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 ironman.com 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:

Women
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.
Men
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!

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