Sunday, 21 October 2012

Kona Revisited

No literal revisit to Kona this year for me - after two years in a row on the Big Island for the October showdown, I was at home in slightly chilly Toronto.  I did take in most of the race via the live race-day coverage, which was quite good this year - very few streaming hiccups and a great job by the Lieto brothers providing context and commentary throughout the day.  

A week before the race I gave my thoughts on how the men's and women's races would play out - here's my post-race thoughts:

Great racing by the women this year - last year they were scattered all over the road, racing their own races, in part due to the men and women starting at the same time in 2011 versus the women being five minutes behind the men in 2012.  Last year you had Amanda Stevens out of the water with the lead group of men, and Julie Dibens out with the chase group of men then able to ride most of the bike with some of the male riders.  This year Amanda was still the top female swimmer, but was more than three minutes behind that lead pack of men, and less than a minute up on the first pack of women when last year she had 2+ minutes on them.  I do like the girls' suggestion that 5 isn't enough - make it ten minutes, start the men at 6:20.

Out on the bike the first pack girls were pushing each other to build a gap on Carfrae, the pre-race favourite.  Officiating played a big role in the race, with the lead pack of three girls (Steffen, Cave and Ellis) all receiving four-minute penalties during the ride.  I'm all for strong policing of the race, but there doesn't appear to be any position fouls called on the rest of the women's field, which maybe was because there weren't any but was there enough marshaling going on in those packs?  Needs to be a fair race for everyone.

Gutsy running by all of the top five girls - Steffen held the lead longer than she ever has, Ellis stuck with Cave for an eternity despite having to respond to constant surges, Tajsich ran her way into fourth with the only female sub-3 marathon of the day, Rinny showed true grit bridging up to Cave out on the Queen K.  But Leanda takes the day with some serious digs to first drop Mary Beth, then to not let Rinny get out in front of her, and finally to not allow Caroline to hang around when the decisive pass was made.  Also need to acknowledge that I was way off of Natascha Badmann - thought she wouldn't be a factor and she rode the fastest pro bike split and finished 6th just shy of her 46th birthday - impressive.  

What a year for Ms. Cave - first female to pull off the 70.3 and Ironman world champion double in the same season - congrats!
Queen of Ali'i Drive.
Carnage!  I thought going in we'd see a faster than usual swim to try and drop some contenders in the water, and then a ridiculously hard bike to kill the runners' leg speed.  I thought we'd end up with a scenario where Crowie and Macca would be best positioned to pace properly, race tactically and unleash their best marathons in Kona to race for the title.  I absolutely believed last year's runner up Pete Jacobs lacked the bike strength to play this game and still be in contention.  

The swim played out almost as predicted, though I was surprised Potts went off the front.  I thought once he and Marko were clear he'd let Marko do the work and save some for the bike.  He must have a big bonus in his TYR contract for being first out of the water in Kona.  The lead pack got the split they wanted, with Dirk Bockel, Marino Vanhoenacker and Chris McCormack off the pace of the lead group, and surprisingly Andreas Raelert was almost four minutes down on that group out of the water.

In an attempt to try and bury Macca, Andreas and maybe even Marino, through town and out on the Queen K the Aussie trio of Luke McKenzie, Craig Alexander and Greg Bennett were just firing off the front, which in hindsight likely sapped them all pretty early into the race.  Macca was a non-factor, Marino bridged up, as did uber-biker Sebastien Kienle.  These two Scott-sponsored athletes shot off the front on the climb to Hawi and looked positioned to do a team time trial back to Kailua-Kona until Kienle flatted.  There was destruction all over the road on the way back to town, with Marino carrying an eight minute lead into T2 and a lead group including Pete Jacobs heading out to chase him down.  Very impressed by Romain Guillaume out on the bike, I thought for sure he'd fade during the ride but he was pushing the pace and looked great doing it.  Someone get him on a better bike for next year!

