Thursday, 12 July 2012

Challenge Roth Triathlon - Observations

Marshalling the Swim Start
As one who considers himself a triathlete and a fan I could not pass up the chance to spectate at this year's Challenge Roth triathlon held this past Sunday. It is held in and around the town of Roth, Germany which is a 12 minute train ride from where I'm temporarily living in Nuremberg. So on Sunday I woke to my 4am alarm (much like many of the competitors I suspect) and headed off on a day-long adventure. I won't dwell too much on the transportation and logistic challenges presented to would be spectators, I'll just say that with the Start/T1, T2 and finish areas all being in different areas I would consider it mandatory to have a bicycle available as your prime means of transport. The distance between the start and T2 is approximately 10km. Fine if you're a competitor and your 180km ride happens to finish at a point other than where it started. Not as much fun if you're hoofing it alone with no one to transport your "gear bag" (water and snacks in my case).
From the T1 Exit. You can't quite makeout the crowd on top of the
bridge spanning the canal, 3 and 4 deep watching the start and swim

The back story around Roth fascinates and delights me. I have no ill will towards the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and their Ironman brand. In my experience Ironman puts on superb races and they create a wonderful experience not only for the athletes but also for their supporters, the volunteers and the spectators. Ironman has created a successful business model and for many reasons they should be commended. Read the history elsewhere but the race now known as Challenge Roth was for many years "Ironman Europe".  Over the years it developed a reputation for being one of the highlights of the triathlon season and a "Must Do" race. I think the attraction was a combination of the beautiful and fast course, the volunteers, the Teutonic efficiency with which the race is put on, the wildly enthusiastic fan support and the aura of Ironman. History leads to a very clear conclusion as to which factors most contribute to the events success and it's unique vibe.
Enjoying food and a beverage before the runners come by for their
first of two loops
Back in the early 2000s there was a divergence of views between WTC and the organizers. The race went from being Ironman Europe to Challenge Roth. Now there is one thing I do dislike about the WTC and that is their complete intolerance of events that compete with their Ironman branded races. As we have seen elsewhere in the world the WTC will use some heavy handed tactics, perhaps not to kill these competing races but certainly to diminish their size and status. Ironman Germany was created shortly after the break between WTC and the Roth organizers. It's normally held on the same day in the region around Frankfurt, roughly 200 km away.

Not normally given to hyperblole.
 In this case the banner fits.

So what's the difference between Challenge Roth and Ironman Germany? The latter has spots for the IM World Championships in Kona. Challenge Roth has everything else.This year Roth had to limit entries to 2900 individuals and 600 relay teams. That's nearly 5000 competitors for a long distance race only. The split has taken nothing away from this race. It turns out Roth's attraction had very little to do with the WTC and Ironman. It's all about the area and the amazing people that contribute to the atmosphere. One need look no further than the legenday Solarer Berg to see what I mean. Solarer Berg is approximately a 1.2km climb going out from the town of Hilpoltstein. Data says it averages about a 5% grade, not exactly Tour de France Cat 1 territory. But don't try telling that to the competitors or the estimated 25,000+ spectators cheering them on. DJs get the crowd whipped up and the athletes get cheered by name. At the lower level there are barriers and signboards to pound on. At the higher level the spectators fill the road, parting at the last moment to let the athletes pass, cheering, clapping, cowbelling, hornblowing, thundersticking, you name it.It's one of those"You had to be there"experiences. 

I was able to witness similar outpourings of enthusiasm at the Start/T1, Eckersmuehlen (Site of the cycling "Beer Mile"), T2 and the section of the marathon route through the old city of Roth. The race culminates in a temporarily erected bleacher stadium where every finisher is greeted by a deafening roar as they make their way down the red carpet. I would be re-miss if I neglected to mention that each of therese areas (except the start) contains at least one Biergarteen. So you won't forget which country you're in.
Solarer Berg - It's not just about the athletes and cheering them on.
One needs sustenance for an endurance event!
So is Challenge Roth a Must Do event for me? Does it make my Bucket List? My honest answer is "No". I'm really itching to have another go at IM Canada in Penticton and I'm already hearing great things about the upcoming IM Mt Tremblant not far from our former home in Montreal. I'd like these to be my next long distance races. But if our life circumstances are such that I/we are looking to travel overseas to race long course, Challenge Roth will be my first choice.

Thanks for reading,
Just how popular is pro Timo Bracht in these parts? Here's his Fan Bus.
In the finish arena there's a grandstand for his fan club. Timo finished second
to James Cunnama. If you asked a local today about Sunday's Men's race I
suspect they will tell you "Timo finished second to some South African guy" 

1 comment:

  1. Great article Tom! Amazing how the public in other countries support athletic events such as this.