Timo Bracht and the end of a fabulous career

For Timo Bracht the 2017 Datev Challenge Roth will be his final big race. During the 15 years of racing as a professional the quiet German won 9 IRONMAN titles, captured the Datev Challenge Roth and placed as high as 5th in Kona. He has plenty other victories and podium finishes, but he is ready to walk away now. He talked to slowtwitch about the upcoming Challenge Roth, racing around the world, family, great relationships and Bockwurst.

Slowtwitch: Timo, how are you?

Timo Bracht: Thanks Herbert, I am well. But a few days before the highlight in Roth the stress is relatively big. I am focused and concentrated, and I have the desire and passion to have a really good race.

Although I do not have to prove anything to others, I am the one who really wants to know it once more. To start in top form during the summer at a large long distance race and really show what you got. That is what has been driving me for 20 years and it is still as present today as it has been in the previous years.

ST: Recently you finished fifth at Half Challenge Heilbronn. Were you happy with the race and your fitness?

Timo: The Half Challenge Heilbronn is a fantastic race. It is really well run, has thousands of spectators, many amateurs and first timers, and we professionals are treated first class. I was in good condition and the 5th place was not so important. I have focused this year on specific long course training, thus I lacked a bit of speed during the run.

ST: As you said, Challenge Roth is almost upon us but I think it means more to you than just a big A race, or am I wrong here?

Timo: Yes, [DATEV Challenge] Roth will be my last long distance race in Germany. I came to Roth as a spectator in the late 90s, camped out for days on the race course and got infected by the triathlon virus. In 2000 I raced my first IRONMAN there as an amateur and qualified for Hawaii. In 2004 I finished 3rd in Roth and spent almost 7 hours at the front of the race with Faris Al-Sultan and Chris McCormack. I had three more 3rd places, twice second place and finally won in in 2014. This is the place where I want to say goodbye to my fans and friends – ideally with a top race.

ST: What made you decide to retire now?

Timo: You best ask my wife…

Early in my career in 1993 I decided to pursue triathlon despite big resistance, and then in 2003 I decided to turn professional. Thus I want to decide now when it is over, and while still competing well at the very top. I turn 42 next week, have more than 40 long distance races including 14 trips to Kona behind me, and I know that at times I pushed it too far. But my body and mind however are healthy despite the years of abuse, and I want to stop while I am in that condition. Thus I get to decide and won’t be forced.

ST: Why Roth?

Timo: Why not. Nowhere in the world is there a more beautiful triathlon. My heart has been beating for Roth since the very beginning of my career. Those who have been there know what I mean. The organization has given me bib #1 for my last start. I like the course and can win this race. It is a mix for all kinds of emotions.

ST: We actually meet in Kona, Hawaii at the post race party at LuLu’s. I then worked as the marketing director for Litespeed and Quintana Roo and you were a successful fast age grouper who already had in mind to race professional the next year. When I approached you to offer you sponsorship you seemed fully surprised.

Timo: Yes we always had great parties after the awards ceremony. My teammate Uwe Widmann was already sponsored through you with Quintana Roo, and he pointed me out to you and said ‘this guy has a promising future.’ We talked and I was surprised and impressed by the trust that you had for me. After all I was one of many back then. You gave me a very good contract and I wanted to pay you back for that trust. The next season I won two IRONMAN events - in France on a very mountainous course on a Litespeed Vortex and in Florida on Litespeed Blade.

ST: Does that seem forever ago or is it fresh on your mind as the end of the career is near?

Timo: Much of course is forgotten, but it is the personal relationships that really define a career. And I had plenty of those. I was very lucky to meet so many great and passionate people who believed in me and could see my potential.

ST: As mentioned, your first big win was in 2003 at IRONMAN France in Gerardmer in a record time of 8:33:11. What does that victory mean to you?

Timo: It was the key that opened the door of my career. At that time I had already twice finished as the second best age grouper in Kona with 31st and 26th overall places. After I won the title in France everything changed, especially in my head.

I had to decide that year if I should end my university studies and start a real career. Or should I continue to coach or do more in triathlon? Plus as a relatively young father with a small family I had a big responsibility on my shoulders.

A milestone event happened on January 6, 2003. I broke 2 thoracic vertebra while skiing in Davos, Switzerland. While in the hospital bed I decided that once I was healthy again I would no longer do things halfway. I risked everything in Gerardmer. 'It either works out and I win and then will race as a professional, or I let it go and just continue doing triathlon as a hobby.' What happened next is now known.

ST: True, but Hawaii that year did not go so well.

