The long awaited Challenge Family brand finally landed in Cape Town on the 10th November, pulling off what can only be described as a near perfect debut on African Soil
Now as some of you know, there is a history with this brand in South Africa dating back to 2011. Most of what we call “the local triathlon community” will not know much of this brand. They only have 1 clear brand in their heads that operates in SA and unless they are well travelled and have competed for a number of years, this brand name will really not mean much to most of them. For the more informed triathlete, the “veterans” shall we say, the brand is well known and has been a major player for the last couple of years on a global scale.
A few of the locals (and internationals) for that matter, were burnt a little when the brand was announced as coming to Cape Town and South Africa as early as 2011. If I am not mistaken, it was to be a full IM Distance event back then with road closures in place, taking in some of the most scenic sites that the mother city has to offer. At that stage, the intent was good but the follow-through by the then appointed Race Director was unfortunately not. The race was cancelled with literally 2-3 weeks-notice. A lot of local and international athletes lost money and a whole stack of confidence in the brand that day. The brand itself suffered a huge dent in their credibility which is a huge shame as they still host the biggest IM race in the world as Challenge Roth and at that stage, had plenty races stacked around the globe that were hugely successful. They still do – a major rival for the WTC guys.
Fast Forward 8 years and we again hear, that Challenge Cape Town will be coming to SA in the month of NOV. Immediately the fence-sitters got to work, likening the new dawn of the brand to that of the failure back in 2011. There was a huge difference this time. There was a couple who hail from Slummies that had the vision and the clout/muscle to bring the brand back to SA and they in turn used World Sport as the vehicle to make this race happen at probably the only destination in South Africa that really attracts the attention of tourists the world over.
Now World Sport are the same guys that put on the WTS down in CT (The ITU’s highest graded race bar the Olympics) for 2 years in a row that saw the likes of the Brownlee’s and Gomez’s visit our shores. They then put on the Discovery World Cup and Age Group event for the past 3yrs not to mention the WTS events in Abu Dhabi and they are also due to host the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in 2021. They are big players with money behind them and experience, so why some thought there were doubts that they could pull it off, boggles the mind. When the race routes were eventually announced, confidence started to mount and they started taking in some good numbers in terms of entries, people that had the confidence to put down their money in advance, knowing that the event would not be “cancelled” like last time. There were still however, a whole host of fence sitters who had decided that they would see how year 1 panned out and then possibly look at joining the movement in 2020 if it were a success.
Race Weekend dawns and everything is running to plan. There is/was not a single sole, either entered or those watching that did not wonder about the weather. On a good day, Cape Town is sublime, on a bad day, it can be terrible. From the cold water fears to that “Cape Doctor” South Easter that can rear its ugly head whenever it wants to. The cycle route is exposed – beautifully flat and runs a very scenic routing alongside the shoreline but if the wind blows, the weaker cyclists would feel the wrath, make no mistake about that.
Fortunately, as though the local weather gods were in sync for the return of the Challenge Brand, the weather on race day was as good as it gets down in the Western Cape. The Water temp on race day was a balmy 16 degrees (it was 18 on Friday morning pre-race which is almost unbelievable – even for the Slaap-staters who frequent the ocean on a weekly basis. Barely a breathe of wind and the conditions up yonder were cool and over-cast to start off with.
Let us just say, the PRO field was stacked to the brim. The men’s field was as competitive as it will ever get. With the local high flyers Matt Trautman, Bradley Weiss and Kyle Buckingham in the mix, throw in pretend “saffa” Tim Don along with the Spaniard Pablo Gonzalez and Aussie Steve Mkenna, the race was always going to live up to expectations,
On the ladies side, “local” UK PRO Emma Pallant was coming in as the hot favourite but she was going to be chased hard by local home town hero Annah Watkinson along with fellow brit Laura Siddall. Throw in ITU SA star Gill Sanders (making her debut at this distance) with locals Lauren Cannon and Vicky Vd Merwe and the ladies race was equally as exciting and stacked with amazing talent
We won’t dwell on the actual race report as that was taken care of already. The racing was hot, fierce and the finish times were good. When one eyes up a race they wish to perhaps do some day, they generally look to the finish times to gauge what sort of time they potentially could do if they had raced on the day. It’s safe to say, that on a good day, when the wind is absent, the course is very fast and the times in general from PRO to Age-Grouper were quick. Athletes like a challenge but they don’t want the race course to be too hard sometimes.
From what we saw, the race was near perfect. A lot of the spectators were eyeing up the event and perhaps even scrutinising it, in the knowledge that if it went well this year, they would definitely come and line-up next year.
Of course there are things that one can improve on, there is
no “perfect” race and to ensure that the race organisation stays on its toes,
they too would be looking to all areas to see where they can improve on and
make it a better all-round experience for the athletes in 2020
With the race concluded – we have a winner – a new player in town that has ticked all the boxes. They are going to grow in numbers which is great for the sport of triathlon. They will also ensure that the competition remains strong and do their bit to keep their races on a par with the newbie. All round, the actual winner is the local Saffa Triathlete who now has another choice to look at when they plan their 2020 race season. We reckon the fence-sitters will be there in numbers. The Challenge Brand has come and conquered SA, long may it last to all who practice the sport of triathlon