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Triathlete editor Brad Culp analyzes how Torbjorn Sindballe’s retirement from triathlon will affect the big race in October.
In 2004, Normann Stadler rode away from the field on the Queen K and went on to win his first Ironman world title. Stadler proved that a win-it-on-the-bike strategy can work on the Big Island, which is why Torbjorn Sindballe has always been such a big “X” factor at our sport’s marquee event. Simply put, Sindballe ranks among the three or four best cyclists to ever race in Kona. There are always a handful of great riders in Hawaii each year, and on a good day, any one of them can take the lead into T2. Sindballe was the only one who was able to decide whether or not he wanted the lead at that point. Good day or bad, if the high-horsepower Dane wanted to take the lead on the bike, he did just that–no matter how badly anyone else wanted it.
Without question, taking the strongest cyclist out of the equation will change the men’s race in Hawaii this year. During the past few years, the charge on the bike has been led by Sindballe, Chris Lieto, Eneko Llanos, Faris Al-Sultan, and of course, Normann Stadler. There are typically other super-riders in the field (like Ain-Alar Juhanson and Ronnie Schildknecht), but the aforementioned five athletes have strong enough swims to put them at the front on the way back from Hawi. Removing perhaps the single strongest rider of these five should slow the pace of the whole group. These riders push each other, and one less person pushing will likely cause the others to ease up a bit.
A slowing of the lead pack would likely help the top runners, because it would shorten up the gap between the lead group of 4-5 and the larger chase group, which might include guys like Craig Alexander, Chris McCormack, Rutger Beke, Cameron Brown and Andy Potts. This could be an exciting scenario. Perhaps we’d get to see Crowie and Macca burying each other to sub-2:40 marathons.
But that’s just speculation. Two things are for sure: First, the race will somehow be different without Sindballe in it. And secondly, I’ll miss watching Sindballe ride at the front on triathlon’s main stage. At last year’s race, I pulled up just close enough to Sindballe so that I could see what gear he was pushing in the stiff wind on the ride back from Hawi. At the 90-mile marker, the Dane was pounding his 53×11 (note: His chainring may, in fact, have more than 53 teeth) and going 29 mph…on a slight uphill…with a not-so-slight crosswind.
Like I said, he could really ride a bike.