Marino looked cooked out on Ali'i Drive during the first ten miles of the marathon, and Jacobs knew the pass was inevitable.  The 'best pacing' award of the day goes to Andreas, who didn't panic when he was so far back after the swim, and made his way steadily through the field to claim runner-up position for the second time in the last three years.  Nothing but podiums for this guy in four trips to Kona.  Nice breakthrough by Freddy Van Lierde to claim third, and with Kienle in fourth with a 2:54 marathon, look out next year - this kid's only 28.  Jacobs was the most impressive man on the day, I think he showed that his relationship with Boardman Bikes is about more than just getting a bike to ride - I bet he benefited tremendously from The Man himself, turning his weakness from the past years in Kona into a strength.  I got to see Pete up close at Syracuse 70.3 this year, and on that day he was beaten soundly on the bike, but that only goes to show that what happens in-season is irrelevant on the day of the Big Dance.  The last six titles in Kona have been won by Australians.
Meet the new boss.
Some great racing by the Belgians here - Vanhoenacker didn't finish but he led the race for a long time, and they had four finishers in the top 16, including Axel Zeebroek and Bruno Clerbout that I very badly missed on, putting them in the 'Happy To Be Here' category pre-race, thinking they would be factors.  Zeebroek was in the lead bike pack for most of the day, and Clerbout ran a 2:51 that was the fifth fastest marathon on the day.  I'm very excited to follow Bart Aernouts' development next year - only 28, and once he can clean up that swim he'll be a title threat here, he rode solo most of the day then threw down the fastest marathon to almost crack the top ten.

So the door is closed on the 2012 Ironman championship season - expect the script to change once again next year as we have potentially seen the last Hawaiian race for legends Crowie and Macca, and Raelert Jr will be back next year to take another crack, along with potentially a crew of recently retired ITU speedsters.  Game on!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ironman World Championship Preview - Pro Women

The Ironman World Championship goes off on October 13th.  For a numbers-based look at the race, check out the detailed analysis prepared by Thorsten Radde:

My take on the race is more qualitative, as we've seen evidence over the years to suggest that less racing coming into Kona is a better predictor of results. Last year Mary Beth Ellis came in having won three IM's in a short span, including a debut under nine hours and a course record at Ironman Canada, which by any quantitative indicator would have made her a contender for the title.  As it played out she placed 15th, showing it's a tough ask to race four competitive Ironmans in a 14 week period.

Executive Summary
In a contrast to the men's race, which is poised to be so exciting because all the top threats are participating, the women's race looks to be very exciting precisely because of who is not competing: Chrissie Wellington, four time winner, undefeated at the distance, and course record holder.  There are two former champions in the field (Mirinda Carfrae '10, Natasha Badmann '98,'00,'01,'02,'04,'05) though Badmann at 46 is no longer a threat for the title.

The 2012 race will be the first with a 5 minute male-female pro swim stagger.  This has been executed at a few races this year and has been well-received to allow the women to have a 'fairer' race.  Last year Amanda Stevens and Julie Dibens swam with the main pack of men to come out of the water two minutes ahead of the main female challengers, this year that will be tougher.  We can look for a lead pack to form that could have 2-3 minutes on both Caroline Steffen and Mirinda Carfrae and will likely include strong cyclists Rachel Joyce, Leanda Cave, Mary Beth Ellis and Amy Marsh.  

Out on the bike, Caroline Steffen will make her move, likely riding through all those girls and potentially locking in with some of the slower swimming men that she may have caught in the water.  If the women in the main pack work together like we see in the men's race, they could build a lead large enough to effectively eliminate Carfrae from contention by the time the group rolls into T2. 

Last year, Steffen ran down Dibens but didn't have enough gas to hold the lead, eventually fading to fifth place on the day.  This year she's a stronger athlete and will most likely come off the bike in the lead, and I think she'll be able to run her own marathon and win with a comfortable margin.  If the weather is similar to the last two years, I think she'll also break Chrissie's course record of 8:54.02 from 2009.  The main pack of T2 should follow the pattern of the men's race, a race of attrition where the strongest runners fill out the podium, with my picks being Rachel Joyce for the silver and Mary Beth Ellis for the bronze (updated following the news Joyce has a sinus infection: Steffen, Ellis, Cave on the podium).
Soon-to-be-crowned IM World Champ smiles for the camera
Here's a look at the full field: 
Happy To Be Here
With 31 pro women on the start line there’s invariably a collection of racers who have achieved their goal for the season just by earning a spot on the pier to rack their bike.  These athletes tend to race numerous times just to qualify, and are relatively tapped out by the time October arrives.  This year’s ‘happy to be here’ crowd:
Emi Sakai, 32, Japan
Sara Gross, 36, Canada
Michelle Gailey, 30, Australia
Mareen Hufe, 34, Germany
Sarah Piampiano, 32, USA
Susan Dietrich, 31, Germany

