Caroline Steffen has raced to an inspirational victory at Challenge Roth today, displaying true grit and determination racing to her first win of 2013. Steffen (SUI), better known as Xena the Warrior Princess, finished in a blistering fast time of 8:40:35; following a 51:45 swim, 4:42:21 bike and 3:03:07 run. Steffen’s form has been questioned by many of late, and her performance yesterday certainly spoke louder than words.
Advice from anyone who has visited before is that Challenge Roth is a “bucket list race”, and in it’s 12th year the race didn’t disappoint. Record crowds greeted over 5,000 competitors, and under perfect race conditions two new Champions were crowned (Dirk Bockel won the men’s race in 7:52:01). Steffen reported in the pre-race press conference “I’ve heard so much about this race which is one of the reason why I want to be here. I’ve waited for years to be part of it and I really look forward to being part of this history.” The wait certainly paid off today for Steffen, having another major race victory to add to her resume.
Unlike the men’s race where Dirk Bockel led from start to finish, Steffen didn’t have it all her way. Katja Konschak (GER) led out of the water, with Steffen and Julia Gajer (GER) right behind on her feet, in a time of 51:42, 51:45 and 51:48 respectively. This put eventual second place getter, and Steffen’s closest competitor throughout the race, 2:55 behind out of the water. Although a swift transition from Xena saw her put a further 1:36 into Van Vlerken in transition, with the Swiss Miss on a mission and well out of site of Van Vlerken (NED) within the first hour of the race.
Despite this Steffen felt disappointed with her swim, having set the goal of leaving the water ahead of the field. “I was disappointed with my swim, as I was hoping for a sub 50 minute time, but somehow missed the group I should have sat in and was a tiny bit too slow,” reported Steffen. This however didn’t appear to cause any problems later in the race like Steffen may have predicted, with her confidence perhaps a little deflated after having been run down in many of her big races in past years. “My coach told me I should start to believe I can run and he’s right, I’m a good runner and this was the first race I showed everyone that I’m a good runner. This gives me huge confidence for the next race.”
Van Vlerken has been paying particular attention to her weakest discipline, the swim, with coach Siri Lindley and the hard work is starting to pay dividends. This investment is now allowing Van Vlerken to capitalise on her strong bike to place her in a leading position on the run, rather than playing fox and chasing all day. Once onto the bike Van Vlerken did exactly what she loves and went in hot pursuit of Steffen, steadily taking time out all day and finally catching the Swiss Miss at 153km. Most likely in contrast to Steffen, Van Vlerken would have been carrying a certain confidence in her marathon, having put nine minutes into Steffen at Ironman Melbourne earlier this year. Van Vlerken went on to enter transition 2 with a 40 second lead on Steffen.
Behind the battle up front another race favourite, Julia Gajer, faced a tough battle with Australia’s Belinda Granger and Kiwi Joanna Lawn. Gajer managed to rider her own race despite constant attacks from the experienced racers in Granger and Lawn, and the three eventually entered transition 2 within 30 seconds of each other, with Gajer starting her marathon run in third place.
Steffen ran with composure behind Van Vlerken to steadily regain her lead, holding a 1:12 advantage over Van Vlerken by 12.5km into the marathon Never looking back and leaving her demons of fading late in the marathon well behind her, Steffen was victorious; crossing the finish line after 8:40.35. Having struggled in the second half of the marathon Van Vlerken crossed the line 5:47 after Steffen in 8:46:22. Another 4:42 minutes later Julia Gajer finished to round off the podium.
Aside from triumphing in her victory, Steffen excitedly reported on the incredible atmosphere of this iconic race “I was really worried about Solarer Berg but it was amazing, it was like the Tour de France. In every single town there is so much support. Even on the swim, every time you breathe you see people on both sides! I’m 100% back to defend my title which will not be easy but I’d like to have a go, I’ll be back.”