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Ironman 70.3 World Champ Preview: The Pro Men

Will Craig Alexander defend his Vegas title and pull off another double-championship year?

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Will Craig Alexander defend his Vegas title and pull off another double-championship year? All bets are off this Sunday, Sept. 9—race day of the 2012 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. (Read the women’s preview.) Go to Triathlete.com/Vegas2012 for complete coverage of the race.

Craig Alexander (AUS), 39

Is it possible to peak for both the 70.3 and Ironman world championships? Alexander answered that question last year by dominating in Vegas and Kona. He’ll attempt to do the same this year—and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again. We’ve only seen him race a few times in 2012, but in those appearances he was untouchable.

Photos: Craig Alexander In The Wind Tunnel

Joe Gambles (AUS), 30

Although Gambles has been looking forward to his second attempt at the Ironman World Championship this fall, the 70.3 distance is still his bread and butter. He’s finished just outside of the podium the past three years (fifth in 2009, fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011) and will be hungry for a top spot. He’ll need to show improvement on the run to make that happen.

Bevan Docherty (NZL), 35

With the 2012 London Olympics as Docherty’s main priority for the year, a start at this race is not a guarantee. If his 1,500 points from his victory at Ironman 70.3 Panama prove to be enough to earn him a spot on the start line, he becomes an automatic favorite. His buildup to the Olympics coupled with his pure run speed may provide the perfect base for Docherty to come to Vegas and surprise some of the veterans of the distance.

Michael Raelert (GER), 32

Raelert didn’t race last year in Vegas because of a hip injury, but he’s still undefeated in 70.3 world championship starts. This will be the two-time winner’s first attempt at the hot and hilly Nevada course. Another factor for the star runner will be the buildup to his first attempt at the Ironman World Championship. Will he be able to turn in his signature speed with Ironman training in his legs?

Tim O’Donnell (USA), 31

Redeeming himself at the Ironman World Championship in October (he DNF’ed in 2011) seems to be O’Donnell’s No. 1 goal for the year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t squeeze in a podium finish in Vegas. O’Donnell excels at the 70.3 distance and in April won Ironman 70.3 Texas, the second most competitive race on the circuit. Of all of the male contenders, O’Donnell is the most well-rounded athlete across swim, bike and run.

Matty Reed (USA), 36

Reed was the favorite to win this race in 2009 and ultimately finished third. Since then, he’s bounced from the idea of possibly going after another Olympic berth to his first appearance at the Ironman World Championship in 2011. With a renewed focus this year on the 70.3 distance, Reed seems to have found a groove again. He has the tools to keep pace on the swim, bike and run, and will need to pull out a well-rounded effort to have a shot at another podium.

Paul Matthews (AUS), 29

Matthews may be one of the youngest athletes on this list, but that doesn’t mean he lacks experience. He has been competing in the sport since he was 11 years old and has been a 70.3 specialist until this year. Although he’s made the jump up to Ironman in 2012, he’s also had a strong season on the short-course circuit and could have the perfect combination of speed and endurance to do well at this race.

Greg Bennett (AUS), 40

Bennett’s win at the 2011 Hy-Vee 5150 U.S. Championships earned him entry in three championship events (5150, 70.3 and Ironman) in 2012, and he intends to race all of them. How he handles the recovery after Hy-Vee (he finished third last week) and the buildup to Kona (five weeks after) will play a major part in his chance for success. Although the distance is fairly new to him, he has raced tough in 70.3 events against the likes of Craig Alexander and Lance Armstrong.


Andy Potts (USA), 35

Potts, who won the 70.3 world title back in 2007, has the distinction of being one of few athletes who can excel at Olympic-distance, 70.3 and Ironman races all in the same season. Potts’ success at this race will depend on how he performs on the bike. If he can hold a lead into T2 like he did at 70.3 California, he has a good shot at a top spot.

Sebastian Kienle (GER), 28

Kienle is one of few athletes who has beaten a healthy Michael Raelert at the 70.3 distance (at 70.3 Wiesbaden in Germany in 2009), and that statistic alone makes him worthy of contender status. He is capable of biking and running with the top athletes, but he’ll need to make sure his deficit out of the swim isn’t too large.

Leon Griffin (AUS), 32

This race always seems to feature a surprise podium finisher, and this may be Griffin’s year to fill that role. The Aussie took some time away from the sport, but he seems to be back stronger than ever in 2012. Griffin excels on the bike and run, and keeping the leaders in his sights out of the swim will be the key to his success come race day.