Timo: Well, it kind of went ok until Kawaihae. Faris Al-Sultan was up the road and I was chasing in the big group with Peter Reid, Thomas Hellriegel and Jürgen Zäck etc. The new stagger rule was explained to us shortly before the race, and it was my first pro start in Kona. I was in the front bunch and there was a new rule that totally changed the way athletes rode. I then got a warning and subsequently was disqualified. But I was content with my day there because I realized that I am capable to be at the front of that race. The stagger rule was then never again used in Kona.

That night I ran 20k on Alii Drive and some volunteers asked me what I was doing since the race had already finished in that part of the course. I told them ‘I am training for next year.’

ST: You then won IRONMAN Florida. Did anger push you there?

Timo: Firstly I was very lucky. At the airport in Kona on my trip home I bumped into Paula Newby Fraser, and I asked if I could start in Florida. She told me to send her a fax to her multisport address. I called my wife and gave her the number. But our fax did not work that night so my wife went to the neighbor and it went through. I was lucky however because the next day Francois Chabaud tried to register, but according to Paula I had taken the last spot.

The race in Florida was a great experience. I felt great, ran on clouds and won the race leading from the front. There was only one tricky moment during the marathon. My lead cyclist who was heavy set and wore all black had trouble with the heat, collapsed and fell into a front yard. I did not now what to do and where to go.

ST: I assume you never experienced that kind of collapse again?

Timo: Something similar happened to me during the 2006 IRONMAN Germany when it was very hot along the Main river. The cameraman of the Hessischen Rundfunk sat on the back of a motorbike in full leathers, and he too collapsed and fell off the bike. But that actually worked out for me as the exhaust fumes from that moto were terrible in that heat.

ST: Wow. What would you say was your best season?

Timo: 2011 was surely my best season. I trained well and hard all year. In May I had one of my best races of my career at the IRONMAN Lanzarote. I won the race by going out on my own and grabbed the course record that is still valid today. In Hawaii that year I finished 5th and in December that year I won IRONMAN Western Australia. My family attended most of my races and it was fantastic.

ST: If 2011 was your best season, which specific race means the most to you?

Timo: The 2013 Challenge Roth. I had a flat tire and my tire was destroyed. There was nothing I could do to repair it and I thus waited for a spare wheel [from neutral support]. I sat somewhere on the side of the road and when nothing had happened for 15 minutes I ordered a Bockwurst. The spare wheel then showed up, I continued the race and managed to finish 3rd. The next day the headline of a couple newspapers was ‘Timo Bracht – winning the hearts’ and at the awards ceremony I received the Bockwurst I had ordered during the race.

ST: Did that Bockwurst taste especially delicious?

Timo: Yes, in that region the wursts are fantastic, especially with mustard.

ST: There are 10 long course titles on your resume and that is pretty impressive.

Timo: Nine IRONMAN titles and a Challenge Roth victory including three European Championships, plus seven top 10 places in Kona. I am very happy to have been so consistent - since 2002 almost always on the podium at many long distance events except for Kona. And ten wins on very different courses. In the desert of Arizona, the western coast of Australia, hot and humid Florida, in the mountains of France, in downtown Frankfurt and on the super windy volcanic mountains of Lanzarote. These experiences were unique.

ST: Over the years you rode many different bikes. Is there one you especially liked?

Timo: I really enjoyed riding the 2009 Giant Trinity Advanced SL. It likely was one of the fastest bikes back then but it was difficult to work on, but it worked for me. I also very much enjoy my current Quintana Roo PRsix. It is very light, fast and easy to work on.

ST: What is next?

Timo: I will continue through September. Two local races at the Rhein Neckar Triathlon Cup, were there are also “Timo Bracht Friends and Family” relays. Maybe even one more longer race in September.

I also have big plans with my Team Sport For Good. I consider Kaisa Sali (Lehtonnen) to be a favorite for Kona and for the ITU World Championships. We also have a program with 70.3 age group world champions, plus many other age groupers are supported by us. We use the team to support the Laureus Foundation, and do quite a bit for this charity. Compared to the USA this way of thinking is not as common in German sports and we thus on uncharted waters. It is a very exciting development.

ST: Would you want to see your kids as professional triathletes?

Timo: I don’t think this will happen. My daughter swims, does gymnastics and ballet, and my son is rowing. They are on their own path and that is very important to my wife and me. We want them to collect many different experiences including sports, enjoy traveling, be open-minded and brave.

ST: Is there anything else there is to know?

Timo: It depends, but your readers can just leave more questions in the comment section below.

Have also a look at my expert.timo-bracht page