Greyhounds and Landsharks
Women who win races despite swim limitations, but who will either be too far back at T2 to be a factor, or will have to empty the tank to be near the front at T2:
Kristin Moeller, 28, Germany
Jessica Jacobs, 36, USA
Natascha Badmann, 46, Swizerland

The Fish
These women swim near the front but don't have the bike to stay in the race through T2:
Amanda Stevens, 35, USA
Simone Braendli, 32, Switzerland

In the Mix at T2
Michelle Vesterby, 29, Denmark: Kona rookie who has yet to run sub 3:20 in an Ironman.
Sofie Goos, 32, Belgium: Strong swim-biker who has yet to show a contending run.

The Darkhorses
Erika Csomor, 39, Hungary: At 39, she's been at this a long time (though not as long as Badmann!).  If she can team up with a good group out of the water she may be able to run into the top ten.

Joanna Lawn, 39, New Zealand: Another 'seasoned veteran', she's raced below her caliber the last two years in Kona, yet put on a good show in Melbourne earlier this year.  Has been fourth in Kona twice.

Tine Deckers, 34, Belgium: A strong cyclist and capable runner who typically has been too far back in Kona after the swim to be a factor.  Has shown some swim improvement this year, can she play at the front?

Anja Beranek, 27, Germany: Has a nice swim-bike combo that could have her near the front of the race after T2, has yet to show a contending run, but at 27 we haven't seen a lot of this girl and she could surprise.

Rachel Joyce, 34, Great Britain: The 2011 ITU World Champion and 2012 Challenge Roth Champ.  Originally had her pegged for the silver, but moved down to 'darkhorse' due to her chest infection.

The Players
Gina Crawford, 32, New Zealand: Gina's raced four iron-distance races already this year, though none since early July.  Strong swimmer, good cyclist and competitive runner making her Hawaii debut after racing most of her career in the southern hemisphere.

Meredith Kessler, 34, USA: A nice start to the year with two Ironman wins (St. George and Coeur D'Alene) but suffered a bad bike crash late in the summer.  On the mend, but likely not going to be fully charged this weekend.  Good swim/bike combo, run not quite on par with the top women.

Caitlin Snow, 30, USA: Has a blistering run that has put her in the top ten in Kona twice, and few women have run faster than her 2:51:46 from IM Texas in May.  Her bike is a huge liability though, when you're biking 20-30 minutes slower than the top women, 2:51 isn't going to get you on the podium.

Linsey Corbin, 31, USA: Broke 9 hours for the first time in Arizona last year following a disappointing Kona performance.  Solid across all three sports but doesn't have the swim speed to stay with the main pack of women, and though a strong rider likely can't bridge on her own.

The Contenders
Rebekah Keat, 34, Australia: 
Palmares: Three Ironman wins, two Challenge iron-distance wins, five races below 9 hours.
2012 wins: None, silver medalist at Ironman North American Champs.
Strong swim-biker who should be with the main pack into T2, hasn't shown the foot speed in the last couple seasons to keep up with the leaders.  More sub-9 races than any woman in the field.

Sonja Tajsich, 37, Germany
Palmares: Two-time Ironman champion.
2012 wins: None, silver medalist at Challenge Roth in 8:49. 
Will be behind after the swim, but has a very strong bike-run combo.  If she's able to form a group with Corbin, Csomor and Deckers on the bike that would increase her chances to be in a position to challenge.

