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Dispatch: Quips & Quotes From The Pros At Challenge Roth

Today’s press conference focused on ten of these athletes, five men and five women professionals each aiming for a place atop the podium.

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This week “Dispatch” columnist Holly Bennett is on the road in Germany to cover Challenge Roth. Watch for extended online coverage from our roving correspondent throughout the week.

Here in Roth, a tiny village in Bavaria, Germany, 5,224 athletes are gathered to compete in Sunday’s Challenge Roth. The field includes 3,268 individual racers and 652 relay teams from 62 nations – an astonishingly large and diverse field. Today’s press conference focused on ten of these athletes, five men and five women professionals each aiming for a place atop the podium. It’s obvious that athletes flock to Roth for several reasons, two of the most compelling being the overall Challenge experience as well as the potential for personal best times on a course that boasts both the men’s and women’s long-distance triathlon world records. Following are an assortment of quips and quotes from this morning’s press event.

The Women

Julia Gajer – Germany (Gajer is the reigning European half-distance champion and last year’s 2nd place finisher at Challenge Roth. Sunday’s race will mark this pre-race favorite’s second attempt at the longer distance.)

“Long distance is always different than a half, and this is only my second long-distance triathlon ever. Now, sitting here among the favorites, I wouldn’t have imagined that one year ago. It feels absolutely special.”

“I’m expecting an extremely close race and also an extremely fast race.”

Sonja Tajsich – Germany (Tajisch had her long-distance debut in Roth in 2002 and has not returned since. Instead, she’s been busy winning titles at Ironman Malaysia [2002], Ironman South Africa [2010] and Ironman Regensburg [2010].)

“I’m extremely excited! 2002 was so incredible for me. I had goose bumps on race morning! This race is what made me want to continue as a long-distance athlete. I’m so glad to be back 10 years later.”

“If conditions are right, then several women could finish below nine hours. The question is, how much below!”

Rachel Joyce – Great Britain (2011’s ITU Long-Distance World Champion also owns an Ironman title from Lanzarote [2011] and a 2nd place finish at the 2011 Ironman Melbourne. Yet she’s most widely known for her impressive 4th place at last year’s Ironman World Championship in Kona.)

“Yesterday I rode around the bike course. It didn’t feel particularly fast, but based on past times it must be. I’m hoping I’ll be quicker on Sunday!”

“Going sub-nine in Melbourne [where Joyce finished in 8:46:09] had been something I’d wanted to do for so long. Now that I’ve done it once, I want to do it again – and even faster!”

“I did Challenge Kraichgau last year. I didn’t have a great race but I had a great experience, which is why I wanted to come to Roth.”

Lucie Zelenkova-Reed – Czech Republic (Olympian Zelenkova-Reed claimed champion titles at the 2010 Challenge Barcelona and the 2009 Ironman South Africa.)

“I don’t know what to expect – ask me on Sunday afternoon! I think I’m the only one on the panel who doesn’t have a sub-nine hour PB, so I hope to change that.”

Belinda Granger – Australia (Granger, a veteran of more than 40 long-distance triathlons and numerous titles, is widely considered the darling of this event, as Sunday will mark her 9th year racing Challenge Roth. She won the 2005 race in a time of 9:14:06.)

“As long as I’m still standing and moving forward, I’ll be here again next year. The reason is simple – I believe it to be the greatest race experience. And that starts from the time I get off the plane until the time I get back on. I truly believe I’m a citizen of Roth!”

“The race is very important to me, but I’m at a point in my career where if I can sneak into the top five I’ll be over the moon. Getting across the finish line is all I expect, but if I can get inside the top five I’ll be so happy!”

The Men

Timo Bracht – Germany (A seven-time Ironman champion and the 5th place finisher at the 2011 Ironman World Championship, Bracht enters Sunday’s race as a top favorite, despite having struggled through a sub-par early season.)

“I’ve had some good races, but just in one discipline. But I believe that for Sunday I’ve put all the elements in place for all three. I especially feel I can apply this to the second half of the marathon. I’ve looked at my legs, and they seem pretty well.”

“Everyone who knows Roth knows it’s a fast race. But going sub-eight depends on the weather and the winds. My aim is to go 7:49.”

Cameron Brown – New Zealand (“Brownie”, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday, is a 10-time champion of Ironman New Zealand and runner up only to World Champion Craig Alexander in the inaugural Ironman Melbourne. He returns to Roth for the first time since 2002.)

“My son learned to walk here, and now 10 years have gone by. I’m with the same homestay as in 2002. It’s wonderful to be back!”

“I’ve probably been training too much because the roads are so good here! When you come from New Zealand where the roads are shit, it’s such a pleasure to ride here.”

“I’ll be going hard to go under eight hours. I missed it by 12 seconds in Melbourne. That’s part of the reason I came here – to try to get that sub-eight. Even if I get beaten and I go under eight hours, I’ll be happy.”

Mike Aigroz – Switzerland (Aigroz, who hails from Chateux-d’Oex in the Swiss Alps, was the 6th place finisher at the 2011 Ironman World Championship. He also owns a 2nd place from Ironman Canada [2009] and a 3rd place from Ironman Switzerland [2010].)

“My best time is 8:31. I will push my legs and body to the maximum, so check with me at the finish line [to see what I can do]!”

James Cunnama – South Africa (The 2010 Ironman Florida champion placed 6th at Challenge Roth and 2nd at Challenge Kraichgau in that same year. In 2011 he earned a 3rd place finish at Ironman South Africa, yet had to pull out of Challenge Roth during the marathon due to an injury.)

“Last year I had an injury going in and had to pull the plug. I’ve had a knee injury this year, so I haven’t started a long-distance race since last year’s Challenge Roth. I have quite a lot of unfinished business and I plan to get it all done on Sunday!”

“I would like to point out that I’m younger than Cam Brown was when he raced here 10 years ago!”

Dorian Wagner – Germany (Wagner, who finished 5th at the recent Challenge Kraichgau half-distance European Championship, resides in nearby Allersberg. He looks forward to seeing his family and many friends cheering him on during his long-distance triathlon debut.)

“I’m really excited. I have no specific plan. I’ll just go at full throttle right from the beginning. I plan to race right from the start.”

“I know I can do it at some point, it’s just a question of, is this the time?”