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This Weekend’s Hot Race Is in…Slovakia?

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Why The Challenge Championship will be one to watch.

Challenge Family has a reputation for taking unknown European towns and making them must-visit destinations for triathletes (example: Roth, Germany). It’s no surprise, then, that their half-iron distance championship follows suit. This weekend, all eyes will be on Samorin, a small town in western Slovakia, as athletes compete at what is known, simply, as The Championship.

Though the race alone is enough to get excited—the pro fields include Olympians, Ironman champions and triathlon legends—Challenge Family has brought in several fresh variables, including new anti-drafting strategies and live race coverage. Why we’re stoked to watch Slovakia:

The venue is a triathlete’s paradise. The race home is the x-bionicsphere, a unique resort that serves double duty as a luxury hotel and Olympic training venue. Several pros have tweeted and Snapchatted photos from on-site amenities, including a gorgeous Olympic-size swimming pool, that gives us a major case of race-cation envy. The actual race is just as Instagram-worthy: 1.2 miles in Čilistov Lagoon of the Danube River, 56 miles through Samorin and the surrounding villages and a waterfront run. 

Big names abound. The pro race on both the men’s and women’s sides are seriously stacked. Two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee (GBR), fresh off his Ironman 70.3 North American Championship win in St. George, will look to continue his undefeated streak in only his first year racing the half-iron distance. But he’ll have some competition: Lionel Sanders (CAN) and Sebastian Kienle (GER), who finished second and third, respectively, in St. George, have traveled to Slovakia with the intent of knocking Brownlee off the top step. They’ll be joined by plenty of fast, hungry athletes, including two-time 70.3 world champion Michael Raelert (GER) as well as 2008 world champion Terenzo Bozzone (NZL). Can they catch Brownlee? We’re excited to find out.

In the women’s race, Canadian Heather Wurtele and her 18 wins at the half-iron distance headline an impressive field that includes ITU World Cup Champion Annabel Luxford (AUS), German super-biker Anja Beranek and Lucy Charles (GBR), who is riding high from her recent win at Ironman Lanzarote. We like this field for its blend of speed and smarts—look for this race to be a master class in pacing and strategy.

For a full roster, visit the Challenge Samorin pro start list.

There’s money to be had. The Championship pays 10 deep, with a prize purse of 150,000 Euros (about 168,000 U.S. dollars). In addition, top-10 athletes at The Championship will earn points toward Challenge Family’s end-of-year pro athlete bonus of 140,000 Euros (roughly $156,000 U.S.).

It’ll be fast. With a flat, single-loop bike course and even flatter three-loop run course, we’ll likely see some super-speedy times both the pro and age-group fields.

It will be all but impossible to get away with drafting. Challenge Family will crack down on drafting in a big way with a 20-meter drafting rule for all professional and age-group athletes. That’s almost 66 feet—for reference, a typical semitrailer is 48 feet. That’s a lot of space between bikes. To help athletes visualize this space, the race will mark 20-meter drafting zones on the road. Once an athlete enters the draft zone, they’ll have 40 seconds to complete any overtaking maneuver.

No, really—IMPOSSIBLE to draft. There will be referees on motorcycles. There will be referees at fixed points on the bike course. There will be referees analyzing video feed from fixed and moving cameras along the course. And they’ll all be looking for drafting violations. Challenge really means it when they say they want to establish a fair, draft-free race.

You can see all the action in real time. There’s a lot to watch at The Championship, and Challenge Family knows it. That’s why they’re providing a live, multi-media package of race coverage. Live video coverage is a rarity in triathlon, so we’re excited to see if this new feature encourages other races to do the same. The livestream begins on their website starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Slovakia time—that’s 2:30 a.m. in New York or 11:30 p.m. in San Diego. If you’re awake, pop some popcorn and catch the action on the Challenge Samorin Livestream page.