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!

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