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Triathlete.com honors the men who dazzled, dismayed— and destroyed their competition in 2011. Read through the list below and then head over to today’s Triathlete.com Poll to tell us who you think had the best 2011 season.
1. Craig Alexander
Alexander has long been established as a venerable force over the 70.3 and Ironman distances. But the 38-year-old’s wins seemed even sweeter—and more impressive—in 2011. Maybe it was how he became the first man to win both the Ironman and the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in the same year. Or how he overcame fatigue and cramps for his third victory in Kona—while still setting the course record. Or maybe it was how he managed a win in Vegas despite a flat on the bike. Whatever it is, the Aussie’s banner year further cemented his position among the greatest triathletes of all time.
2. Alistair Brownlee
As London preps to host the XXX Olympiad next summer, all eyes are on hometown favorite Brownlee, who lives just hours from Hyde Park. The 23-year-old cleaned up on the ITU circuit, collecting wins in Madrid, Kitzbühel, London and Beijing—culminating in the overall ITU world title. And if this season is any indication of his success next summer, he’ll toe the line in London as the hands-down favorite to win gold.
3. Andreas Raelert
Raelert stole Marino Vanhoenacker’s thunder by breaking his week-old iron-distance world record at Challenge Roth. And he did so in stunning fashion, turning in a blazing 7:41:33 (that’s a 46:18 swim, a 4:11:43 bike and a 2:40:52 run). At the Ironman World Championship in October, he rounded out the podium with a third-place performance behind Craig Alexander and Pete Jacobs, notching a new Kona PR in the process. The 35-year-old German impressed on the half-iron-distance scene as well, picking up wins at 70.3 Mallorca and in Cologne, Germany, among others.
4. Marino Vanhoenacker
In one of the most eye-popping performances of the year, 35-year-old Vanhoenacker of Belgium destroyed compatriot Luc Van Lierde’s 14-year-old Ironman mark with a 7:45:58 finish at Ironman Austria. His sixth-straight win in Austria, the title was Vanhoenacker’s ninth career Ironman victory. Although the record was broken by Andreas Raelert just one week later, Vanhoenacker’s time remains the fastest-ever at an Ironman sanctioned event.
5. Jonathan Brownlee
He may be Alistair’s junior by two years, but Brownlee, 21, hardly takes a backseat to his big brother. The fleet-footed Brit (he ran a blistering 14:24 5K split to win the ITU Elite Sprint Triathlon World Championship in August) finished off the 2011 season ranked second in the world behind Alistair, placing no worse than third in any of the seven races in which he competed.
6. Javier Gomez
If anyone’s primed to give the Brownlee brothers a run for their money, it’s Gomez. The 28-year-old Spaniard outpaced Jonathan for a win at the ITU World Championship Series race in Sydney in April, handily won a European Cup in July, and was just four seconds away from topping the podium at the ITU Elite Sprint Triathlon World Championships in August. He also proved he can race well in non-drafting race by winning October’s U.S. Open Triathlon in Dallas, Texas.
7. Dan Hugo
The XTERRA star rebounded from a 36th-place finish at the 2010 Xterra World Champs to runner-up just one year later. That, paired with his second-place finish at the XTERRA U.S. Championships, places Hugo in prime position to be the next great off-road triathlete. The 26-year-old South African also kick-started his stellar season on home turf with a win at the XTERRA South Africa Championship in February, and showed off his fine, uh, form in Triathlete’s annual swimsuit issue.
8. Eneko Llanos
The 34-year-old Llanos ran his way into the record books at Ironman Arizona when he became just the second person to break the eight-hour barrier in a North American Ironman. The Spaniard’s 7:59:38 finish—which ended with a 2:46:09 marathon—capped off a season which also included a win at the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas in May as well as a third-place finish at the XTERRA World Championships in October.
9. Jordan Rapp
Less than two years removed from devastating hit-and-run cycling accident (resulting in major blood loss and broken bones), 31-year-old Rapp re-established himself as a major contender with wins at Ironman Canada in August and the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in November. There, after the swim was cancelled because of cold water temperatures, Rapp used the modified 120K bike, 30K run format to his advantage to outdistance runner-up Joe Gambles by nearly three minutes, becoming the third American to win the world title in the history of the event.
10. Andy Potts
The 2011 season was a super-busy one for Potts, 35, who racked up six wins in just three months between April and July. The American displayed remarkable versatility with a trio of 70.3 victories (Oceanside, Florida and Vineman) as well as wins at Escape from Alcatraz and the Philly Triathlon. Arguably the fastest swimmer in the sport, Potts emerged from the water two minutes ahead of the field at the Ironman World Champs in October, ultimately finishing 17th. One week prior to that Kona race, Potts earned the Life Time Fitness Race To The Toyota Cup Series title by finishing fourth at the U.S. Open Triathlon.