Amy Marsh, 35, USA
Palmares: Four-time Ironman champion, six-time Iron-distance champion.
2012 wins: None, bronze medalist at Ironman North American Champs.
Placed third at both IM Texas and IM NYC, both times being in the mix at T2 and fading on the run.  She should swim and bike with the contenders then fade back on the marathon.

Kelly Williamson, 35, USA
Palmares: 70.3 World Champs silver medalist ('12), 70.3 USA Champion ('12).
2012 wins: 70.3 US Championship, 70.3 San Juan, 70.3 Muncie, Rev3 Knoxville.
Solid swimmer who has turned herself into one of the best runners in the sport in 2012.  Will likely be off the back in T2 but has the leg speed to run herself through the field like she did in Vegas.

Mirinda Carfrae, 31, Australia
Palmares: Ironman World Champ ('10), 70.3 World Champ ('07).
2012 wins: Rev3 Quassy, Lake Stevens 70.3.
In the last three years she's been 2-1-2 in Kona, yet tactics may be very different this year for the women's field.  Rinny runs her way to a win, and the quality and quantity of swim-bikers in the field may put her out of reach by T2. 

Heather Wurtele, 33, Canada
Palmares: Four-time Ironman champion.
2012 wins: 70.3 Timberman.
Placed eighth last year, decent swimmer, strong cyclist and good runner.  Her changes for improving on her eighth place increase if she can bridge up relatively early on the bike to ride with Marsh, Cave, Ellis and Joyce.

Leanda Cave, 34, Great Britain
Palmares: ITU World Champ ('02), 70.3 World Champ ('12, 2nd '10, 3rd '07), 2nd ITU LC Worlds ('11).
2012 wins: 70.3 World Championship, Escape from Alcatraz.
Coming off a big win in Vegas last month and an 8:49 performance in Arizona last November.  She should be in the mix all day but the Vegas effort may have taken enough out of her to keep her from the win.

Mary Beth Ellis, 35, USA
Palmares: Undefeated in IM outside Hawaii (5 wins), two-time silver at 70.3 Worlds ('08,'09).
2012 wins: Ironman North American Championship, Ironman Texas, Alpe d'Huez, 70.3 Singapore, 70.3 Norway.
Disappointing Kona debut in 2011, she'll be fired up to prove herself here.  Expected to ride with the main group after Steffen goes up the road, and has the ITU run pedigree to run her way onto the podium. 

The New Champ
Caroline Steffen, 34, Switzerland
Palmares: Two-time ITU Long Course World Champ ('10,'12), Silver at IM World Champs ('10).
2012 wins: ITU LC Worlds Champ, Ironman Asia-Pacific Champ, Ironman European Champ.
Xena has had a dominant season, with two Ironmans under 9 hours including a brilliant 8:34 in Melbourne.  She has the ability to bike with some of the tier 2 and tier 3 pro men, so if she can make up the five minute stagger on the swim to some of the men like Christian Brader, Petr Vabrousek or Bruno Clerbout she could legally pace with them on the bike like she did in Melbourne to build an insurmountable lead by T2.  Brett Sutton already has the female Olympic gold medalist in 2012, and he'll add the Ironman World Champion when Caroline breaks the tape.  

Behold!  Xena, a mighty princess, forged in the heat of battle:

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Ironman World Championship Preview - Pro Men

The Ironman World Championship goes off on October 13th.  For a numbers-based look at the race, check out the detailed analysis prepared by Thorsten Radde:

My take on the race is more qualitative, as we've seen evidence over the years to suggest that less racing coming into Kona is a better predictor of results.  Jordan Rapp, one of this year's Kona rookie pros, reminds anyone who will listen that not since Thomas Hellriegel won in 1997 has a man won Kona when it was his third Ironman of the year (guess how many Kona makes for Rapp?  Three).  I'm by no means an expert on the field, but am a fan of the sport and here's my take a week before the race (women's analysis to follow tomorrow).

