26 May 2024
St. Pölten

Let’s race… Challenge St Pölten

Get race day ready with our go-to guide to Challenge St. Pölten. From course previews to recommendations on where to stay and where to train during those final few taper sessions. Our race guide is a comprehensive resource to help you on your way to the start line.
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Jenny Lucas-Hill

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Add a trip to Austria to your race calendar and find out everything you need to know about racing at Challenge St. Pölten. With insights from 2023 PRO champion Tom Hug, writer and long course age-group triathlete Jenny Lucas-Hill guides you through everything from the course and how to prepare in training. To where to stay during race week and how to qualify for The Championship.

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A UNESCO world-heritage listed landscape sets the scene for Challenge St. Pölten, one of the oldest middle distance races in Europe. Featuring a stunning, spectator-lined course and often attracting some of the world’s best PROs – it’s not hard to see why St. Pölten was voted Challenge Family Race of the Year in 2023.

The race is centred around the St Pölten Olympic Centre. Which combined with the festival of triathlon set up, complete with a Junior Challenge, AquaBike, BikeRun and a Fun Tri for beginners, creates a buzzing race weekend atmosphere. From the unique two-lake swim to the challenging but incredibly scenic bike course, Challenge St. Pölten is the ultimate way to experience the beauty of Austria.

Be part of triathlon history at one of the oldest – and most beautiful – middle distance races in Europe.

Location - outstanding beauty

Situated just under an hour away from Vienna, St. Pölten is the regional capital of Lower Austria, where you’ll find intricate Baroque architecture and impressive contemporary structures in a charming blend of old meets new.

Take a stroll through the historic centre and you’ll find an Old Town filled with the intricacies of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance period grandeur. But this isn’t a city that’s stuck in the past. Head into the modern government district and you’ll be greeted with sweeping contemporary architecture – from the striking ‘Festspielhaus’ theatre, to the ‘Tower of Sound’ offering spectacular panoramic views of the city.

The stunning city makes way for the Wachau Valley – a UNESCO world heritage-listed valley that runs along the Danube River, offering rolling hills, winding vineyards and spectacular views of the Austrian countryside.

With such a naturally beautiful race location, it’s good to know that the race organisers at Challenge St Pölten have made a strong commitment to sustainability – winning Most Eco-Friendly Race of the Year in the 2023 Challenge Family Race Awards. Over the last two years the team has collaborated with five universities to evaluate and start reducing their carbon footprint. So far measures have included switching to green electricity sources, reducing plastic and paper use and offering shuttle buses from the hotels to the race start to reduce the number of individual journeys.

Race at Challenge St. Pölten and you’ll get to experience the very best of what this stunning location has to offer. With crystal clear lakes (yep, plural!) to swim in, a rolling bike course and a downtown run course lined with spectators. This might just be one of the most spectacularly beautiful middle distance race courses in Europe.

Why race... Challenge St Pölten

St Pölten was voted Race of the Year in the 2023 Challenge Family awards, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is the course unique and incredibly picturesque – it’s also an exciting challenge that’ll have you feeling like you’ve tested your limits to reach the finish line.

Swim in two crystal clear lakes
Cycle on closed roads through the UNESCO World Heritage Area Wachau
Run through beautiful downtown St Pölten with it stunning Baroque architecture

Course - Rolling hills and incredible scenery

Crystal clear waters in not one but two lakes. Spectacular scenery to motivate you through the bike course’s challenging climbs. And a downtown run course that will take you on a tour of the city’s spectacular architecture. The course at Challenge St Pölten offers up unique beauty, and race day atmosphere in spades.

Swim - 1.9km / 1.2 miles

The swim course at Challenge St. Pölten is incredibly unique. You’ll start your race with a lap in the crystal clear waters of the Viehofne See, before running 200m to the second lake – the Ratzerdorf See – to complete the 1.9km swim. The water temperature can be a little on the chilly side, with an average of 16 degrees Celsius. So expect a wetsuit-legal swim and a ‘refreshing’ start to your race!

BIke - 90km / 56 miles

Expect a stunning – but challenging – ride as you head out of T1. The 1-lap bike course starts with an ultra-fast flat section along the smooth, closed roads of the S33 motorway. Enjoy the speed and get some nutrition on board because you’ll soon be winding your way up through the vineyards and rolling countryside of the Wachau UNESCO-listed region, with amazing views along the Danube river. You’ll encounter three tough climbs along the way, with a total of 886 metres of ascent, so getting your climbing legs ready in training is a must. You'll be rewarded with some fast downhills, so there's plenty of time to be gained if you can practice descending.

Run - 21.1km / 13.1 miles

All that climbing on the bike is rewarded with a flat 2-lap run course which takes you through the historic centre of St. Pölten to see its beautiful Baroque downtown area in all its glory. Expect an electric atmosphere as spectators line the course, cheering you all the way to the finish line.


