Two Germans beat out a tough field at the 35th running of the iconic Challenge Roth triathlon.
The 35th edition of Challenge Roth welcomed nearly 3,000 individual athletes and 800 relay teams with perfect conditions and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that has turned a tiny Bavarian town into a triathlon mecca. While Jan Frodeno and Chrissie Wellington’s iron-distance world records weren’t in jeopardy, the calm conditions made for a fast day of professional racing and a nail-biting finish for the women. Germany’s Daniela Sämmler tracked down day-long leader Lucy Charles with just over 5K left to run to eek out the win by nine seconds in the closest women’s finish in the race’s history. The men’s contest wasn’t nearly as tight, as three-time world champion Sebastian Kienle won his first Roth title by nearly seven minutes.
Charles started the day with a massive lead thanks to a record-breaking 46:48 swim that out-split all of the professional men by nearly a minute. That gave the 24-year-old a gap of more than four minutes on Alicia Kaye and Lucie Zelenkova, and almost seven minutes on Sämmler and last year’s fifth-place Kona finish Kaisa Sali. Charles was able to maintain her advantage through the first of two 90K loops, but Sämmler managed to trim a few minutes off her deficit during the second loop to hit T2 just four minutes back. Sali was next into transition, another five minutes behind.
The top three women held the same pace through the first half of the marathon, with Laura Siddall and three-time Roth winner Yvonne van Vlerken running up to fourth and fifth, respectively, as the women neared the halfway mark.
“I wanted to stop from the 2K point of the run—if it weren’t for these crowds, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going,” Charles said. “Somehow I managed to hold Daniela off as long as I did, but that took everything I had.
Sämmler started to reel Charles in during the second half of the run and closed the gap in a hurry. She made the pass with 6K to go, but Charles wasn’t letting the lead she’d enjoyed all day go without a fight. After fading to 40 seconds back at one point, Charles gave it one more all-out effort to get within 10 seconds as the two charged into the stadium for the finish. Sämmler had just enough to hang on for the biggest win of her career, breaking the tape just nine seconds ahead of Charles.
“I think I need some days to realize what this means to me,” Sämmler said. “I didn’t feel that good near the end, but someone I managed to hang on. I really didn’t believe I would win until I was about 10 meters from the finish.”
Sämmler’s time of 8:47:26 is the fastest ever iron-distance performance by a German woman by more than three minutes. Sali rounded out the podium, finishing three minutes after the sprint for the win.
While the men’s race didn’t serve up the drama of a sprint finish, it did feature a course record on the bike and a first Roth title for one of the sport’s biggest stars. The men were led out of the water in a tick under 48 minutes by Scotland’s Fraser Cartmell, who was followed closely by a pack of nearly 20 athletes that included the day’s top contenders. In the mix were Kienle, Jesse Thomas, and Kona bike-course record holder Cameron Wurf. As expected, it didn’t take long for Kienle and Wurf to take charge of the race once they got on two wheels. Thomas was able to hang with the grueling pace for 90K before the pair of über cyclists broke away on the second of two laps. Racing in only his second iron-distance event, Bavaria’s own Andreas Dreitz closed his gap to the leaders to just two minutes as he began his second lap.
Wurf got tired of Kienle’s company over the final 50K, surging to a lead of 1:50 by the time he hit T2. His 4:05:37 bike split broke Jan Frodeno’s course record by more than two minutes.
“It wasn’t a comfortable ride at all,” Kienle said. “There aren’t a lot of guys who can really make me hurt on the bike, but Cam can really make me hurt.”
Drietz was third into T2, four minutes behind Kienle, with Bryan McCrystal and Thomas heading onto the run in fourth and fifth, respectively. It didn’t take long for Kienle to erase his deficit to the former pro cyclist, however, and he reassumed control of the race at only the 6K mark of the marathon. Drietz also made a swift pass of the fast-fading Aussie, who raced Ironman Nice only one week ago.
From there it was smooth sailing for Kienle, who was able to wipe away the disappointment from his previous two runner-up finishes in Roth and complete the grand slam of winning the four biggest long-course races (Roth, Kona, Frankfurt and 70.3 worlds).
“When I had 6:30 at the final turnaround I thought I would be OK,” Kienle said. “I wasn’t in full emergency mode yet—just partial emergency mode. I tried my best to enjoy the last few kilometers and soak it all in but that’s never easy at a race this long.”
Drietz held off a hard-charging Thomas to claim the runner-up spot, finishing five and a half minutes back. Thomas rounded out the podium another 90 seconds back.
“I’m ecstatic to be on the podium,” Thomas said. “Looking at the start list, I thought a top five was doable on the right day. I thought maybe I’d have a crack at breaking eight hours if everything went well. After some disappointing races in Kona, to come here and podium means a lot to me.”
2018 Challenge Roth
Roth, Germany – July 1, 2018
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 7:46:23
2. Andreas Dreitz (GER) 7:53:06
3. Jesse Thomas (USA) 7:54:38
4. Joe Skipper (GBR) 7:56:57
5. Cameron Wurf (AUS) 7:58:17
1. Daniela Sämmler (GER) 8:43:42
2. Lucy Charles (GBR) 8:43:51
3. Kaisa Sali (FIN) 8:46:49
4. Laura Siddall (GBR) 8:48:42
5. Yvonne van Vlerken (NED) 8:54:40