Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ironman World Championship 2013 - Pro Women

The Ironman World Championship goes off on October 12th.  My predictions last year were OK, picking two of the three medalists (Steffen-Ellis-Cave compared to an actual podium of Cave-Steffen-Carfrae).   For a numbers-based look at the race, check out the detailed analysis prepared by Thorsten Radde.  I like Thorsten's addition of a 'potential' calculation for each athlete this year, instead of just a straight Ironman average time as that provides a more refined analysis:

My analysis below is much more qualitative as racing fast and often may result in quantitative data that someone is primed to do well in Kona, but we've seen in the past that this can more often than not lead to burnout and DNF's on the big island. 

Executive Summary
There are three former champions in the field (Leanda Cave '12, Mirinda Carfrae '10, Natasha Badmann '98,'00,'01,'02,'04,'05) though Badmann at 46 is no longer a threat for the title and after an injury-ravaged season in '13 I can't see Cave competing for the title.  

Like last year there is a 5 minute male-female pro swim stagger.  This has been well-received to allow the women to have a 'fairer' race with less interference from the pro men in the swim and to minimize disruption from the slower pro men on the bike.  The biggest criticism was from Team TBB last year, as Caroline Steffen was pipped for drafting early on the bike after riding up into the back half of the men's race.  

The biggest change this year is that there are three legit super-stud swimmers in the field - Jodie Swallow, Haley Chura and Liz Blatchford.  These three will swim up and through many of the pro men, and could have 1-2 minutes on the next group of chasers (Amanda Stevens, Meredith Kessler, Leanda Cave and maybe Gina Crawford).  Another 1-3 minutes after them should be another group of favourites (Amy Marsh, Rachel Joyce, Anja Beranek, Caroline Steffen and potentially the fragile collarbone of Mary Beth Ellis).  If these first three groups all come together early on in the ride, that could be lights out for Mirinda Carfrae, Heather Wurtele, Yvonne Van Vlerken and Sonia Tajisch as they may not have enough horsepower to keep those girls close enough to run them down on the bike.

Expect Caroline to hit the bike hard and aim to bridge up to her teammate Jodie Swallow up the road.  Haley will definitely fade from the leaders and I expect Liz, Amanda, Gina and Anja to drop off the pace before T2.  I expect Caroline to be first into T2, Jodie either with her or close by.  Rachel Joyce could hang with Caroline all day if she has a day like she did in Texas where she rode 4:42, not far off many of the pro men that day.  I expect Amy, Meredith, Mary Beth and Leanda likely together as a group for most of the ride, and Heather Wurtele bridging up to make contact with them before Hawi.  I think Heather makes the pass on the way back to T2 so we have Caroline - Jodie - Rachel - Heather as the first four on the run, followed by the Amy-Meredith-Mary Beth-Leanda group.  With the depth of the women's field this year, I think Mirinda is too far back at T2 to challenge for the win.

Caroline's been here before, leading out of T2 only to surrender the lead down the road.  I see her and Rachel having a strong battle out to the Energy Lab, then Rachel bringing it home strong for the win, Caroline in second and Heather Wurtele rounding out the podium in third.

Here's a look at the full field:  

Happy To Be Here
With 37 pro women on the start list 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.  Of those 37, we know one for sure isn't starting (Camilla Pedersen recovering from a scary bike accident) and there's been rumours Erika Csomor isn't racing either, so there may be 35 starters.  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:

Eva Nystroem, 35, SWE - Fourth IM since November, weak swimmer.
Sofie Goos, 33, BEL - Fourth IM since November, lacks bike power to hang up front.
Sara Gross, 37, CAN - Fourth IM since November, made her Kona debut in 2004.
Ashley Clifford, 27, USA - Fifth IM since November, good swimmer weak cyclist.
Mirjam Weerd, 38, NED - Fifth IM since November, struggles on the run.
Mareen Hufe 35, GER - Fourth IM since November, PB of 9:38 in Germany.
Anna Ross, 31, NZL - Third IM of the year, no runs faster than 3:15.
Haley Chura, 28, USA - Could be up with Jodie on the swim, yet to run faster than 3:17.
Rebecca Hoschke, 36, AUS - Fourth IM since December, IMOZ winner in weak field.
Jennie Hansen, 29, USA - Won IMLP, strong run but will be far behind by T2.
Elizabeth Lyles, 35, USA - IMMOO winner against a weak field, good runner.
Britta Martin, 35, NZL - Won IMWA in December, PB of 9:37 at Sweden.
Kim Schwabenbauer, 34, USA - Fourth IM since November, had a strong run at Tremblant.
Jessie Donovan, 37, USA - Three IM wins since July 2012, weak swim and a strong bike.

The Old Guard
These women have been at the top of the game for a long time, hoping for another strong hit-out.
Erika Csomor, 39, HUN: Kona will be IM #5 for the year (with two wins) if she races.
Amanda Stevens, 36, USA: Was first out of the water last year, this year will be leading the chase pack.
Rebekah Keat, 35, AUS: Finished 13th last year, best placing since 7th in 2007.

The Young Guns
Talented youngsters that don't yet have the TSS or experience to be there at the end, but we'll see then progress in the years to come.
Michelle Vesterby, 30, DEN: Likes tough bike courses, has yet to run sub 3:14 in an IM.
Anja Beranek, 28, GER: Nice swim-bike combo but runs in the 3:18-3:23 range.
Kristin Moeller, 29, GER: Will be way back at T2 but has a deadly run with two sub 3 marathons this year.

