In a beautiful location, among luxurious hotels and amid Samarkand’s rich history, the first edition of Challenge Samarkand on Sunday sets the stage for an undoubtedly exciting battle between some of the world’s most successful athletes. At the same time, the race also marks a special milestone for Sebastian Kienle, who is on the eve of one of his last races as a professional athlete. The German will therefore start Challenge Samarkand with a slightly different approach.
This became evident just now at the press conference where, in addition to Sebastian Kienle, Frederic Funk, Aaron Royle, Emma Pallant-Browne and Ellie Salthouse joined him. Media attended the press conference in huge numbers, as did numerous interested Age Groupers. It made for an interesting and pleasant press conference, where various small talk was exchanged, local food was discussed, Funk’s training data, the new phenomenon in which professional athletes put water bottles in their trisuits in order to be even more aerodynamic on the bike, and the best way to start triathlon as an Age Grouper. All pro athletes shared useful tips.
Sebastian Kienle: ‘Triathlon brings people together’
Of course the focus was on Sunday though, when some of the world’s best pro athletes will compete in Challenge Samarkand. It may be one of Kienle’s last races, but he does not see himself as a favorite. The world-famous athlete has been feeling sick for several days and did not have the best preparation. “But because this is one of my last races, I experience less stress than usual. Normally around races I only see my hotel room and race course, but most likely I’m going for a tourist tour after this press conference and during the race I will definitely enjoy the scenery more”, he laughs. “What I’ve experienced throughout my career is that sport brings people together and triathlon enabled me to visit places which I wasn’t about to visit otherwise. Samarkand is a wonderful example of that: the hospitality is amazing, the hotel is very nice, the venue looks spectacular. After my career I’ll not be able to remember all of my races – not even all the ones I’ve won – simply because it are too many races, but this one will stick for sure.”
Frederic Funk: ‘I do hope I’m able to live up to role as favorite’
Biggest favorite for victory seems to be Frederic Funk. The young German is having a great season. “I do hope I’m the favorite and that I’m able to live up to that role. After my recent races I was pretty tired and to be honest I think I would have cancelled this race when it was ‘a regular race’ somewhere in Europe. But, this unique experience I was really looking forward to and I don’t want to miss this one. Also it’s a big honor for me to race one last time to Sebastian, someone I’ve always looked up to.”
Aaron Royle: ‘Ready to beat the German duo’
Aaron Royle has made the journey from Australia to also compete in Challenge Samarkand. When asked if he is ready to beat the German duo, he is clear. “I think so. I can’t really say no. My tactics is no secret: I will use my swim as a strength to hopefully get some time on both of them. Certainly Frederic is in a very good shape. He will be very tough to beat, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Ellie Salthouse: ‘I’m coming in a really good form’
In the women’s race, Ellie Salthouse has exactly the same plan as her compatriot Royle. “My plan of attack: go out hard on the swim and create a gap on Emma (Pallant-Browne, ed.). And then push as hard as possible on the bike to keep her off as long as possible.
In any case, Salthouse is enjoying her presence in Samarkand. “It’s great to be here. To be honest, I had to google Samarkand, but now I’m here, it’s really beautiful. We’re having an amazing experience and we’re being really spoiled. The hotel is incredible, the course looks stunning and it’s fun to explore something new, especially when a city has such a rich history as Samarkand. As far as my preparations I have a great championship season, so I’m coming in a really good form to race here.”
Emma Pallant-Browne: ‘I hope that ticks all the boxes for the best preparation’
Salthouse will need her good form, as she will thus meet Emma Pallant-Browne, among others. The British world-class athlete is looking forward to Challenge Samarkand immensely, but does hope it doesn’t get too hot. “It’s something always has been a weakness for me, but most of all a high humidity is my biggest weakness. Luckily Samarkand doesn’t feel like really humid so far, so that’s good for me. Besides that I did a lot of trainings in Mozambique the weeks before, where it is really humid, so I hope that ticks all the boxes for the best preparation.”
Pallant-Browne expects a beautiful and exciting battle, and like her competitors, enjoys Samarkand. “Absolutely loving it here. As an athlete, you feel like really welcome.”