Executive Summary
This race is shaping up to be the deepest, most well-rested men's field in history.  Last year many thought that Andreas and Marino left their races in Europe after their super impressive July performances - this year they both raced in July but were significantly slower (though definitely not 'slow' at 8:17 and 8:03 respectively), easing off the gas to be ready for October.  Macca eased through his validation race in 9+ hours.  Notable Kona rookies Sebastien Kienle, Greg Bennett and Jordan Rapp will add some punch to an already impressive field.  There are ten men in the field who have raced an Ironman under 8 hours (Macca, Marino, Kienle, Faris, Timo, Rasmus, Andreas, Ronnie, Eneko, Crowie).  Let the games begin!

The last two years we've seen Andy Potts shoot off the front on the swim, take the prime, and head up the highway solo for the first 60-90 minutes of the ride.  I think that ends this year, and you either see Potts in the middle of a large lead pack, or potentially off the front in a small break led by Jeremy Jurkiewicz going for that swim prime and potentially containing David Dellow and anyone else feeling frisky at the start.  If that group could be 4-5 athletes and include Pete Jacobs, that could really change the dynamic of the race, especially with solid riders like Dellow and Potts in the group..  

The start of the bike is always hard in Hawaii, and this year it may be even more so as the group knows Sebastien Kienle is coming for them.  He devastated the field in Vegas last month on the bike and will likely try the same here.  There's the potential that second-pack swimmers like Jordan Rapp and maybe Ronnie Schildknecht might team up with Kienle to bridge up to the front.  I do think the front of the race will see some attacks on Crowie like we saw in 2010 - forcing him to take the initiative and cover all attacks so he doesn't get isolated out there.  Last year's runner-up Pete Jacobs may be the biggest loser with this tough bike ride as he may find himself too far back to run his way onto the podium.  I predict Kienle is first off the bike, then two select groups of the favourites, a smaller one off the front that has gambled on needing some time on the fleet footed runners, and those who are comfortable letting others go up the road in the last 30K.

I think we could have a bit of a group leaving T2 together and running in a pack ITU-style for the Alii Drive portion of the marathon.  Out on the highway it will likely become a game of attrition with guys falling off one by one, until we're left with the Raelerts, Crowie and Macca.  Crowie is widely considered the best runner in the sport, but Macca's return to short-course racing has added some zip to his legs and even if they come off the bike together, I like Macca to out-run Crowie and win his third title.  Crowie in second, and Michael Raelert in third.
Bring it.
Here's a look at the full field: 

Happy To Be Here
With 54 pro men on the start line there’s invariably a collection of racers who have achieved their goal for the season just by earning a spot on the pier to rack their bike.  These athletes tend to race numerous times just to qualify, and are relatively tapped out by the time October arrives.  This year’s ‘happy to be here’ crowd:
Sergio Marques, 32, Portugal
Mike Schifferle, 39, Switzerland
Markus Thomschke 28, Germany
Petr Vabrousek, 39, Czech Republic
Christian Brader, 32, Germany
Trevor Delsault, 28, France
Alejandro Santamaria, 35, Spain
Andriy Lyatskiy, 25, Russia
Pedro Gomes, 28, Portugal
Michael Lovato, 39, USA
Bruno Clerbout, 36, Belgium
Axel Zeebroek, 34, Belgium
Josh Rix, 34, Australia 

Racing from the Back
Talented runners or bike-runners who will be so far back after the swim or bike they won’t factor into the top ten discussion, but will make moves running through the carnage on the marathon.
Matthew Russell, 29, USA
Cyril Viennot, 30, France
Trevor Wurtele, 33, Canada
Jozsef Major, 33, Hungary

The Fish
These guys swim near the front but haven’t shown the bike strength to stay in the race up to T2.
Romain Guillaume, 27, France
Clemente Alonso-McKernan, 34, Spain
Jeremy Jurkiewicz, 24, France
Marko Albert, 33, Estonia

Greyhounds and Landsharks
Racers who win despite swim limitations, but who will either be too far back at T2 to contend or will have to empty the tank to be near the front at T2.

