number by the size of the traffic jam in the morning before the race. 🤪
Roth is located in the state of Bavaria in Germany, about 30 minutes south of Nuremberg. It is both a district (landkreis) and a town, with the district covering nearly 900 square kilometres giving it plenty of room for the 224km course to wind through. The population is approximately 130,000 people, so on race day the population of the district more than doubles! It is absolutely incredible and nearly everywhere you go in the district there are supporters, volunteers (about 7500), tents, beer tables, costumes, announcers, music, banners and the endless, awesome racket made by those blow-up batons.
The course starts with a swim in the Main Donau Kanal near Hiltpoltstein. The entry and exit points for the swim are very close together and the run to the bike, via bag collection and the change tent, is pretty short. The bike course is a two lap course, with an additional 10-12km section ending at T2 in the town of Roth. The run is a single lap course which ends at Triathlon Park just a few kilometres from T2.
The bike course is sensational, but for sandgropers, it is not Busselton. Hardly any of it is flat and there are three notable climbs.
The well-known hill, Solarerberg, is likened to being on the Tour De France because of the very close proximity of 25,000+ spectators to the competitors. It’s a gain of about 50m elevation over roughly 1km with a maximum gradient of 9%.
The biggest climb is Kalvarienberg down near Greding. This is a gain of just over 100m in elevation over 2km starting off with a gradient of about 12% and slowly getting easier. It is then followed by about another 40m of elevation gain across the next 7km of windy plains. Overall the accumulated elevation change is about 1500m and there is nearly always wind somewhere on the course.
Oh, but the downhill bits are crazy good with 180° switch-backs and sections where you can just tuck in and fly over the smooth, German engineered bitumen or pedal like the clappers and watch the needle tip over 70km/h.
The single lap run course has it all. About 18k of compacted gravel along the side of the canal, a seperate 1km penalty loop for those caught drafting on the bike 😇, about 5km up and down the same hill with several sections of 5-6% gradient, the option to use music, aid stations galore and, of course, spectators lining nearly every kilometre of the course.
Finally it all comes to dramatic end with 32 rolls of red carpet leading into a stadium of 10,000 of your nearest and dearest personal fans… or so it seems, especially if you are close to the magic 15 hour cut-off where the biggest cheers are said to be had.
2019 marked the race’s 36th year and 18th under the Challenge brand. Whilst this year saw no new course records, there were still plenty of other records to be broken, including entrants from a record of 84 different nations and the live broadcasting of the event not only to German television, but to 20 other international television and internet feeds. They haven’t counted yet how many TV crews were present this year but in 2018 there were 168 different TV crews at the event. Challenge Roth also remains on top when it comes to holding down both the fastest ever men’s and women’s long distance triathlon times.
World Long Distance Triathlon Records
Jan Frodeno 2016 @ Roth – 7:35:39 (s 45:22 / t1 1:36 / b 4:08:07 / t2 1:18 / r 2:39:28)
Chrissie Wellington 2011 @ Roth – 8:18:13 (s 49:49 / t1 1:56 / b 4:40:39 / t2 1:17 / r 2:44:35)
Speaking of records, they are
somewhat hard to find all in one place. As far as I can tell the men’s swim leg
record for Roth is still held by Michael Prüfert, set in 1997, with a time of
43:35 while Lucy Charles-Barclay set the women’s swim leg record in 2018 with a
time of 46:48. Dr Cameron Wurf holds the bike leg record, also set in 2018,
with a time of 4:05:37. Luc Van Lierde still seems to hold the run leg record
he set in 1997, with a time of 2:36:49. The run course changed a couple of
years ago and now includes the hill I mentioned into Büchenbach so that record
may stand for a little longer…
Australia had a good year at Challenge Roth, with Sarah Crowley taking 2nd for the women and Dr Cameron Wurf taking 3rd for the men, reportedly recovering from both a broken nose and rib. 😱 Wow, but he wasn’t the only one, our very own Bonnie (Dr Yvonne Learmonth) completed the race, breaking her toe coming out of the swim. 💪 Must be something in the title… 😉 We also had some celebrity represents including the much loved Olympic swimmer Suzie O’Neill, who won the Women’s 45 swim leg with a time of 53:24 and Commando Steve.
W.A. had 25 finishers, it almost could have been an international interclubs event. 🤩 FTC had the most of course, with 7 finishers, fighting off Stadium who had 4, EFS 3, Rockingham 2 and nearly every other club 1 each. Love to tell you more over coffee…
Some 2019 Stats
1st Place for €14,000each
Men – Andreas Dreitz – 7:59:02
Women – Lucy Charles-Barclay – 8:31:09
Total Prize money €62,000.
3104 Individual Finishers, 25 from W.A.
FTC – 7
Stadium – 4
EFS – 3
Rockingham – 2
Oceanic, Break Your Limits, North Coast, Perth Hills, Perth, Albany, XTR, Exceed and Nickol Bay – 1
W.A.’s Fastest Overall
M-Pro – Guy Crawford (FTC) 9:02:35
M-30 – Sam Colvin (Oceanic) 9:03:25
W-35 – Ann Brinkamp (Stadium) 10:11:35
W.A.’s Fastest Swim
M-Pro – Guy Crawford (FTC) 51:35
M-45 – Mathew Jennings (Stadium) 53:57
W-Pro – Kate Bevilaqua (FTC) 58:33
W-45 – Dr Julie Howie (Perth Hills) 1:01:12
W.A.’s Fastest Bike
M-Pro – Simon Billeau (Stadium) 4:23:59
M-30 – Sam Colvin (Oceanic) 4:53:41
W-35 – Ann Brinkamp (Stadium) 5:25:07
W.A.’s Fastest Run
M-30 – Sam Colvin (Oceanic) 3:10:03
W-35 – Ann Brinkamp (Stadium) 3:34:15
FTC’s Fastest Overall
M-Pro – Guy Crawford 9:02:35
M-35 – Chris Martin 10:14:45
W-Pro – Kate Bevilaqua 11:33:22
W-35 – Dr Yvonne (Bonnie) Learmonth 12:18:07
FTC’s Fastest Swim
M-Pro – Guy Crawford 51:35
M-45 – David Hayward 1:05:28
W-Pro – Kate Bevilaqua 58:33
W-45 – Kate Sommerville 1:15:50
FTC’s Fastest Bike
M-Pro – Guy Crawford 4:39:17
M-35 – Chris Martin 5:14:14
W-Pro – Kate Bevilaqua 5:26:41
W-35 – Dr Yvonne (Bonnie) Learmonth 6:02:36
FTC’s Fastest Run
M-Pro – Guy Crawford 3:27:32
M-35 – Chris Martin 3:41:55
W-35 – Dr Yvonne (Bonnie) Learmonth 4:26:13