It lived up to all the hype. Challenge Roth is traditionally one of the biggest triathlon events of the year, and the 2023 edition was expected to be among the biggest and best of all. Race day proved to be every bit as exciting as organizers had billed it to be. Here’s a few takeaways from Sunday’s huge day of racing:
1. Daniela Ryf cements her status as an (the?) all-time great
The greatest of all time? Lots of people are making that argument, and we’re certainly not going to wade in with much to go against that. The Swiss star added a world-best time to her already impressive list of achievements, which certainly makes for a compelling argument. Paula Newby-Fraser might have won Kona eight times (compared to Ryf’s four Kona wins to go along with her fifth Ironman World Championship title from St. George last year), but can’t boast five 70.3 world titles like Ryf can. Erin Baker won world titles at every distance and was beaten precious few times in her career, but never dominated quite the way Ryf has. Wellington was never beaten in a full-distance race, but basically competed at the highest level for five years.
Ryf returned to her old coach, Brett Sutton, earlier this year, and he seems to have got her back to the form that made her seemingly unbeatable in years past. This adds to Ryf’s legend. She dominated for a bunch of years. She struggled for a few years – even though her version of “struggling” still included a world title and a bunch of other big wins. Then she returned to the highest level again. It’s exactly the way you would write the story for a box office hit movie.
While her demolishing of Chrissie Wellington’s world-best time (8:08:21 for Ryf, 8:18:13 for Wellington) was impressive enough, her decisive win over Anne Haug, second, and Laura Philipp, third, (you can see more on Chelsea Sodaro later) sends a clear message that Ryf remains the woman to beat in the long-distance triathlon world.
2. Magnus Ditlev is the real deal
His win last year in Roth was impressive – he finished just a few seconds behind Jan Frodeno’s course record, but there was always that lingering question of what might have happened had the German star not pulled out of the race a few km into the marathon. This year Ditlev put all that to bed with a dominating performance that saw him obliterate Frodeno’s record (7:24:40).
Ditlev had to serve a five minute penalty in Kona last year, which effectively put him out of the picture and he finished eighth. Just a few weeks later he took third at the 70.3 worlds in St. George. Three weeks after that he won Ironman Cozumel. Its hard to know how all the climbing will affect the Dane in Nice later this year, but it’s hard not to imagine that when the guys get back to Kona in 2024, Ditlev will be among the favourites.
3. The crowds in Roth are like no other
There’s a reason Challenge Roth should be on every triathletes bucket list – there is simply no race like it. The huge field of 3,500 individual athletes and 650 relay teams are cheered on by an incredible crowd – this year it is estimated that 300,000 spectators lined the course. And, as usual, the infamous Solarer Berg hill was jam-packed.
4. Patrick Lange and Anne Haug can sure run
Not that we didn’t know that they could, but the two Germans blasted through the marathon in Roth in 2:30:27 and 2:44:45 respectively. Sure, they weren’t able to overcome the huge gaps they faced after the bike, but those marathon times kept both winners honest, and no-doubt helped fuel the impressive winning times.
“But I already knew in T2 I wouldn’t be able to catch up,” said the 36-year-old 2017 and 2018 Hawaii winner, Lange. “It was still a mega day. I showed a good catch-up and still made it exciting at the end. I gave everything.”
“It was still a good race for me, especially on the run course,” Haug said after the race.
5. Chelsea Sodaro and Sam Laidlow are still figuring out this long-distance thing
She might be the reigning Ironman world champion, but it’s important to remember that Chelsea Sodaro was only competing in her third full-distance race on the weekend. (Her debut was a runner-up finish in Hamburg last year, followed by the huge day in Kona.) According to an instagram post from after the race, Sodaro had some nutrition issues which put her out of the race. While Roth was obviously a big race for her, Kona is no-doubt considerably more important, so working through those nutrition issues is likely to help the American as she looks to defend her title in October.
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For Kona runner-up Sam Laidlow, the tough times in full-distance racing continue. In May dehydration forced him to pull out of Ironman Lanzarote, where he’d been at the front for much of the race. In Roth the Frenchman came off the bike with Ditlev, only to succumb to cramps and calf issues during the run and fade to eighth.
As with Sodaro, Laidlow will look to learn from these experiences and put together another incredible day of racing in Nice in September.
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