Challenge St Pölten offers athletes with the chance to qualify for The Championship in Šamorín. A slot is allocated to the top 6 finishers in each age group, with slots rolling down up to 12th place. Below you'll find the fastest and slowest qualifying times for each age group from the 2023 event to give you an idea of what sort of time you might need to aim for to have the opportunity to qualify for The Championship and race against some of the best Challenge age-groupers from around the world. *Where fewer than 6 qualifying places are shown for an age group, there were less than 6 athletes in that category participating.

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Race training & prep

It’s worth noting that while the swim course is set to be spectacular, the crystal clear water in the lakes might feel a little cold with that average 16 degrees Celsius water temperature. PRO triathlete and 2023 St Pölten champion Tom Hug recommends incorporating some early season open water swimming into your training to acclimate to the cooler temperature. He also recommends wearing a second swim cap under the official race cap on race day, which can help to protect your head from the cold.

The three challenging hills on the bike course at Challenge St Pölten means plenty of climbing (and descending) practice is key. “Incorporate hill training into your bike rides to prepare for the challenging climbs and approximately 1000m of elevation gain on the course,” says Tom. “Familiarize yourself with the technical sections of the course, especially the downhills, if possible.” It’s worth knowing that you can actually ride the route using ROUVY – the virtual reality indoor cycling platform – to get familiar with all the twists and turns in your training, if you won’t be able to arrive in St Pölten with enough time to ride the course prior to the race

Once you arrive in St Pölten, ticking off those final sessions before race day is easy with plenty of running trails that will take you from the city centre and around the two lakes. There’s also a swimming pool in the centre of St Pölten, Citysplash Outdoor Pool, which is a great place to take the family. The 1205 square metre sports pool is ideal for those final taper week sessions. Meanwhile the sunbathing lawn and the large adventure pool – complete with water slide – offers your support crew somewhere to relax while you train. The lakes you’ll swim in on race day are also open for public swimming and the course is usually marked by the Friday afternoon, so there’s opportunity to test out the swim course before the big day.

Travel & accommodation

Getting to St Pölten is easy, with Vienna just an hour away by car or public transport. Challenge St Pölten have made a strong commitment to sustainability in recent years to reduce the carbon footprint of the race, and therefore recommend athletes look to car share or make use of public transport.

Once you’ve arrived in St Pölten it’s easy to get around either by bus or bike – with bikes available to hire if your support crew have left their two-wheeled transport at home. On race day, there’s also shuttle buses to take athletes to the race start.

There are plenty of accommodation options available in St Pölten itself to suit all budgets, from modern hotels and self-catering Air BnBs to more traditional guest houses. Challenge have partnered with several local hotels to offer special provisions for athletes, including the D&C City Hotel and Hotel Graf. More information on partner hotels can be found on the Challenge St Pölten website, and it’s recommended to book directly with the hotels rather than through 3rd-party booking sites.

Spectators - Be at the heart of the action

Spectators can be part of the action with a whole festival of events to get involved with. Future triathlon superstars can take part in the Junior Challenge. There’s a Fun Tri for beginners. And for those who don’t fancy taking on all thee triathlon disciplines, there’s and AquaBike and a BikeRun event so you can experience what the incredible course at St. Pölten has to offer.

On race day, the event village is at the St Pölten Olympic Centre (SPORTZENTRUM Niederösterreich) which is a great place for spectators to see athletes during the swim, heading in and out of transition, halfway through the run laps and on their way to the finish line. The roads on the bike course are closed, so spectators are better off staying close to the event village rather than trying to get out onto the bike course.

Thousands of spectators usually come out to support on race day and line the route, so it’s worth taking a walk into the Old Town to soak up the atmosphere and see the athletes out on the run course before you head back to be part of the finish line party.

Race-cation - history, culture and plenty of stunning vineyards

Once the post-race celebrations die down, St Pölten is a great base for exploring the surrounding area of Lower Austria. And the city itself has plenty to offer. The Old Town is filled with charming town squares and stunning Baroque architecture, including the impressive Cathedral St Pölten and the Rathaus (City Hall) which dates back to the 1500s.

Head to the more modern side of the city and you’ll find a strong contrast in the form of contemporary architecture. Check out the Festspielhaus  – a striking theatre which is home to the Tonkünstler Orchestra and hosts a range of performances from contemporary ballet to jazz concerts and chamber music. And for breathtaking panoramic views of the city, and beyond, visit the Klangturm (Tower of Sound) – a 77 metre tall building with a panoramic terrace.

Outside of the city, it’s well worth exploring some of the nearby wine region – Traisental. And of course, exploring some of the Wachau Valley on foot to appreciate it’s beauty at a slightly lower pace than you would have been going during the race. Melk Abbey is a highlight of the Wachau Abbey. Just 20 minutes away, it has terraced vineyards looking out over the Danube and is also home to an impressive library with 16,000 books.

Austria’s capital of Vienna is also just a short journey away and offers everything from contemporary art museums to the famous Riesenrad 65-metre high ferris wheel at the Wurster Prater amusement park. Underground crypt tours, to street art “safaris”.

Be part of triathlon history at one of the oldest – and most beautiful – middle distance races in Europe.

Experience the magic at St. Pölten as you swim, bike and run through some of Europe’s most stunning landscapes with the roar of the thousands of spectators cheering you all the way to the finish line.

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