The medieval castle, Schloss Ratibor, was the dramatic setting chosen to introduce the world’s best triathletes as they prepare to do battle in Europe’s premier long-distance triathlon, Quelle Challenge Roth, on Sunday.
Roth debutante and two-time Hawaiian Ironman champion, Chrissie Wellington, defending champion Patrick Vernay, Hawaii winners and German Ironman legends, Normann Stadler and Thomas Hellriegel, Erika Csomor and Peter Jacobs head the strongest field of recent years to assemble in the stunning Franconian city.
The presence of world Ironman champion Wellington is a major coup for race organisers and her ability to go hard and break a race open is sure to thrill the massive crowds that are a traditional feature of racing in Roth.
Wellington is a clear favourite on her debut and it would be a brave person to bet against her adding to her illustrious resume but last year’s runner-up Csomor, Kiwi Ironman and Challenge Wanaka Ferguson, Aussies Rebekah Keat and Belinda Granger and the UK’s Leanda Cave will attempt to make life difficult for her.
Wellington said it is the magic and wonderful tradition that has lured her to Roth.
“When I turned professional I was speaking to a lot of the other athletes about the different races around the world and one name that kept coming up was Roth. I am happy to be here and to finally be racing on of the most famous and oldest racecourses in the world and I am really looking forward to the race on Sunday.”
“It is an incredibly fast course and my strategy is quite simply to go as fast as I can for as long as I can. Obviously that means trying to break the world record but ultimately I want to try and win the race and win it in the fastest possible time.”
“I will be keeping an eye on the clock but I will also be keeping an eye on all the other fantastic competitors. The athletes last year really raised the bar for all of us to follow, so I have a lot to live up to. But the world record is something I will be looking at closely,” she said.
Last year’s winner, Yvonne van Vlerken of the Netherlands, lowered the record to 8:45:48 in Roth last year, with second-placed Csomor also dipping under the old record on the day.
Meantime, just making it to the start line will be an achievement in itself for six-time Roth starter and past champion Belinda Granger who is bruised and battered following an altercation with a car on a training ride early this week.
“A car turned left, straight in front of me without an indicator and I barely had time to react and we ran straight into each other. The bike is fine but I copped it, the car door hit me and there isn’t a scratch on the frame,” she said.
Storming Normann Stadler is hoping to live up to his name and finally win the Quelle Challenge Roth, a title that has eluded the German ace. Stadler’s determined to put on a good show for his family and his army of loyal German supporters lining the streets.
“Of course I want the world record but wanting it and making it possible are two different things,” he stated. “I have a new son and I will try to bring a victory in this race as a gift to him for his first time as a spectator,” Stadler said.
Other athletes to watch are two Roth debutantes: Aussie Tim Berkel, winner of Ironman Western Australia; and short course athlete Catriona Morrison of Scotland having her first hit out over the long course.
An honest Morrison said she is petrified of what is ahead of her but is happy to be in Roth. “This is one of the most established events on the planet and if I ever wanted to do a long-distance race I wasn’t going to waste my time and go to the highlands of Scotland and do the Scottish Long Distance Championships with five people watching. I want to be out there thousands of people on the course, all giving me support. But I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in all my life because this is new territory for me,” Morrison explained.
Watch for live coverage via the race website at www.challenge-roth.com.