Chrissie Wellington continued her dominance of the sport with an 8:18:13 win at Challenge Roth today, smashing her own world best time of 8:19:13 that she set here last year. In doing so she finished a remarkable fifth overall, with only four men taking the better of her on the day.
“I just did something that I never thought was possible, and that means so much to me, and hopefully to women in sport,” an elated Wellington said at the finish. “Those close to me will tell you that I didn’t think that the world record could be broken, especially with the bike course being an extra 2km longer.”
The ever-smiling Wellington was dominant from start to finish, exiting the water in 49:49, just clear of chasing Kiwi Belinda Harper and more than 90 seconds ahead of prime challenger Rebekah Keat of Australia. She quickly accelerated onto the bike course under clear blue skies, reaching the cheering thousands lining the famous Solarer Berg climb at 70km with a gap of 3:45 over a chase group that included Australians Keat and former Roth champion Belinda Granger.
By the time she reached the Solarer Berg for the second time, her gap over the rest of the women had ballooned to nearly eight minutes over the duelling Granger and Keat. And when she traded her bike for running shoes she had more than 12 minutes in hand over the chasers. Behind her, Keat had pulled away from Granger in the last stages of the bike to start the run in second.
On the marathon Wellington carried on at a similarly scorching run pace, ticking the kilometres over at sub-4:00 pace for much of the way to produce a 2:44 marathon, a new course record.
“I knew I was running faster than last year,” she said. “The aim was not to fade as much as I did last year and I managed to achieve that aim. I didn’t actually know what the time was until I rounded the corner so I really didn’t have a clue. I knew that it was close but my watch had fogged up so I couldn’t see too much.”
Keat, meantime, was battling alone for second until German long-course newcomer Julia Wagner, racing to a 3:07 marathon, overtook her in the waning kilometres of the run to seal second. Wagner, second at the half-distance Challenge Kraichgau earlier this year, also brought home the German national championship with her finish.
“It’s absolutely incredible what happened today and I think it will take some days until I realize what I’ve done,” Wagner said. “I didn’t expect that I could get Rebecca [on the marathon]. When I saw her coming closer and closer, all the spectators shouted at me and that gave me an extra push.”
Keat described her marathon as “42 kilometers of pain” after a bike ride spent pushing the pace, especially on the second lap of the 180km, and said she was pleased to be as close to Wellington as she was at T2. “I left it all on the bike. I had nothing.”
And she was gallant at the finish, saying of Wagner: “She’s definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. It’s a big achievement for her.”
New Zealand’s Belinda Harper was fourth in 9:06:47, with Granger, winner here in 2005, fifth in 9:12:56.
In her professional iron distance debut, Toronto’s Cindy Lewis placed 8th in 9:45:56.
Germany’s Andreas Raelert took the tenth Challenge Roth in a new world-best time of 7:41:33 on a day that saw records fall across the board in near-perfect conditions. Germany’s Sebastian Kienle took second with New Zealander Keegan Williams third.
The 34-year-old Raelert, on his maiden voyage around the 3.8km swim/180km cycle/42.2km run course, smashed both the longstanding Roth record and the new world-best mark of 7:45:58 set just a week earlier by Belgium’s Marino Vanhoenacker at Ironman Austria.
“This was the best performance of my life,” he said. “I remember Chris McCormack said in an interview that the boys in the future will make 7:45 or sub-7:40, and last week Marino opened this new chapter. It was just a question of time that the men would get to such times.”
In his wake was 27-year-old Kienle, who last year in his own Roth debut posted a 7:59:06 for second behind Denmark’s Rasmus Henning. Raelert had already faced Kienle once this season in the half-distance Challenge Kraichgau, with Raelert taking the win and Kienle second.
“I just have to say thank you to Sebastian because he pushed me absolutely to the limit,” Raelert said to laughter at the press conference after the race. “On the bike I just started to push as hard as I could, just to lead as long as possible because Sebastian was pushing from behind. There was a point that Sebastian couldn’t make much more time on me so the gap was around 1:30. That was the point to say OK, now I have to push as hard as I can just to get in his mind, to destroy him. [“You really did,” a wry Kienle laughed in response.] And of course you need the legs at this stage-I just had the legs.”
