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Race Preview: Will Records Fall Sunday In Roth?

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The pre-race press conference. Photo: Jay Prasuhn
The pre-race press conference. Photo: Jay Prasuhn

Sunday’s Quelle Challenge Roth features big names (Wellington, Stadler, Csomor and Vernay) and potential broken records.

While Ironman Germany and Ironman Austria brought great drama last weekend, it may well be just a prelude to another blockbuster event at the Quelle Challenge Roth, taking place Sunday in Roth, Germany.

The Quelle race series has grown into a global explosion, with events in France, Copenhagen, Barcelona and New Zealand. But it has been the highly-regarded production of this centerpiece in Roth (on what was formally the Ironman Europe course) that brings big names, big dollars (a $73,500 Euro pro purse) and tons of fans—even despite the absence of the ubiquitous M-Dot.

It’s no secret that the Quelle Challenge Roth is a fast Ironman-distance race course—it was the site of Lothar Leder’s 7:57:02, the first male sub-eight hour Ironman, then on the Ironman Europe course in 1996. A year later, Luc Van Lierde went 7:50:27 at the race. And among the women, it was Thea Sybesma’s 8:55:29 in 1991 that ushered in the first sub-nine hour time.

But a year ago here, two women cracked Paula Newby Fraser’s longstanding Ironman-distance record time of 8:50:53, set on the same course in 1994. With Chrissie Wellington highlighting Sunday’s womens pro field, it stands to be broken yet again.

“The world record is something I will be looking at closely,” Wellington said at Thursday’s press conference at Ratibor Castle in Roth.

The cobble stone streets of Roth. Photo: Jay Prasuhn
The cobble stone streets of Roth. Photo: Jay Prasuhn

Last year, it was Yvonne Van Vlerken and Erika Csomor who made waves, breaking on the same day, on the same course, Paula Newby-Fraser’s longtime record. While Csomor of TeamTBB is a top favorite this year as the top returning athlete and last year’s runner-up, all eyes are squarely on reigning Ironman world champ Chrissie Wellington, who makes her debut on the fast Roth course. The bubbly Brit remains undefeated at the Ironman distance in her career with wins at Ironman Germany, Australia, Korea, and of course Hawaii twice. Last year, she flirted with the record but “cruised” to victory at Ironman Germany. If given the chance, will she sacrifice the finishing chute high-fives in favor of what could be a chance to put the record away, perhaps for as long as Newby-Fraser held it, maybe longer? At Thursday’s press conference, held at Ratibor Castle (a fitting locale, built in 1538 and decorated in the manner of the German late Renaissance), Wellington answered the question everyone wanted to ask: will she try to break the record?

“I do want to win the race, in the fastest possible time—it’s a fast course and the athletes last year raised the bar for all of us to follow and live up to,” Wellington said. “I will be keeping an eye on the clock, but I will also be keeping an eye on all the other fantastic competitors that are here. The world record is something I will be looking at closely.”

As she says, she will not go unopposed. Two of her TeamTBB teammates from a year ago—Hungarian Csomor and Aussie Belinda Granger—will make the start. While Van Vlerken is not contesting the race this weekend, Csomor is, and her time of 8:47:05 a year ago is something she hopes to improve upon.

“It’s my sixth time here, and I have great feelings here, but always end up second, or fourth, so I keep coming back hoping one day it will be my day,” Csomor said with a laugh. “It’s one of the most important days for me, along with the Hawaii Ironman. It will be a fast race for sure if the weather is perfect, I’m quite sure the record will be broken. There are a lot of girls that will make it fast. If someone makes a mistake, there are many girls who will be on it.”

For Granger, making her sixth Challenge Roth start will be a victory. Tuesday, just
10 minutes into an easy spin on her bike, a car made a left turn in front of her, and Granger had no time to react. The car left the scene, and Granger went straight to the hospital, diagnosed with bad bruising on her right thigh and some strained ligaments in her left hand.

Despite quite a few cuts and bruises, Granger will race. Photo: Jay Prasuhn
Despite quite a few cuts and bruises, Granger will race. Photo: Jay Prasuhn

“I hit it full-impact. My quad is very badly bruised, I have a burn mark from the tire and my fingers got a big crushed—but the bike’s fine,” Granger said with a smile. “The hospital and race organizers have been great. I had a DNF in my first Ironman in 1999, and don’t intend to have one this weekend.”

Csomor’s current TeamTBB teammate, Rebekah Keat is here as well. Great Britain’s Leanda Cave, New Zealanders Joanna Lawn and Gina Ferguson and Australian Charlotte Paul help fill out a women’s field rivaled only by the Hawaii Ironman.

The men’s field is deep as well, and is headed by odds-on favorite Normann Stadler. The German and two-time Hawaii Ironman world champ won’t have an easy time of it, battling a field of Ironman winners including defending race champ Patrick Vernay of New Caledonia, as well as Australians Chris McDonald and Tim Berkel, and South African Raynard Tissink.

Want bike powerhouse to compliment Stadler? How about Ain-Alar Juhanson and former pro cyclist Kai Hundertmarck? And it wouldn’t be Germany if it didn’t bring a slew of German long-course veterans, including Olaf Sabatschus, Thomas Hellriegel and Alex Taubert.

“It was years ago—I cannot remember, even the year,” Stadler said of his last appearance on the Roth course, when it was Ironman Europe. “It was the beginning of my long-distance career.” When asked if the course was tailor-made for him, particularly the bike course, where Jurgen Zack recorded a blazing 4:14:16 in 1999, a cool Stadler answered tongue-in-cheek: “They didn’t ask me before they designed the course, so I have no idea. I see the bike splits and the times, and they suit me,” he said. “The 4:14, they rode it behind media cars, everything was perfect. Any time people say ‘you have to catch the media or you are dropped’….it’s ok, I don’t care for the records. But I’m ready. I’ve won everything in my career. We will see this weekend.”

Event organizers estimate that about 140,000 spectators will come out to watch 2780 (in addition to 479 relay teams) compete Sunday with the pros pursuing a $73,500 Euro prize purse, including a $15,000 Euro top prize. The race starts at 6:20 a.m. locally.

Race organizers have increased online coverage of the race. Along with text updates at Challenge-roth.com, video reports will be made available at the site, providing a live webcast with images, reports from the finish, news and interviews, starting at 11 a.m. locally. A special camera at the finish line will provide viewers the chance to watch finishers cross the line.

Stay tuned to Triathlon.competitor.com for a complete post-race report and photo gallery of the day’s race action.