The Players
Sonja Tajsich, 37, GER: Strong cyclist and great runner, ran herself into fourth last year.  Swim is a big weakness and she could be 15-20 minutes off the lead by T1.  Has been battling plantar fasciitis which will hamper her run strength. 

Linsey Corbin, 32, USA: Cracked the top 10 in Kona for the first time last year and followed that up with a win at IMAZ a few weeks later.  Solid but not spectacular across all three sports, knows the course well as this is her 6th time here.

Meredith Kessler, 35, USA: Won IMNZ and the Ironman 70.3 North American Championship - St. George.  Usually in the mix until T2 but hasn't run under 3:10 in an IM.  Have off the course distractions caused stress in the Kona build?

Caitlin Snow, 31, USA: Has a blistering run that has put her in the top ten in Kona the last three years.  Her bike is a huge liability though, if she loses 25 minutes to the top women on the bike again this year top 10 is best-case scenario.

Amy Marsh, 35, USA: Could compete for 'top American' honours, Amy has a great swim-bike combo but has yet to run sub 3:11 in an Ironman which won't get it done in Hawaii for the podium.

Gina Crawford, 33, NZL: Gina's raced four iron-distance races already this year, with a win and three seconds.  Strong swimmer, good cyclist and competitive runner looking to improve on her seventh place last year.

Natascha Badmann, 46, SUI: One of the biggest surprises in last year's race, the six-time champ put together the day's fastest ride and a solid run to come 6th, her best placing in Kona since '06.  Backed it up with a solid race at IMMELB in March.

Yvonne Van Vlerken, 34, NED: Twice a Challenge Roth winner and the runner-up in Kona in 2008, YVV has the skills to be in the mix at the end if she's on a good day and can limit her losses in the water.

Liz Blatchford, 33, GBR: Former ITU'er has front-pack swim speed and solid run legs but will likely fall a bit off the pace on the bike.  Won IM Cairns in her Ironman debut.

The Contenders - Women with a shot at the title
Leanda Cave, 34, GBR
Palmares: Ironman World Champion ('12), ITU World Champion ('02), Ironman 70.3 World Champion ('12).
2013 wins: Ironman 70.3 Miami.
This year has been injury-plagued for Leanda.  She has the experience to get the most out of her body so she could make noise on Saturday.  Most recently placed 13th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds.

Mary Beth Ellis, 35, USA
Palmares: Undefeated in IM outside Hawaii (8 wins), two-time silver at 70.3 Worlds ('08,'09).
2013 wins: Ironman North American Championship, Ironman France, Ironman Cozumel, Ironman 70.3 Florida.
Suffered a broken collarbone in early September, has the Honey Badger healed enough to be a factor?  Was right in the mix last year until fading to fifth during the second half of the marathon.  

Jodie Swallow, 32, GBR
Palmares: Ironman 70.3 World Champion ('10), ITU World Long Distance Champion ('09), Olympian ('04).
2013 wins: Ironman Sweden, Ironman 70.3 South Africa.
The fastest fish in the pond, she's raced sub-9 twice this year on fast courses.  Relatively new to the Ironman game, she's raced three this year with two marathon blow-ups - if she can pace this one effectively she could be there at the finish.

Mirinda Carfrae, 32, AUS
Palmares: Ironman World Champion ('10), Ironman 70.3 World Champion ('07).
2013 wins: Ironman 70.3 Muskoka.
In four races in Kona she's never been off the podium (2-1-2-3), but the quality of the cyclists up the road will make this a tough ask for Rinny to podium again on trip #5.  

Heather Wurtele, 33, CAN
Palmares: Five-time Ironman champion.
2013 wins: Ironman Coeur D'Alene, Ironman 70.3 Latin America Champion Panama, REV3 Quassy, Ironman 70.3 Calgary
Big wins in Panama and Quassy, a much easier Kona validation than last year and most recently 10th place at the 70.3 World Championship (behind 9 women not competing in Kona).  A strong season has this Canadian poised to snag a podium spot.

Caroline Steffen, 35, SUI
Palmares: Two-time ITU Long Course World Champ ('10,'12), twice Silver at IM World Champs ('10,'12).
2013 wins: Challenge Roth, MetaMan, Ironman 70.3 Philippines.
Xena has pulled back the racing a bit this year compared to last, which should have her cracking to finally top the podium in Hawaii.  Her swim looks to have improved over prior years, which gets her to the front faster but can she drop Joyce on the bike? 

The New Champ
Rachel Joyce, 34, GBR
Palmares: ITU Long Course World Champ ('11), Challenge Roth champion ('12).
2013 wins: Ironman Texas (course record 8:49).
After a dalliance with Matt Dixon and PurplePatch fitness in 2012, Rachel signed on with 'The Man' Dave Scott for the coming season.  She's raced twice (Oceanside 70.3 as well as Texas) yet destroyed the women and half the men in the Lone Star State.  No doubt piling on the TSS up in Boulder under The Man's watchful eye, her disappointment from being ill on the Big Island in 2012 will be washed away by becoming the third British woman to take the title in the last three years.
A second world title for RJ?

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