8 Sep 2024

Let’s Race… Challenge Samarkand

Race back in time with a new middle distance event in this treasure-filled ancient city in Uzbekistan.
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Vicki Grimshaw

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Step back in time as you enter one of the world’s most ancient cities.

Dating back to the 8th century, Samarkand lies in the south east corner of Uzbekistan in Central Asia and is one of the most important fabled cities on the Great Silk Road cities, the trade route between China and Europe for more than 2000 years.

Samarkand is the second largest city in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, is a truly magnificent treasure trove of ancient monuments and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

This is the Challenge family’s first race in Central Asia working with the Uzbekistan Triathlon Federation to take triathlon in the region to the next level.

Race the ancient Silk Road

Location - ancient Asia

As old as the cities of Rome and Babylon, Samarkand has always been the stuff of legends.

Modern Samarkand is spilt into two – the old city and the new city which was developed during the days of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. After the latter broke up in 1991, Uzbekistan declared its independence.

With a population of half a million, the official language is Uzbek but the majority of the city’s inhabitants are Persian-speaking Tajiks. English isn’t commonly spoken but the younger generation are learning it.

With its desert landscapes temperatures can hit 50°C / 122°F in high summer but early autumn is one of the best times to visit when its much milder.

The race is centred around the impressive 17 hectare Silk Road Samarkand tourist centre which opened in 2022 and with world-class hotels, eateries serving local and western food it is ideal for triathletes who want everything literally on their doorstep.

The centre is the modern interpretation of the spirit and look of a medieval town with mosaicked palaces, turquoise domes and narrow streets all created by Uzbek craftsmen. But the race route will also let you travel between the old and the new.

The entire race village including changing areas and T1/T2 will be set up in the complex beside the rowing lake which also makes everything super easy.

To get to Samarkand, the best option is to fly into Samarkand International Airport just 15 minutes from the race, in the north of the city alternatively jet into Tashkent International Airport from where it’s two hours on the high speed Afrosiab train.

As coach loads of tourists discovered the city in the early 2000s, accommodation from 5 global chain hotels to pretty courtyard B&Bs run by local Uzbeks is plentiful. The further you go from the main tourist sights – and the Silk Road Samarkand Complex – the cheaper they become.

Course - modern convenience meets ancient wonder

With a calm, easy to navigate swim in a rowing lake, a practically flat bike on closed roads and a flat run this race will most likely suit all athletes from first timers to experienced age-groupers chasing a PB.

While the swim takes place in one of the world’s largest purpose-built rowing lake, the bike course will take you past ancient wonders that have stood in this incredible city for centuries with a run course entirely within the Silk Road centre.

Swim - 1.9KM

The single lap swim starts from the pier of one of the largest purpose-built rowing centres in the world filled with the purest running mountain water. After diving off the pier – something you should practice in training so that you don’t lose your goggles – it’s a dead straight swim out and around the two buoys then another dead straight swim back to the exit. It should be fairly easy to sight if you just keep level with the side of the lake.

BIke - 96KM

The two lap course beings in the Silk Road Samarkand then you’ll be taken on a journey through history passing ancient monuments and architecture dating back to the 14th century as well as through the streets of modern Samarkand. Completely closed to traffic, the route is rolling with less than 650m of climbing so this is race for aero-bars or a time trial bike. After your second loop you are back into T2 by the rowing lake.

Run - 21.1KM

The four lap course takes place entirely in the modern tourist complex of Silk Road Samarkand around the picturesque rowing canal enveloping the Eternal City. The route is completely flat with three aid stations and finishes within the complex.

Spectators - staying local

Both the swim and run are based in the Silk Road Samarkand so there should be plenty of great view points from you can watch the race. There are also lots of restaurants in the complex where friends and family to get food and refreshments from.

Otherwise supporters can do some sightseeing in the old city particularly the Regista which would leave them well placed to spot athletes on the bike.

Race-cation - the Rome of the East

Coming to such a culturally rich history city with so much to explore, it will hard to leave without seeing its fascinatingly beautiful mosques and monuments and soaking up the beauty of this city, ancient poets called The Rome of the East.

Everywhere you go there is ancient Islamic architecture that are attracting increasingly visitors from around the world.

You cannot miss The Registan Ensemble, a plaza bordered by three ornate mosaic-covered religious schools dating back to the 15th and 17th centuries, which is one of the most famous monuments in Central Asia and at night the scene of a magical light show

Other incredible sights include the ancient market of Afrosjab, the monument to Amir Temur the King of the 14th century sitting on his throne and the 14th century monument of Bibi Khanum. The kaleidoscope of mosaics on the Shah-i-Zinda avenue of mausoleums is also unmissable.

Thanks to its key position on the ancient Silk Road, the city is still packed with artisans who have preserved the ancient crafts of embroidery and goldwork, wood carvings and ceramics. You can visit their workshops in the Silk Road Samarkand complex to watch them at work and bring some unique souvenirs home in your suitcase.

West of the centre of town is the area which still have architectural hangovers from the Soviet era and this is probably the liveliest part of the town where you will find most of the bars and restaurants and even a bit of nightlife.

Race the ancient Silk Road

Make triathlon history as long distance racing expands to all four corners of the globe. Ride the ancient Silk Road and enjoy a whole new triathlon experience.

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