Challenge Almere's storied past

After recently renewing its contract with Challenge Family, the epic and classic Challenge Almere triathlon remains a mainstay on the world's triathlon scene. Here's why it's such an iconic race.

| May 4, 2018 | RACES

Athletes compete at the 2017 Challenge Almere race.

Athletes compete at the 2017 Challenge Almere race.

Photo >José Luis Hourcade

Challenge Almere recently renewed its contract with Challenge Family for another five years. The event, which attracts over 3,000 athletes every year, is an iconic part of triathlon’s history. We caught up with Jort Vlam from Challenge Almere to get some insight about the race. Is Almere really the second-oldest long-distance triathlon?

Jort Vlam: Almere is the second oldest long-distance triathlon race. Challenge Roth is also one of the oldest events (1984), but it started as a standard-distance race. The Holland Triathlon started in 1981 in The Hague, the Netherlands. After two editions the race moved to Almere where it has been held since 1983. It's still the same organization, but since 2013 we’ve operated under a Challenge Family license. The Foundation is still called Holland Triathlon.

How many athletes competed last year?

In 2017 we had 3350: 1,300 in the middle-distance race and 650 in the long distance race. We had 750 in the junior challenge, over 150 in the senior challenge and over 500 athletes in the relays. We’re looking at another 200 or more in the middle- and long-distance races this year, which will hopefully put our numbers at over 3,500.

What is the key to the race’s longevity?

The event is in the DNA of the city. When the race was first held in Almere in 1983, our city had only 10,000 citizens. Almere was founded on reclaimed land from the sea (we live 4.5 m below sea level protected by the dikes that are an iconic part of our bike course) which was designed to provide more space for homes in the Amsterdam capital area. In that small town the triathlon, which was unique in Europe, was the only event of the year. The city and the event grew together. Now we have 205,000 citizens in Almere. The event nearly died in 2012, though, with only 250 long distance athletes. We introduced the half-distance (200 athletes), but we had no title sponsor. For three straight years we had rain which meant we didn’t get a lot of spectators and were suddenly not the only big event in town. On top of that our former race director became terminally ill in 2011.

We survived this crisis is because the triathlon is in our DNA. We have one of the country’s largest training clubs in our city. Lots of residents have some relationship to the triathlon (as athletes, family members, spectators, sponsors or volunteers). Many of the organization, like race director Richard Belderok and myself, the triathlon was something that was a part of our childhood – we participated in the “ironkid” races that were part of the program. We simply couldn't imagine Almere without our dearest sport, so we started to work on a plan to get Almere back on the international calendar. It’s been working – in 2012 we had 12 nationalities, since we’ve become a Challenge event we typically have at least 40 nations participate.

The Rabobank Almere asked it's account holders which event we should keep in the city forever – the answer came back unanimously that it should be the triathlon. So when Rabobank heard about our plans, they immediately came on board as the title sponsor. Together we’ve developed the race and other side events like the “Rabo Business Relay.”

Why is the race so popular?

It’s a part of the city of Almere now. The fact that we’ve never had a problem finding enough volunteers is a great example of how popular it is. The race is also part of triathlon’s history. It's a classic, one of a kind race that can be very challenging thanks to the winds and it often rains.

At the other hand we really focus on hospitality in every way. For example, after your finish, you are a hero, no matter whether you were first or last, so you deserve to eat whatever you’d like. We serve all kinds of dishes: lasagna, pasta, rice, curry, wraps, burgers, fries, yoghurt, salad, fruit, soup, bread … whatever you wish for after a year of strict diets and a long day of racing.

You are seated in our 'athlete’s paradise' and the volunteers serve your food and drinks, guide you to your bags, direct you to the showers, massage, etc. The personal touch is a key component to all this. It's what you remember after the race - instead of the cold wind, the sore muscles, etc., it's the warmth of the after-race-zone that you’ll remember. And happy athletes make happy volunteers, and vice-versa. There’s no better reward then the smile of an athlete, according to our volunteers, who are amongst the best in the sport, according to our athlete surveys.