Challenge celebrated 30 years of triathlon in Roth today with a cast of 220,000 spectators, nearly 6,000 athletes (including 219 British competitors) and 49,000 energy gels descending on Bavaria. While the local and international crowd were relentless in their noise and energy, Mother Nature wasn’t so kind to the competitors, subjecting them to 30C conditions by 11am with little place to hide.
Pre-race talk in the stellar women’s field centred on double Ironman Hawaii World Champ Mirinda Carfrae’s first venture in Roth and whether, with her Kona adversaries Rachel Joyce and Caroline Steffen also on the startline, Chrissie Wellington’s 2011 Roth world record of 8:18:13 would be in danger.
There were no conclusive favourites in the men’s race, with 2012 Ironman Hawaii champ Pete Jacobs, Australia’s double 70.3 World Champ Luke McKenzie, 2012 Roth winner James Cunnama, former Abu Dhabi winner Eneko Llanos, defending Roth champ Dirk Bockel, and top Germans Timo Bracht and Nils Frommhold all genuine contenders for the 2014 Roth title and a healthy share of the bumper prize pot.
The race kicked off at 6:30am with an already 50,000 strong crowd lining the banks of the Main-Donau-Canal and the vantage point of the bridge. Hot-air balloons and helicopters populated the blue morning skies, with the emerging sun reflecting on the bike frames located in the world’s most expensive bike park that is Roth’s T1.
The men’s race saw all of the main contenders exit together, with James Cunnama having the “swim of his life” according to his watching beau Jodie Swallow. Caroline Steffen led out the woman and continued that dominance up the iconic Solarer climb, an unforgettable sight that should be on every triathlete’s tick list. Joyce and Carfrae followed, with Yvonne van Vlerken and Britain’s top age-grouper/pro/doctor Cat Faux also in the mix.
Local and international supporters lined five-deep on the 1km climb, producing a cacophony of rattles, cowbells and singing as the all of the overall contenders and high-flying age-groupers eased up the climb. ‘Bier mile’ (pictured) was the next memorable sight on the bike leg, with the German radlers (shandies) flowing as Steffen and the German-favourite Nils Frommhold extended their leads on the bike.
Going into T2, Frommhold had a 6mins lead over Bracht and co, with Steffen a similar distance ahead of Joyce. The clouds were at last offering some cover from the relentless heat and, by 28km of the 42km run, Frommhold’s lead was 1mins over Bracht, with Joe Gambles and Eneko Llanos heading the chasing group 8mins back and James Cunnama and Luke McKenzie dropping off the pace.
Joyce had moved to the front of the women’s race, with Steffen in second and formidable runner Carfrae closing in. By the halfway point of the 42km run, Joyce was edging the closing Carfrae but the lead wasn’t to last, with Carfrae again proving the nemesis for Joyce nine months after beating Joyce to take the Ironman Hawaii title.
With 216km of racing ticked off, the final 10km would prove the key, with eight-time Ironman winner Bracht passing Frommhold to take the title in 7:56hrs. Frommhold would come home second, with Eneko Llanos rounding out the podium. Joe Gambles and James Cunnama were fourth and fifth respectively.
The women’s race would also see a dramatic finish of slowburn excitement, with Joyce leading for much of the run leg before Carfrae broke through to confirm her position as the dominant force in women’s long-distance triathlon with an 8:38 win. Carfrae would call the Roth experience ‘like nothing I’ve ever witnessed’, immediately after her win and hinted she’d be back for more in 2015. Joyce would finish second 4mins back and would label the result as ‘deja-vu’ post-race, with Steffen taking third.
Read more from Roth in issue 303 of 220, out on the 18 August.