Will Mirinda Carfrae get her fourth Kona crown or will we see a new champ?


Get to know this year’s favorites, wild cards and rookies in the greatest endurance challenge on the planet—the Ironman World Championship. Plus: How the action could all unfold. Read the women’s preview below and check out the men’s preview here.

Top Contenders

Mirinda Carfrae (AUS)
The three-time Kona champ’s exceptional marathon has been the deciding factor in Kona, and it was amazing to see her overcome a 14-minute deficit in 2014 with a new run course record of 2:50:26. In order for her superb run to be a factor, though, she has to limit the time lost on the swim and bike. With every woman working hard to improve her Kona marathon time, any deficit of more than 12 minutes off the bike will be hard for her to close this year. Carfrae and her coach, Siri Lindley, will need to strike the right balance of improving her swim and bike without sacrificing her legendary run prowess.

Daniela Ryf (SUI)
Ryf has amassed a string of incredible wins—her second-place finish in Kona in 2014 is the only race she hasn’t won since switching to Ironman racing last summer. Her new course record in Frankfurt (8:51 in hot conditions) shows that she’s still improving over the Ironman distance. If everything goes right in her Kona build and race execution, no one would be surprised to see a Chrissie Wellington-level domination by this Swiss star, who’s also coached by the legendary Brett Sutton.

Jodie Swallow (GBR)
She had a breakthrough race in Kona last year when she was able to run a strong marathon and fight her way into fourth place. Earlier this year, Swallow won in South Africa but then had to cancel her planned summer race in Roth. This may be a blessing in disguise, giving her some extra recovery time before the big build toward Kona. The question is if she will have the run in the later stages of the marathon to contend for the podium.

Caroline Steffen (SUI)
A contender since 2010, “Xena” is still looking for that magical day in Kona where everything comes together. So far her 2015 season has not been ideal—she had to take a couple of breaks from training to get over various illnesses, and her third-place finishes in Melbourne and Frankfurt were solid results but not reflective of her true potential. She’s always had one great result per season, and maybe this year it’s going to be on the Big Island.

Rachel Joyce (GBR)
She was disappointed by her third-place finish last year and has switched things up a bit and is now working with Julie Dibens as her coach. After her validation race at Ironman Texas (she finished second to Angela Naeth), she dealt with an injury that kept her from running for a while. If she’s fully recovered from her injury, a healthy Joyce is always a serious podium contender.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2014 Ironman World Championship – Women’s Race

Wildcards

Julia Gajer (second in Frankfurt) and top American finisher Liz Lyles (second in Brazil) are top-10 finishers from last year and strong runners that could make up a lot of ground toward the end of the race. Other Americans to watch are Mary Beth Ellis (hopefully back to her 2011/2012 form when she was unbeaten outside of Kona) and Meredith Kessler (having a great 2015 season so far, but has struggled in the Kona heat). Leanda Cave (2012 Kona winner) and Liz Blatchford (third in 2013) have also demonstrated they are capable of a strong finish on the unrelenting Kona course.

RELATED – No Rest And No Regrets: Liz Lyles’ Story

Rookies

A couple of rookies in the women’s field could very likely finish in the top 10. We’ll be watching Angela Naeth (Ironman Texas champion), Melissa Hauschildt (former 70.3 world champ and Ironman Melbourne winner) and Heather Jackson (Coeur d’Alene winner) closely. Naeth in particular outraced Kona champion Leanda Cave in the Texas heat earlier this summer.

RELATED – PROfile: Angela Naeth

Head to Head

Here’s how the top female competitors’ swim, bike and run strengths stack up (on a scale of 0 to 5). Note: The points for each athlete are based on the actual results in iron-distance races and adjusted for course conditions. Learn more about Radde’s rating system at Trirating.com.