Jeff Symonds (CAN), 26

In 2011, Symonds made his way onto the Ironman World Championship 70.3 podium as a relative unknown. The Canadian ran his way to third with a 1:13:33 half-marathon, the second fastest of the day. He’s spent a good part of 2012 battling an injury, but if he can get to the start line healthy, Symonds’ ability to navigate the hot and tedious run course will help earn another top finish.

Jesse Thomas (USA), 32

Although the weather was fairly mild in 2011, the Ironman World Championship 70.3 course is capable of being one of the hottest, hilliest and windiest venues in the world. With conditions similar to the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon, where Thomas has dominated the past two years, the American may be primed to earn a spot on the podium. Thomas will need to come off the bike with the likes of Alexander and Raelert to be a top contender.

Filip Ospaly (CZE), 36

Like Michael Raelert, Ospaly spent much of 2011 battling an injury. He finished in the runner-up position behind Raelert in Clearwater, Fla., in 2010 thanks to a blistering 1:11:24 half-marathon split. If he can replicate that performance on the drastically different Vegas course, he’ll find himself on the podium once again.

Richie Cunningham (AUS), 39

A contender at multiple distances for years, Cunninham has become a half-iron distance favorite with wins at Rev3 Quassy and Rev3 Portland as well as podium finishes in four 70.3s this year. The Aussie-born resident of Boulder, Colo. is having the best season of his already consistent 15-year professional career. He has two third-place finishes and two fifth-place finishes at the 70.3 World Championships and will look to move his way up the podium in 2012.

2011 Ironman World Championship 70.3 Results
Men
swim bike run total
Craig Alexander
AUS 24:45 2:14:47 1:11:50 3:54:48
Chris Lieto
USA 24:51 2:10:36 1:18:55 3:58:03
Jeff Symonds
CAN 24:47 2:16:54 1:13:33 3:58:42
Michael Weiss
AUT 27:57 2:12:57 1:14:09 3:59:11
Joe Gambles
AUS 24:45 2:15:09 1:16:50 4:00:00
Paul Matthews
AUS 24:27 2:15:45 1:17:12 4:00:26
Raynard Tissink
RSA 24:57 2:17:31 1:14:50 4:00:53
Tim Berkel
AUS 26:33 2:14:44 1:17:04 4:02:01
Luke Bell
AUS 24:53 2:15:14 1:20:18 4:04:03
Allessandro Degasperi
ITA 25:23 2:16:28 1:19:59 4:05:09

Complete Start List
1. Craig Alexander (AUS)
2. Michael Raelert (GER)
3. Richie Cunningham (AUS)
4. Bart Aernouts (BEL)
5. Timothy O’Donnell (USA)
6. Joe Gambles (AUS)
7. Tim Reed (AUS)
8. Paul Matthews (AUS)
9. Paul Ambrose (AUS)
10. Matty Reed (USA)
11. Terenzo Bozzone (NZL)
12. Andy Potts (USA)
13. Greg Bennett (AUS)
14. Alessandro Degasperi (ITA)
15. Filip Ospaly (CZE)
17. Leon Griffin (AUS)
18. Christian Kemp (AUS)
19. Joe Umphenour (USA)
20. Clayton Fettell (AUS)
21. Sebastian Kienle (GER)
22. Ollie Whistler (AUS)
23. Jeff Symonds (CAN)
24. Tim Berkel (AUS)
25. Santiago Ascenco (BRA)
26. Kent Horner (ZAF)
27. Josh Rix (AUS)
28. Callum Millward (NZL)
29. Trevor Wurtele (CAN)
30. Rich Allen (GBR)
31. Josh Amberger (AUS)
32. Bevan Docherty (NZL)
33. Paul Amey (GBR)
34. Oscar Galindez (ARG)
35. Erich Felbabel (HKG)
36. Jos Jeuland (FRA)
37. Shanon Stallard (NZL)
38. Robert Wade (IRL)
39. Jordan Jones (USA)
40. Jesse Thomas (USA)
41. Balazs Csoke (HUN)
42. Mauro Cavanha (BRA)
43. Julien Biboud (CAN)
44. Matt Lieto (USA)
45. James Bowstead (NZL)
46. Faris Al-Sultan (GER)
47. Jack Smith (USA)