Some face-to-face time before the big day
Come Sunday they will be rivals. But for now they are still best friends. At the international press conference, the traditional kick-off of DATEV Challenge Roth, the 10 professional athletes, who were at the „Kulturfabrik Roth“ to represent the 5000 athletes who will compete on Sunday, seemed pretty laid-back. „Sure, I want to win“, said Pete Jacobs, winner of the Hawaii triathlon of 2012, „but so do the others.“
Side by side at the press conference: From left to right: James Cunnama, Rachel Joyce, Miranda Carfrae, Luke McKenzie, defending champions Dirk Bockel and Caroline Steffen, Pete Jacobs, Timo Bracht and Anja Beranek.
The „others“, that would be last year's winner in the male field Dirk Bockel (Luxembourg), last year's second placed and winner of the DATEV Challenge Roth 2012, James Cunnama (South Africa), Luke McKenzie (Australia), who finished second in Hawaii and last year's unlucky fellow Timo Bracht (Germany).
They are all in peak condition and for Timo Bracht the race in Roth is the most important of the year: „This will be my Hawaii.“ In front of almost 200 journalist from all over the world he didn't promise a first place, but he sure did promise an impressive performance. Fast in the water, fast on the bike and „if at midday there will be some clouds, like the weather forecast promised, it should be possible to finish the marathon in 2 hours 40 minutes.“
If it turns out like that, the athlete from Eberbach will be hard to beat. At least if he is not as unlucky as last year, when a malfunction on his bike cost him 15 minutes. But let bygones be bygones. „I've had many lucky races, last year's just wasn't one of them.“
The 38-year-old, who will turn 39 two days after the race, has won 8 long-distance trithlons so far. That's something his rivals have to live up to. But the competition refuses to be pushed in the role of the top contender. „I showed last year that I am capable of winning big races“, said defending champion Dirk Bockel. That's why he doesn't see himself under any pressure. Nevertheless, he feels in top condition: I'm 37 years old now. But I think I'm getting stronger every year.“
Compared to Dirk Bockel, Pete Jacobs seems like a „Young Gun“ at 32 years old. The Aussie seems to have been on the scene forever, scoring a second place and three third places in Roth. After five years, the winner of Hawaii 2012 returns to the race which made him a household name.
Compared to his compatriot Luke McKenzie, Jacobs has a big advantage: He knows the course. But shooting star McKenzie has spent a lot of time on the bike course these days to memorize the crucial points. Because on Sunday this soon-to-be-dad's motto will be: Full throttle.
While the men's field is of an excellent quality, the women's field is packed with the biggest names in the sport, too. Four of the top five finishers of Hawaii 2013 will compete on Sunday. Among them reigning Hawaii champion Miranda Carfrae. For this female athlete, Sunday's race will mark her first ever long-distance triathlon in Europe. Just like the male athletes, she doesn't want to be considered a top contender. „In this race, I am a rookie“ said the Aussie who lives in the USA. Understatement of an exceptional athlete or healthy respect for a new challenge?
Do we witness the meeting of a regning world champion and a soon-to-be world-record-holder? Madonna Buder (left) is 83 years old and wants to finish on Sunday. That leaves even Hawaii winner Miranda Carfrae (right) in awe.
The competition is as tough as in a Hawaii race. Briton Rachel Joyce wants to make up for being absent last year due to illness. Caroline Steffen, with a new trainer (Chris McCormack!) wants to pick up where she left off last year – winning the race. And Yvonne van Vlerken is very optimistic despite a shoulder injury which bothers her in the water: "I've always been a slow swimmer. Now I will be even slower. But I will make up for it on the bike course and during the marathon, because I know this course really well“.
Van Vlerken, the Dutch living in Austria, didn't have along way to Roth. Anja Beranek from Fuerth had an even shorter way. She will represent Germany at the „world's biggest birthday party“, as PK-announcer Tobias Ködel put it.
The triathlon at Roth turns 30 years old and therefore TEAMCHALLENGE goes all out: 3500 athletes and 650 relay teams from 62 countries, an even bigger finish-line-area (it holds up to 5000 fans), the biggest fireworks of all time (accompanied by matching music) – and in the end maybe even a new world record. That is because one of the starter is Sister Madonna Buder, a 83-year-old nun from the USA. If she is able to finish, that would get her a place at the Guinness Book of Records. She would be the oldest woman to ever finish a long-distance triathlon. Maybe she gets a little help from above... The nun, who currently stays at a monastery in Zell near Hilpoltstein, has competed in more than 350 triathlons, more than 50 of them long-distance triathlons. Sister Madonnas appearance at the press conference was the first emotional highlight on this emotional weekend.
Sunday will also be an emotional day for last year's race director: This year TEAMCHALLENGE boss Felix Walchshoefer won't be one of the 5700 helpers but one of the 5500 athletes."I hope I can enjoy it“ said Walchshoefer, who also managed to present the newest member of the CHALLENGE family at the press conference: Next year the long-established triathlon of the city of Heilbronn will be held under the CHALLENGE label for the first time.
The newest member of the CHALLENGE family: Challenge Heilbronn.