Once he hit the run, Raelert said he had an idea the record was in sight and worked hard to push the pace but not overcook himself, taking in the advice of his brother, fellow world-beating triathlete Michael Raelert, to rein his enthusiasm just enough to ensure a strong finish.
“When I entered T2 I heard we were around five hours and I was thinking a little bit to get under the course record,” Raelert said. “Sometimes you start to think to yourself, maybe it’s this moment, don’t let it slip away and just try to give everything you have, and that’s what I did. I’m totally exhausted, not physically also mentally, and quite happy.”
Belgian Luc van Lierde’s Roth course record of 7:50:27, set in 1997, was for years a benchmark for long-course triathlon and while many had attempted to best it, it stood until just this year.
Kienle said he believed he had a couple of opportunities to close the gap to Raelert on the bike but “I asked my legs and they said ‘No, don’t do it; you will walk the marathon. I think they made the right decision.”
Kienle, who set a new bike course record of 4:14 here last year before fading on the run, said: “I really know what can happen when you overpace on the bike. I didn’t slow myself down, I always tried to keep pushing, pushing, pushing because it’s a long race and you never know.”
Raelert was with the leaders out of the water, exiting the Main-Donau Canal in 46:11, just seconds behind swim legend Benjamin Sanson of France and Germany’s Christian Ritter. Their swim group had a gap of some three minutes on Kienle, who arrived at the transition zone with South African James Cunnama and women’s leader Chrissie Wellington.
Raelert tore out of transition and set out to establish an early gap on the bike, reaching the famed climb up the Solarer Berg, at about 70km into the ride, with a gap of almost two minutes over Kienle, who was also riding alone. Behind them came Cunnama nearly four minutes back.
The throngs on the Solarer Berg were next treated to the sight of five-time Roth champion Lothar Leder, back in the race to celebrate the 10th anniversary at age 40 and with a stated goal to finish only an hour behind dominant Chrissie Wellington, ascending the climb with large group of men just 10 minutes behind Raelert.
By the time he reached the bike-to-run transition, Raelert had 4:35 over Kienle, with Cunnama third out on the run before succumbing to injury. That left the door open for Williams, who reached the finish in 8:16:01, with Germans Felix Schumann fourth in 8:18:05 and Christian Ritter fifth in 9:18:40.
“I wasn’t sure if I was at a rock concert or a triathlon, the crowd was so wild, it was so loud,” Williams said of the din on the bike course.
Meantime, the 40-year-old Leder continued on his good day, moving into eighth by the finish-less than five minutes in arrears of Wellington and well ahead of his stated goal to finish within an hour of the flying Brit.
As first German home, Raelert also took the German long-distance championship while Roth’s own Michael Hofmann reclaimed his title as world champion firefighter, in a time of 8:38:43 that was good for 19th overall.
The tenth edition of Challenge Roth, the world’s largest long-course triathlon, drew a record field of 5,250 athletes (3,300 individual starters and 640 teams) to tackle the 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42km marathon run. The top ten men and women will divide a prize purse of 73,500 euro, with 15,000 euro going to the individual male and female winners.
For more, visit www.challenge-roth.com.
Women’s Results – Challenge Roth
1 Chrissie Wellington (GBR) 8:18:13 (49:49/4:40:39/2:44:35)
2 Julia Wagner (GER) 8:56:23 (51:28/4:54:27/3:07:25)
3 Rebekah Keat (AUS) 8:59:22 (51:27/4:51:05/3:13:51)
4 Belinda Harper (NZL) 9:06:47 (50:00/4:55:48/3:17:43)
5 Belinda Granger (AUS) 9:12:56 (51:34/4:50:38/3:26:57)
8 Cindy Lewis (CAN) 9:45:56 (1:00:10/5:12:00/3:33:46)
1) Andreas Raelert (GER) 7:41:33 (46:18/4:11:43/2:40:52)
2) Sebastian Kienle (GER) 7:57:06 (49:58/4:12:46/2:52:02)
3) Keegan Williams (NZL) 8:16:01 (51:32/4:26:23/2:54:52)
4) Felix Schumann (GER) 8:18:05 (49:38/4:31:11/2:53:49)
5) Christian Ritter (GER) 8:18:40 (46:15/4:30:31/2:59:02)