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Top Field Hunts for European Championship Title at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam

They are slowly but surely dropping in to Almere and come from all over the world: over 50 professional athletes are preparing to start Saturday’s Challenge Almere-Amsterdam. They all have one goal: to win the race and crown themselves European Long Distance Champion.

In the men’s race, much is expected of defending champion, Kieran Lindars. The Brit finished last year in 7:55:44 – the first half of the race was characterized then by tough conditions – and has his sights set on reclaiming his title. After a successful year with several top finishes, he certainly counts himself among the favourites for the coveted victory in Almere. “I know what it takes to win a race like Challenge Almere-Amsterdam. In the end, it’s about the one who can best handle the difficult moments and the one who doesn’t do crazy things when things are going well.”

Strong competition, Dutchmen hope for win

Lindars can count on particularly strong competition, as Challenge Almere-Amsterdam has not only a strong, but also deep field this year. Since 2012, Challenge Almere-Amsterdam has not had a Dutch winner in the men’s race: Dirk Wijnalda was the last to take that honour. This year that might just change, with Menno Koolhaas and Evert Scheltinga as the biggest assets.

At 35 years old, Scheltinga is a so-called ‘veteran’; in 2021 he broke the then 22-year-old Dutch record and recorded 7:49:32 at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam, finishing fourth at the World Championships. Last year Scheltinga, who races every year in Almere, faced a flat tire that prevented a top ranking, but the Dutchman invariably finishes at the front of his Long Distance races.

Fast times

Menno Koolhaas is a still young talent who made his real breakthrough on the Long Distance last year and has continued to build on his level this year. Earlier this week, Koolhaas expressed his ambition to take the win at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam and reckoned with a finish time of around 7:45. It would mean a lightning-fast time, but to improve the Challenge Almere-Amsterdam course record, racing would have to be even faster: since 2021, the course record has stood in the name of Kristian Høgenhaug, who became World Champion in 7:36:46. The Dane ensured Challenge Almere-Amsterdam is among the top ten fastest races in the world.

Plenty of big names

The race’s three top seeds have dozens of other men to reckon with. Among them are Andrew Starykowicz (USA), former winner Matt Trautman (RSA), Tomas Renc (CZE), Jesper Svensson (SWE), Pamphiel Pareyn (BEL) and Thomas Bishop (GBR). For Bishop it will be his first Long Distance and first Challenge Almere-Amsterdam, but many of his competitors expect Bishop at the front of the race and see in him one of the biggest favourites to win the race.

Katharina Wolff returns as defending champion

The defending champion also returns to Challenge Almere-Amsterdam in the women’s race. Katharina Wolff cherishes fond memories of the race, where she won last year in a time of 9:10:10. The top athlete, who combines her existence as a professional athlete with a job as a teacher, is looking forward to competing on the course and will start with a lot of confidence. “More than last year. I was able to prepare well for this race.”

Biggest favorite, however, is Dutch Els Visser. Visser only started once before at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam. In 2019 she finished second behind compatriot Yvonne van Vlerken. Then twice the race did not fit into her schedule and last year, when she was also seen as the favorite for the win, she fell ill the night before the start and had to cancel an hour before the starting gun went off.

Visser races for top ranking

All eyes are now on Visser, who herself indicates that she definitely does not want to miss Challenge Almere-Amsterdam once again: the race forms one of her two major main goals of 2023. Visser is a Middle Distance and Long Distance athlete who has only one goal in Almere: to win. Of course, the course record of Sarissa de Vries, who became World Champion in 2021 in a stunning time of 8:32:04, also plays a role. “But that record is very fast. In the end, I’m racing for a good ranking and not for a time,” Visser said.

Dangerous outsiders

Lina-Kristin Schink will also appear at the start in Almere: the German athlete can by now be called ‘Miss Almere’. Schink is racing almost every year, almost guarantees podium finishes, but never stood on the highest step in Almere. Naturally, Schink hopes to fulfil that dream this year. Other dangerous outsiders in the women’s race include Renee Kiley (AUS), Vanessa Pereira (POR) and Marlene de Boer (NED).

Four-day event, free livestream and athlete tracking

Challenge Almere-Amsterdam is a four-day event. On Thursday, September 7, the Junior Challenge and RABO Business Relay kick off the first side events. On Friday, September 8, the Senior & No-Limit Challenge and a free Kids Run will follow. Saturday, September 9, will be the European Long Distance Championships and ever-popular Middle Distance. On Sunday, September 10, there will be an Awards Ceremony.

The pro women start at 7:10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9. The pro men follow at 7:25 a.m. Challenge Almere-Amsterdam will be broadcast for free via livestream with English commentary and friends and family can follow/track athletes at www.challenge-family.live. Learn more about the race at www.challenge-almere.com.