Viktor Zyemtsev, 39, Ukraine 
Maxim Kriat, 28, Ukraine
Joe Gambles, 30, Australia
Tom Lowe, 34, Great Britain
In the Mix at T2
Daniel Fontana, 37, Italy: Placed 12 last year, needs to run faster than last year's 3:04 to contend.
Luke Bell, 33, Australia: Was 5th in 2005 at 24, hasn't found form in Kona in recent years.
Luke McKenzie, 31, Australia: A breakout 9th last year, yet to prove he ran run with the leaders.
Paul Matthews, 27, Australia: Strong swim-biker, dropped an 8:05 in Melbourne this year.
Paul Amey, 39, Great Britain: Britain's fastest IM'er with an 8:01 at Arizona last year.
Mike Aigroz, 34, Switzerland: Placed 6th last year and 3rd in Roth, needs to stay close on swim.

The Darkhorses
Bart Aernouts, 28, Belgium: 2010 World Du Champ, training with Coach Daz, coming off a sixth place finish in Vegas.  Could be in a position to surprise if he catches a train on the bike. 

Tim O'Donnell, 32, USA: Former ITU LC World Champ, in 2011 showed a lot of promise with a sub 8:10 effort at IM Texas.  Since then he's been strong at 70.3 but struggled going long. 

Greg Bennett, 40, Australia: Kona will be Benno's first full-gas IM after going through the motions to validate his 2011 Hy-Vee Champ slot at IM Melbourne.  Short-course superstar, unproven at IM.

David Dellow, 33, Australia: Brett Sutton's only male horse in the race, has the swim-bike pedigree to be near the front and his ITU background gives him the speed to run with the big boys. 

The Players
Cam Brown, 40, New Zealand: Two-time silver medalist and two-time bronze medalist in Kona.  Had an epic duel with Crowie in Melbourne, and also raced James Cunnama to a silver in Roth.  Will two hard efforts this year leave enough in his tank to make the podium for a fifth time in Hawaii?
Andy Potts, 35, USA: Noticeably leaner in 2012 than previous years, seems to have relaxed his schedule a bit in order to focus on Kona.  Needs to race smarter than in years past – back off the swim a touch so he comes out of the water with the group instead of soloing on the bike.

Timo Bracht, 37, Germany: Top 6 the last three years in Kona, will have a deficit on the swim but is a rocket of a runner.  If he can bridge up with the second-pack swimmers on the bike (the Kienle/Rapp/Schildnecht train) he could make some noise on the marathon. 

Faris al-Sultan, 34, Germany: Hard to believe it's been seven years since a 27 year-old, speedo-clad Faris took the title in Kona.  He still has the swim and bike speed to be at the front of the race, but does he have the run speed to hang with the big boys? 

Pete Jacobs, 30, Australia: Last year's runner-up who has talked about his preparation to run 2:37 here.  Due to a bike leg that is a touch weaker than the rest of this crowd, he may find himself with too large of a deficit in T2 to run his way onto the podium. 

Andi Bocherer, 29, Germany: Had a breakthrough in Kona last year placing eighth and was fourth in Abu Dhabi early this year.  Has been quiet since, validated late at IM Kalmar with a pedestrian effort that may leave him primed to peak in Hawaii.

Jordan Rapp, 32, USA: A Kona rookie who is a rocket on the bike.  Has won two Ironmans this year including the 2012 North American Championship in NYC.  Will need to work with Kienle on the bike to get to the front, then likely need a gap to the stud runners to contend for the win.

Ronnie Schildknecht, 33, Switzerland: Has placed as high as fourth in Kona, and the first man to break 8 hours in a North American Ironman at Florida last year.  Will be second pack on the swim, so will need to ride the Kienle-Rapp train on the bike up to the leaders in order to contend.

The Contenders
Eneko Llanos, 35, Spain
Palmares: ITU Long Distance World Champ ('03), three-time XTERRA World Champ ('03,'04,'09).
2012 wins: none, ITU LD Worlds (2nd), Abu Dhabi (3rd), Asia-Pacific IM Champs (4th).
Llanos has stepped it up at three major events this year and has been a contender at each despite not winning a title.  Strong in all three disciplines, he can make a run at the title.

