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Roth qualifying arrives in Canada – check out the new Challenge races in Quebec

Athletes will have the chance for a spot to the sport's fastest-filling event at Challenge Cap Quebec and Challenge Esprit

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

This weekend Challenge Roth celebrates the 40th anniversary of triathlon racing in the small Bavarian town. The race is so popular registration fills in 90 seconds. This summer athletes will have a chance to win spots for next year’s Challenge Roth event at two races in Quebec.

Every June in Quebec City, a few hundred brave souls hit the cobbled streets for the Défi des Escaliers — the Staircase Challenge — running a 19-km course up and down the 2,634 stairs that connect Lower Town on the Saint Lawrence River to Upper Town and the Plains of Abraham. If you’ve ever ridden the funicular up from the rue du Petit-Champlain to walk along the boardwalk past the majestic Château Frontenac, you have some idea of what a formidable challenge that is. And who’d think a flatlander from Belgium transplanted to Montreal would consider doing a triathlon in Quebec City if he were looking to achieve a personal best?

“I want a PB,” Gianni Di Matteo, 32, confided. “So I looked for flat and fast races this season.” He was getting ready to head to Europe for Ironman 70.3 Westfriesland in the Netherlands in June, then back to Canada for the inaugural Challenge Cap Québec race on July 21.

It’s a hit, and there hasn’t been a race yet. Will Challenge Cap Quebec live up to the hype?

“As funny as it seems, it is a flat race,” said Dominique Piché, the indomitable race director best known for bringing Ironman to Mont-Tremblant, now executive producer of the newly minted Challenge Cap Québec and, in early September, Challenge Esprit Montréal. “When they look at the course, people say, ‘How can it be flat? We’re in Quebec City!’ But we really chose a course that could bring people together.”

“It’s just a magical destination,” said Piché as he looked out over the Port of Québec, where the swim will take place in the shadow of Upper Town and its fortified walls. Once out of the water, athletes will bike four loops of a closed stretch of highway along the southern bank of the Saint Lawrence, heading toward Montmorency Falls. The two-loop run course skirts Vieux-Québec and continues alongside and across the Saint Charles River, then back again to the finish line at the Agora du Port — a vast public space with room for 5,000 people, where afternoon and evening shows will complement two full days of triathlon, including “discovery,” sprint and Olympic-distance races.

Piché likens the atmosphere he’s hoping to create to a “large kitchen,” a place where families gather. “In Quebec, we love our kitchens. That’s where everything happens: great food, great conversations, great friends are made. We’re creating the best kitchen around, in triathlon.”


It sounds, not surprisingly, like the way people describe the atmosphere at Bavaria’s Challenge Roth — at 40, one of Europe’s oldest triathlons and certainly its most legendary. Roth is where Germany’s Lothar Leder became the first person ever to break the eight-hour mark in a full-distance race in 1996, winning again in 2003 in a photo-finish against Australia’s Chris McCormack (who went on to win Roth four times); it is where Chrissie Wellington had some of her best performances — her 2011 record broken only last year, when Daniela Ryf pulverized the competition and set the fastest women’s long-distance record ever in a time of 8:08:21. Roth is where fans packed the stands for an impassioned good-bye to their hero Sebastien Kienle, the 2014 Ironman World Champion who raced Challenge Roth for a fifth and last time in 2023.

An Ironman race from 1988 until 2001, the Walchshöfer family then rechristened it Challenge Roth. The fact that racing there won’t get you a slot at Kona has never prevented triathletes from pulling out all stops to sign up. Participants line up to register for the next year’s race almost as soon as they cross the finish line, and when online registration for the remaining spots opens, it fills up in mere seconds.

Challenge Roth race director: “Hopefully Ironman can get back on its feet”

It’s that electric and congenial atmosphere that Piché sought to emulate in 2011, when he launched Ironman Mont-Tremblant, and it’s what helped entice him to bring the Challenge series back to North America. He’s thrilled to be able to offer all finishers at Challenge Cap Québec a chance to win one of 20 slots for Challenge Roth in July 2025. “If you’ve put your name in the hat, you get a shot at going to Roth…. And if you get picked — well, you’d better train!”

Piché is limiting this year’s long-distance event in Quebec City to 1,000 athletes, which makes the odds of a finisher winning a coveted Roth slot pretty decent. He’s not sure if that draw is the reason so many Europeans have registered for the inaugural Quebec City race, or if it’s the attraction of a family trip to the birthplace of French North America and competing at a UNESCO World Heritage site, or a whole host of factors.

Certainly, for Gianni Di Matteo, the chance to race at Roth next year cemented his decision to sign up for Challenge Cap Québec. “I actually know Challenge because I’m from Europe and I have a lot of friends who have done Challenge races,” he said. “I’ve seen the videos of Roth on YouTube; I’ve seen the organization. I follow the pros, of course. It looks amazing. If I can go to Roth, it would be such a privilege!”

Esprit Triathlon joins Challenge Family

And even if he doesn’t get lucky in the July 21 draw, Di Matteo is already contemplating registering for September’s Esprit Montréal — another flat, fast race that, with the retirement of the tireless Danny McCann, is now under the Challenge banner. Piché has a word of consolation for anyone who missed out on July’s sold-out race in Quebec City: there’s a lottery for another 10 Roth slots at Esprit, so race in Montreal on Sept. 8, and you will still have a shot.

Loreen Pindera is a freelance journalist based in Montreal.