Looking forward to Challenge Almere

The oldest long-distance race in Europe, Challenge Almere has a rich and storied history, one which is likely to continue this weekend as a competitive field arrives in the Netherlands for the epic race.

| September 6, 2018 | NEWS

Yvonne Van Vlerken is back to try to defend her title at Challenge Almere this weekend.

Yvonne Van Vlerken is back to try to defend her title at Challenge Almere this weekend.

Photo >José Luis Hourcade

Long-distance racing in Almere started in 1983, making Challenge Almere one of the oldest triathlon events on the planet, and certainly one of the oldest long-distance races. Almere is just 25 km from the center of Amsterdam, but you'd never believe you were that close to a major city. The race takes place 4.5 m below sea level in a region called Flevoland, which is characterized by dikes, windmills and long, straight roads that are more than a little susceptible to the wind. Suffice it to say that while the race might be flat, it's not an easy course as the elements often ensure the race remains challenging.

The race takes place in the heart of Almere's city center, providing lots of atmosphere for the 3,500 athletes who will take part in three days of racing. In addition to the full-distance and half-distance races that take place on Saturday, there are junior races, a "Senior Challenge," "a Business Relay" and relays.

Van Vlerken back to defend

Last year in Almere Yvonne Van Vlerken thrilled the home-country crowd with a record-setting win - she added yet another sub-nine hour finish (8:51:13) to her impressive resume with an 18-plus minute win over countrywoman Sarissa De Vries. Van Vlerken will arrive as the prohibitive women's favorite, but she'll hardly have an easy time of it. Look for this year's Ironman Maastricht champion, Els Visser (NED) to be very much in the mix along with 2015 champ Kathrin Walther (GER). Another woman to keep an eye on is full-distance rookie Renee Kiley from Australia. She's been training with Cam Watt's Trisutto group (yeah, you know the one ... a certain Sarah Crowley happens to train in that group, too) and is likely to make a splash in her debut on the weekend.

Kovacic and Wurf highlight men's field

Last year's third-place finisher, Jaroslav Kovacic (SLO), is looking to move up a few spots on the podium this year and would no-doubt love to nail a sub-eight hour finish - he was 8:05 last year behind Joe Skipper and Viktor Zyemtsev. To win, though, one would think he'll have to out-run Cameron Wurf, the Kona bike course record holder who has been on a full-distance storm this year as he makes the transition from pro bike racer to pro triathlete. Wurf and his coaching crew feel he needs to get more marathons under his belt this year, so he's competed at Challenge Venice, then did Ironman Nice and Challenge Roth a week apart (taking third and fifth respectively) and is here in Almere as a tune up for Kona. Other men to keep an eye on will be the Netherlands' own Evert Scheltinga, Ireland's Bryan McCrystal and Denmark's Kristian Hoegenhaug.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of Challenge Almere throughout the weekend.