Dirk Bockel, 35, Luxemboug
Palmares: Fourth at Kona 2011, Olympian, bronze medalist at ITU Long Distance Worlds.
2012 wins: Ironman Regensberg, Chiemsee Triathlon.
Beat Michael Raelert at Ironman Regensberg, has the speed to be in the mix at the end of the bike, last year he fell off the pace on the run.  Broke his hand this week which has lessened his chances of a win. 

Fredrik van Lierde, 33, Belgium
Palmares: Abu Dhabi Champ (2011), twice Ironman France champ and course record holder.
2012 wins: Ironman France.
Solid across all three sports and rides the fastest bike on the market.  Had a disappointing DNF last year in Kona.

Rasmus Henning, 36, Denmark
Palmares: Two-time Hy-Vee winner ('07,'08), Olympian ('04,'08), Abu Dhabi winner.
2012 wins: Abu Dhabi, Challenge Half Fuerteventura, Timberman 70.3, Calgary 70.3.
Kona will be his last professional race, despite finishing fifth in his '09 debut on the Big Island he has yet to put together a complete race across the lava fields despite being a big-race winner through his career. 

Sebastien Kienle, 28, Germany
Palmares: 70.3 World Champ ('12), twice raced sub 8 at the IM distance (Roth '10,'11).
2012 wins: 70.3 World Championship.
Announced his arrival with his Vegas win, putting on a clinic on the bike and running well to take the title.  With such a hard effort five weeks before Kona, can he repeat the performance?

Marino Vanhoenacker, 36, Belgium
Palmares: Ironman world record (Austria '11), 3-time ITU World Champ podium, Kona bronze ('10).
2012 wins: Iroman European Champion, Ironman New Zealand, South Africa 70.3.
Has raced the fastest time on an Ironman branded course (7:45.58 at Austria) and beat Kienle in Frankfurt earlier this year.  Looking to bounce back from a disappointing DNF at Kona in 2011.

Andreas Raelert, 36, Germany
Palmares: World record holder (Roth '11), 2 time Olympian, 3-time Kona podium, silver at 70.3 Worlds.
2012 wins: Two Challenge Half wins.
Will need to get off the bike with the other contenders to have a shot at the title so he isn't playing catch-up along the Ali'i Drive section of the run.  Is his brother racing for himself, or playing domestique to give Andi a shot at the title?

Michael Raelert, 32, Germany
Palmares: Two-time 70.3 World Champ ('09,'10). 
2012 wins: European Ironman 70.3 Champ, Ironman Mallorca 70.3.
Kona debut, he'll be hopping mad for a result after being hit with a drafting penalty in Vegas, ending his hopes for a third 70.3 World Title. 

The Defending Champs
Craig Alexander, 39, Australia
Palmares: Three-time Ironman world champion (’08,’09,’11), two-time 70.3 world champion (’06,’11). 
2012 wins: Ironman Asia-Pacific Champion, Eagleman 70.3, silver medal at 70.3 world championship.
Crowie will be a marked man after winning his third title last year in a course record time.  He also had to dig very deep to win the Asia-Pacific title in March with a 2:38 marathon, and also emptied the tank in 100 degree weather in Nevada in September at the 70.3 world championships.  He’ll be on the podium but I think he comes off the bike far enough back and fatigued enough that he doesn’t claim his fourth title.

Chris McCormack, 39, Australia
Palmares: Two-time Ironman world champion (’07,’10) who didn’t race in 2011 so technically back to defend his 2010 title.  1997 ITU World Champion, 2012 ITU Long Course world champion, most IM races under 8 hours (four, next best is two).
2012 wins: ITU Long Course world championships, Ironman 70.3 Japan.
Prediction: After spending 18 months working on his short-course speed in an unsuccessful attempt to make the Australian Olympic team in 2012, he carries a lot of speed into Kona this year.  He ran sub 1:45 for the 30K run at the ITU LC champs (2:27 marathon pace) and has been training with Darren Smith’s crew in the lead up to Kona.  His body should be well rested after a light racing season that included a pedestrian qualification Ironman in Cairns.  One more title for Macca.  

Nice video of Crowie chatting about Macca - these boys are 2-2 when they're head-to-head in Kona - this could be the last race in Hawaii for both of them, to the victor go the spoils!