How The Race Will Play Out

Race time: 00:53
Start is 6:30 a.m. Hawaiian time
Swim exit
Strong swimmers such as Meredith Kessler and Jodie Swallow will try to stay with swim specialists such as Haley Chura, who is often first out of the water. Just a minute or two behind them, a big group of favorites including Daniela Ryf, Caroline Steffen and Rachel Joyce will be chasing. Mirinda Carfrae will probably be about six minutes down after the swim, while weaker swimmers such as Angela Naeth and Heather Jackson have to work hard to keep their deficit to the front at less than 10 minutes.

Race time: 2 hours
Early bike
While the men form a large front group of 20 or more athletes, there is usually a much smaller group of women pushing the pace at the start of the bike leg. Last year the front group lost time to Mirinda Carfrae in the early parts of the bike. This year, look for a bigger effort to keep the pace up from the start, with the goal to distance Carfrae and make Ryf work harder to catch the leaders.

Race time: 3.5 hours
Turnaround at Hawi
As we saw last year, Ryf is not afraid to ride away from the field in the climb up to Hawi. This year Swallow, Kessler, Joyce, Ellis or Steffen won’t want to let the strong favorite ride out of their sight. Ryf has shown how strong she is on the bike in all her Ironman races, and there’s going to be at least one other woman rolling the dice by riding with her.

Race time: 6 hours
First woman in T2 around 12:30 p.m. local time
Ride back into T2
As with the men, this is where the biggest time differences can be made. Ryf will probably try to decisively break away from any others riding with her and work hard to extend her lead over Carfrae to 15 minutes or more, similar to 2014. While last year Ryf was a relatively unknown Kona racer without a sub-3:10 marathon (now her best marathon is a 3:06 from Frankfurt), the other top contenders will be focused on not letting her get away this year.

Race time: 7 hours
First part of the run (out and back on Ali’i Drive)
The first 10 miles will provide an indication of who left enough for the run: Those who rode too hard will start to falter while the stronger runners will start gaining ground. We’ll also start to get a sense if Carfrae has her 2:50 running fitness from 2013 and 2014.

Race time: 8 hours
First woman to finish around 3:35 p.m.
Queen K Highway and Energy Lab

We may see Ryf deliver an authoritative performance similar to Kienle in the 2014 men’s race. Or the more exciting scenario will be to have three or even more athletes hit the turnaround in the Energy Lab within a minute or two. Then we might see the female version of the “Iron War,” with the race not being decided until the final miles.

RELATED – Daniela Ryf: Going After The Double

2015 Women’s Pro Start List

101 Mirinda Carfrae AUS
102 Daniela Ryf SUI
103 Jodie Swallow GBR
104 Caroline Steffen SUI
105 Rachel Joyce GBR
106 Julia Gajer GER
107 Mary Beth Ellis USA
108 Gina Crawford NZL
109 Meredith Kessler USA
110 Leanda Cave GBR
111 Melissa Hauschildt AUS
112 Angela Naeth CAN
113 Ariane Monticeli BRA
114 Elizabeth Lyles USA
115 Liz Blatchford AUS
116 Heather Wurtele CAN
117 Lucy Gossage GBR
118 Camilla Pedersen DNK
119 Eva Wutti AUT
120 Diana Riesler GER
121 Susie Cheetham GBR
122 Michelle Vesterby DNK
123 Amanda Stevens USA
124 Beth Gerdes USA
125 Heather Jackson USA
126 Britta Martin NZL
127 Ruth Brennan Morrey USA
128 Mareen Hufe GER
129 Haley Chura USA
130 Annabel Luxford AUS
131 Kelly Williamson USA
132 Dede Griesbauer USA
133 Astrid Stienen GER
134 Dimity-Lee Duke AUS
135 Corinne Abraham GBR
136 Tine Deckers BEL
137 Asa Lundstrom SWE
138 Shiao-Yu Li TWN
139 Sarah Piampiano USA
140 Caitlin Snow USA
141 Sofie Goos BEL
142 Laurel Wassner USA