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Preview: World Champions Eye Records In Roth

More than a quarter million spectators are expected this Sunday in Roth, Germany.

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On Sunday July 17, in the rightly nicknamed “triathlon town” of Roth, Germany, athletes lining up to race Challenge Roth can expect to be cheered by more than a quarter million spectators—many well into good Bavarian beer, making the atmosphere exceptionally festive. Leading the way for these 3,400 individual and 650 relay team participants will be a powerful professional field, highlighted by a widely touted attempt to smash the world record at the distance set by German Andreas Raelert in 2011. Though Chrissie Wellington’s 8:18:13 record (also set in 2011) is much more unlikely to fall, many will be watching the clock in the women’s race as a powerful late addition to the race lineup could have a shot.

The Men

7:41:33. That’s the time Germany’s Jan Frodeno will aim to beat. And although Raelert’s record has stood unbroken for five years, Frodeno is the odds-on favorite, not only for the Challenge Roth win but also to set a new standard at the full distance. After all, there are few accolades left to achieve for Frodeno, the reigning Ironman world champion, reigning Ironman 70.3 world champion and the 2008 Olympic gold medalist. Though apt, “another level” hardly begins to describe the prowess and dominance that defines Frodeno’s career. A calf injury in early 2016 left him temporarily sidelined, but he returned to the full distance at Ironman Lanzarote in May (finishing second to American Jesse Thomas) and is likely to be in top form and ready to push the limits on Sunday like no man who has come to Bavaria before him.

Frodeno will have a fair share of hard-fighting rivals, however; most notably, men’s defending champion Nils Frommhold (GER). After finishing in the runner-up spot in Roth in 2014, Frommhold was overjoyed to earn the win the following year, a title he won’t easily relinquish. Frommhold’s 2015 time of 7:51:28 is seventh fastest ever at the distance, and with wins at 2012 Ironman Arizona (his iron-distance debut) and 2014 Ironman South Africa and a sixth-place finish in his inaugural Kona race (2014), the 29-year-old has proved himself a consistent world class competitor.

Bermuda’s Tyler Butterfield is another favorite likely to figure at the pointy end of the race. His recent career highlights count two top-10 Kona results (fifth last year and seventh in 2013), atop a foundation of success including the 2014 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon title, two Olympic Games (London 2012 and Athens 2004) and three Commonwealth Games (2014 and 2002 in triathlon and 2006 in cycling). A one-time professional cyclist, Butterfield is one of the few men able to hold court with the German uber-bikers. And though his 2016 season has been somewhat marred by dealing with a parasite and a more recent lower leg injury, he’s feeling reinvigorated and ready to give Roth his best shot.

Another contender in Roth is Frenchman Cyril Viennot, the 2015 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Champion. Viennot, who only left behind his teaching job and turned full-time pro in 2014—then went on to finish fifth in Kona that same year (after claiming the title at Ironman U.K.), followed by sixth in 2015—tends to overcome any deficit out of the swim with his superb bike and run skill. A victory at Ironman 70.3 Vietnam in May 2016 shows he’s in form and ready to face Frodeno and the rest of the Roth men. Joe Skipper (GBR) is also sure to feature prominently at the front of the field. A tri-newbie in 2010, Skipper turned pro straight away, mostly in order to avoid paying entry fees and potentially score some prize money (read his story for a reality check look at life as a struggling pro). His decision paid off as he has racked up an impressive collection of podium finishes including second at the recent Challenge Galway Half, second at Ironman New Zealand 2016, third at the 2015 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championship and a win at Challenge Weymouth 2014. Watch for Skipper as another pace setter on the bike.

Also on the men’s start list are two-time Ironman champion Jan Raphael (GER), Per Bittner (GER), Nicholas Kastelein (AUS) and 45-year-old triathlon icon Thomas “Hell on Wheels” Hellriegel, the 1997 Ironman world champion and a regular in Challenge Roth’s top five at the peak of his career.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2015 Challenge Roth

The Women
While much attention has been given to Frodeno’s world record attempt on the men’s side, the women’s field promises a fierce battle with fellow Ironman world champion Daniela Ryf making a late decision to compete in Roth. The 29-year-old started at July 3’s Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, Germany, but struggled with the conditions and had to pull out of the race early on the bike. Though she’ll still need to compete in an Ironman race to validate a Kona start, she’s decided to use that hard-earned fitness and go after her first Roth title.

The victory is hardly a guarantee for Ryf, with the entire 2015 podium back to contest the win. Defending champion Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) could make history as the race’s first four-time champion (she owns the 2015, 2008 and 2007 Challenge Roth titles), and with her iron-distance victory tally in the double digits and a personal best time of 8:43:07 (Ironman Florida 2013), it’s hard to bet against “Vonsy”, aka “The Flying Blonde Dutch Girl.” Van Vlerken has shown her winning form already this year with early season victories at Challenge Wanaka and Challenge Rimini, and a fourth win at Challenge Roth is sure to top her priority list.

Australia’s Carrie Lester will be eager to move up a podium step from her rookie Roth second-place finish, where she scored her first sub-nine-hour result (8:53:09). The Ironman Chattanooga champion (2015), two-time Challenge Penticton champion (2014 and 2013), Challenge Cairns champion (2012) and Ironman Australia champion (2010) knows what it takes to win over 140.6 miles, and with a smashing victory at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman in June serving as a warm up, Lester could certainly claim the lead in Roth.

Last year’s third place finisher and local favorite Anja Beranek (GER) will feel the home course love as she uses her powerhouse cycling skill to push the pace in hopes of a win. She returns to Roth with the title of German National Champion and numerous other accolades on her resume, including bronze at the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championship and victories at Ironman Wales (2015) and Ironman Switzerland (2013). Recent first place finishes at Ironman 70.3 Kraichgau and Challenge Fuerteventura Half show that 2016 is off to a winning start for Beranek, a positive trend heading into Roth.

Michelle Vesterby (DEN), known for her effervescent, friendly demeanor, wowed in Kona last year with a fourth place finish. She already owns two Ironman titles (Ironman Copenhagen 2015, where she broke the nine-hour barrier, and Ironman Lanzarote 2012) and would love to add a Roth victory to her repertoire after finishing eighth in 2014.

Laura Siddall (GBR) is fast becoming a podium fixture and a force to be reckoned with, especially on the bike. In February she raced to second at Challenge Wanaka (clocking the fastest bike split and repeating her podium place from 2015), then two weeks later scored fourth at Ironman New Zealand. Heading into Roth, she’s fresh off a third place finish at Challenge Galway Half three weeks prior—a frequent racing formula that seems to perfectly suit Siddall.

Other names on the women’s start list are Erika Csomor (HUN) who, at 42, makes Roth her final professional race, Jessica Fleming (SWE) and Caroline Gregory (USA). Unfortunately Meredith Kessler (USA), one of the favorites originally scheduled to race, had to withdraw due to an injury flare up.

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