MORE than 1,200 athletes will take part in the second Challenge Henley triathlon and Henley half triathlon on Sunday.
Both “ultra-triathlon” events are sold out with competitors aged from 18 to 70.
The iron distance course includes a 3.8km swim on the Henley Royal Regatta reach, a 180km cycle ride along roads in the Chilterns and a 42.2km run through Henley and along the Thames towpath.
Athletes from more than 20 nationalities will be competing, with some travelling from as far as South Africa and Germany to take part.
Olympic skier Graham Bell, who lives in New Street, Henley, is among the 17 local entrants while 21 Henley residents will compete in the shorter event.
The top 10 professional athletes will be competing for prizes of up to 8,000 euros.
Among those hoping to be crowned Challenge Henley champion is Steven Bayliss, winner of Challenge Vichy, and his wife Bella, who is a 15-times ironman distance winner.
Ironman UK winner Scott Neyedli and Yvette Grice, who won the inaugural event last year, are also strong contenders, while 800m Olympic swimmer Ellie Faulkner, fresh from competing at London 2012, will complete the swimming leg as part of the Swimovate relay team.
Joe Townsend, a double amputee who entered the Olympic stadium on a zipwire while holding the flame during the Paralympics opening ceremony, will be competing in his third iron distance triathlon as part of Team True Spirit, a group of five servicemen recovering from injury.
Other people to watch out for include Joe’s team-mate Simon Harmer, a double amputee who will be doing the swim, and Naomi Ashcroft, who won a gold medal at the 2002 rowing world championships.
The event is expected to raise more than £20,000 for this year’s chosen charity, the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.
Competitors have been grouped according to ability and their starts will be staggered. The first wave of swimmers will begin their swim at 6.30am from Henley Business School, swimming upstream towards Henley before turning around and returning to the start.
The fastest swimmers will begin the cycling section less than an hour later, exiting the business school, turning left on to the Henley/Marlow road towards Henley before turning right onto the Fair Mile.
Cyclists will complete three laps, passing through Lower Assendon, Middle Assendon, Stonor, Pishill and Greenfield along closed roads.
The athletes will then run four laps of a course which goes from Phyllis Court Club through Remenham and Aston on to the Thames towpath and back towards Henley Bridge.
The fastest entrants will finish at about 2.45pm while the last person is expected to cross the finish line at about 11pm.
A zone for entrants’ supporters will be set up near the finish so athletes will be able to cross the finish line with their children or other members of the family.
Thousands of spectators are expected to line the route to show their support.
They are advised to watch from one of the “feed stations” where members of local triathlon clubs, many in fancy dress, will help hydrate and encourage athletes.
These stations will be located by the Golden Ball Inn in Lower Assendon, on the Fair Mile by the turning up to Lower Assendon and at the Fox and Hounds in Christmas Common, the Red Lion Hotel in Henley, Temple Island Meadows in Remenham, the Flowerpot Inn in Remenham and Phyllis Court Club.
A Challenge Henley spokeswoman said the more people watching, the better for the athletes.
“The lift you get when you have the support of a crowd makes a huge difference,” she said. “It really helps to raise your spirits. We had great support last year, especially in the town, on the bridge and in Lower Assendon and we hope this will also be the case this year.”
Last year, residents complained of being trapped in their homes by road closures and that marshalls on motorbikes didn’t know the area.
Just Racing UK, which organises the event, says improvements have been made for this year.
A spokeswoman said: “We have worked hard to improve communications at race
control and with the motorcycle marshalls and to provide marshalls on the run course with local knowledge. Marshalls at key points will be provided by Oxfordshire County Council and the remaining marshalls are volunteers from Sue Ryder.”