The challenge of making Challenge Roth even better

For Felix Walchshöfer there is no better job on the planet - he's the CEO of Challenge Roth, considered by many to be one of the best triathlon races in the world. But keeping the race at the pinnacle of the sport is no easy task.

| November 9, 2018 | PERSONALITY

Felix Walchshöfer, center, along with his mother Alice (right) and his sister Kathrin.

Felix Walchshöfer, center, along with his mother Alice (right) and his sister Kathrin.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

TriathlonWorld.com: Challenge Roth is considered to be one of the best triathlon events in the world. I know you’re always driven to make the event better – how do you do that after yet another successful year when you celebrated the 35th year of triathlon racing in Roth?

Felix Walchshöfer: This is going to be a tricky thing. But the athletes help us a lot … we got about 1,000 emails from athletes saying thank you, or you could do this better, or you did this very well. We work through all that with our directors of the different disciplines and then we’ll see what we can improve. This year was a big one for us with the new expo layout, new tents, etc. We were happy with that and the vendors were very happy with that, too.

How hard is it for you to draw a competitive field with some showcase athletes to your event?

I think every pro who is a big name wants to put their name on a Roth title as well, so from that perspective it’s easy. But with the points system and the qualification system for Hawaii it’s not that easy, so we have to offer a large amount of appearance fees and prize money to attract the pros.

Are you happy with where Challenge Roth sits in the world of triathlon?

For us, in the beginning of Challenge we wanted to showcase that we’re not inferior to Ironman in any way. That we can actually do better with our community and community support. I am pretty sure that there is no other race in the world with such support from the community – everyone from the politicians to the bakery that puts in the flags. We’re very happy with that … and we’ll do anything we can to keep it at that level. Roth is very different – it’s not a world championship or anything, but I also think that Roth doesn’t need it. Roth has the biggest crowd support of any race out there. It’s a whole festival week. People love coming and enjoying themselves. We have something for everyone. We have very fast times – the world records were set in Roth, these are possible, but also a very lovely race with your family is possible.

Where does Challenge Roth fit in with Challenge Family? Even though you took a step back from being as involved in the Challenge Family series, it’s obviously very important to you –  I saw you in Prague earlier this year and we’re doing this interview at Challenge Almere.

When I decided to build up the series around us, it was about 14 years ago, the point was that I didn’t want to be the only race out there next to Ironman. For the credibility of our race, we needed to be out there with more races. For the pro athletes, there was no bonuses racing Challenge with one race, so we needed to change a lot. It worked out very well, so I am very confident with the series. I love our other race directors – Almere, Austria, everywhere in the world … It’s very good because we talk a lot and get input from each other. It’s a very good working relationship.

Isn’t one of the challenges (pardon the choice of words), though, that people arrive at other Challenge Family events and expect it to be just like Challenge Roth?

That’s the same thing for Ironman – you have events with more crowd support and less crowd support. That’s similar in our series, too. There are so many races in our series that are so unique – Prague, for example – that there doesn’t need to be the crowd support that we have. Being in Prague, downtown on the Charles Bridge, is pretty unique. For your family and for your friends coming with you.

Between 50,000 and 75,000 spectators routinely watch Challenge Roth on the Solar Hill.

Between 50,000 and 75,000 spectators routinely watch Challenge Roth on the Solar Hill.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon

You ended up being a bit of a “movie star” with your appearance in “We Are Triathletes.” Any more movies in your future?

There is a show that will air in Australia and then worldwide that was shot in Roth this year, I am interested in that. “We Are Triathletes” is really amazing. We are really happy that it worked out so well. The comments we get on social media, through email, have been so positive. It’s inspired a lot of people to come to Roth. It was our big aim to showcase the event, to show people all around the world that it’s not hyped up, that it’s not just talk, that there is a Solar Hill with 50,000, with 75,000 people, and everyone gets to ride through it.

You ended up having to take over things at Challenge Roth earlier than expected when your father got sick. Do you have any regrets, or feel that you missed out on anything because of that?

I would have wished that I would have come into this situation later and differently, rather than because my dad died. It was sad times. I always wanted to work in this sport and go into this sport, but it could have been three or four years later. That would have been cool, to travel the world a little bit, to study in different places. To have done internships in big sports companies. That’s what I regret a little bit, but I love what I do – it’s my absolute dream job.

It’s the same thing for my mom and my sister. We love what we do and this is also why we never got into talks about selling the company, because we want to retire in it. Our kids might want to take it over, and the legacy would continue, so that’s our vision of it. It’s awesome. It’s a great team, a great community. The athletes are fantastic. We have so many athletes who come back every year. It’s really a family. For us it’s the best week of the year when everyone comes together.