Classic Race: Challenge Roth 2011 revisited
Seven hours, 41 minutes and 33 seconds. While with five podiums he may forever be the bridesmaid at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, Germany’s Andreas Raelert remains the fastest man in long-distance triathlon history courtesy of a barely-believable finish time at Challenge Roth in Germany on 10 July 2011.
“This was the performance of my life,” Raelert said post-race after perfect conditions, a partisan crowd and an athlete at the top of his game combined to produce an historic day. “I remember Chris McCormack said in an interview that the boys in the future will make 7:45 or sub-7:40hrs, and last week Marino Vanhoenacker [at Ironman Austria] opened this new chapter. It was just a question of time that the men would get to such times.”
A week after the Belgian Luc van Lierde’s 1997 long-distance benchmark of 7:50:27 was finally broken by Vanhoenacker at Ironman Austria, the 34-year-old Raelert took to the waters of Challenge Roth in Bavaria aiming to create a piece of history of his own.
After exiting the 3.8km Main-Donau Canal swim in 46:11mins, just seconds behind swim legend Benjamin Sanson of France, Raelert tore out of transition to establish an early gap on the 180km bike. By the time of the famed climb up the Solarer Berg at 70km into the ride, the racer from Rostock had a gap of two minutes over the-then-rising German star (and future Ironman world champ) Sebastian Kienle.
“I just have to say thank you to Sebastian because he pushed me absolutely to the limit,” Raelert laughed at the post-race press conference. “On the bike, Sebastian was coming from behind. I had to push as hard as I can just to get in his mind, to destroy him.” And destroy Kienle he would, producing a then world record 180km bike split of 4:11:43 (America’s Andrew Starykowicz would produce a 4:04:39 time at Ironman Florida in 2012), before exiting T2 with the record in his grasp.
“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.”
Taking in the advice of his younger brother, fellow world-beating triathlete Michael Raelert, Andreas maintained an even pace before a strong finish. With two Olympic Games appearances in 2000 and 2004, Raelert is no stranger to speed and the German produced a final flourish in front of the watching masses in Bavaria to record a 2:40hr marathon time and enter the history books as the fastest man over 226km of racing.