Ironman World Championship Pro Men’s Preview

Will Australia claim a seventh straight title? Or will an athlete from another country have a breakthrough race?

Photo: Kurt Hoy

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Last year’s race featured no clear favorite on the men’s side, and the same is true for 2013. Will Australia claim a seventh straight title? Or will an athlete from another country have a breakthrough race? Poll: Who Will Win The Men’s Kona Race?

Two recent Ironman world champions will toe the line in Kona on Saturday, and both are considered among the favorites to add another title to their already impressive careers. Reigning world champion Pete Jacobs (AUS) has had a quiet 2013 season full of injuries, but considering he was in the same scenario heading into last year’s race, that doesn’t mean much. In the 2012 race, Jacobs stayed at the front of the main group on the bike ride, was second off of the bike and then turned in a 2:48:05 marathon to earn the win. He’ll need a similar strategy if he hopes to repeat as world champion. Three-time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander will be looking to go out on top, as he’s made no secret this will be one of his last—if not the last—Kona campaigns of his career. Crowie struggled to a 12th-place finish in 2012 and later revealed that he was suffering from a back injury. Alexander has chosen to race minimally this year and a penalty at last month’s 70.3 world championship took him out of contention early—so it’s hard to know his form. If he can showcase the fitness that earned him the world title—and the world record—in 2011, he’ll be tough to beat.

In addition to Jacobs, the rest of the men’s top five from last year will be toeing the line and as far as we know they’re all coming into this race healthy. Andreas Raelert (GER) has been on the Kona podium the last four years (second in 2009 and 2012, third in 2010 and 2011) and will be hungrier than ever to finally get the win. Raelert spent last year’s race making up for a slower-than-usual swim, and he’ll look to avoid doing that this year. He’s capable of putting together the most well-rounded race of the field and finally earning the title that has eluded him.

Belgium’s Frederik Van Lierde finished in the bronze position in 2012, less than 30 seconds behind Raelert. Like Raelert, he’s capable of success across swim, bike and run, and even though his 2012 marathon split (2:52:49) was great, he’ll need to get it down a bit to have a shot at the overall title. Many are picking last year’s fourth-place finisher, and two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion, Sebastian Kienle (GER) to take the win. He was on his way to a big lead with Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL) last year before suffering a flat tire. Would he have been able to maintain that lead and take the victory like he has twice in a row in Vegas? It’s hard to say, but there’s no doubt he’ll duplicate that strategy on Saturday. Last year’s fifth-place finisher Faris Al-Sultan is also back on the start list, but very few have called him a contender. He won this title eight years ago and has had steady performances on this course since then, so he knows what it takes to be successful and could easily find himself in the top five again.

One athlete who has never won in Kona and didn’t have a great race last year, but is still very high on the list of potential winners, is Spain’s Eneko Llanos. Since switching to six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott as his coach, he has had the most successful Ironman season to date, taking the victories against tough fields at both the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in March and the Ironman European Championships in July. Will he carry that momentum into this race to earn his first Ironman world title? Or, have the strong efforts left him with less than 100 percent to give in Kona?

Outside of Llanos, Alexander and the 2012 top five, there has been an increased chatter around the American field coming into this race. Former pro triathlete Tim DeBoom, who is the last American to win in Kona (2001, 2002), wrote a critical article about the American pro field and it seems to have lit a fire for many of the United States men. There are 10 Americans on the start list, with Andy Potts, Tim O’Donnell, Jordan Rapp, Ben Hoffman, TJ Tollakson and Andrew Starykowicz as the standouts with the most potential for success. Potts and O’Donnell both finished in the top 10 last year and have shown a commitment this year that suggests they could be capable of moving up the results list. Both Potts and O’Donnell have had quieter years, with impressive Ironman victories (Ironman Brazil for O’Donnell, Ironman Lake Placid for Potts) to show for their efforts over the last few months. In many ways this could be the first true showing of O’Donnell’s potential in Kona. Though it will be his third time racing in Kona, he was ill for the first race and competed with a knee injury in 2012. He says he’s fit and healthy coming into this year, so he could impress with a podium finish or better.

Rapp, Starykowicz, Tollakson and Hoffman have all proven they are capable of putting together well-rounded Ironman races, but they have yet to do it with the tactics and on the course of the Ironman World Championship. This could be the year we see one or more of them have a breakthrough race.

Every year there’s chatter about the Kona rookies, and there are two notable names making their first start in 2013. Both Ivan Rana (ESP) and Bevan Docherty (NZL) shifted over to long-course racing late in 2012 and have found success. Both have impressive Ironman titles, highlighted by blistering run splits (a 2:44:05 for Rana at Ironman Cozumel and a 2:49:46 for Docherty at Ironman New Zealand). The two former ITU athletes are capable of great things if they can keep in contact with the front group on the bike.

Two Team TBB athletes who could have breakout races on Saturday are David Dellow (AUS) and James Cunnama (RSA). Dellow had a stellar rookie performance in 2012, finishing in ninth after staying with the main group all day. Cunnama on the other hand is returning to Kona four years after a very disappointing first try at the Hawaii Ironman. He said he wouldn’t return until he felt ready, so the fact that he’s on the start list is worth paying attention to.

Both Luxembourg’s Dirk Bockel and Germany’s Timo Bracht have finished in the top 10 in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, but haven’t quite had the performances needed to make the coveted top three. Look for that experience, and knowledge of race tactics, to play into their favor on Saturday.

Other veterans of this race worth watching out for include Ronnie Schildknecht (SUI), Luke Bell (AUS) and Luke McKenzie (AUS).

Check back tomorrow for a preview of the women’s race.

See the complete start list below:
Pete Jacobs (AUS)
Sebastian Kienle (GER)
Eneko Llanos (ESP)
Andreas Raelert (GER)
Craig Alexander (AUS)
Frederik Van Lierde (BEL)
Timothy O’Donnell (USA)
Andy Potts (USA)
Bart Aernouts (BEL)
Bas Diederen (NLD)
Luke Bell (AUS)
Jimmy Johnsen (DEN)
Bevan Docherty (NZL)
Faris Al-Sultan (GER)
Petr Vabrousek (CZE)
Brandon Marsh (USA)
Ronnie Schildknecht (CHE)
Matthew Russell (USA)
Bert Jammaer (BEL)
Jan Raphael (GER)
Axel Zeebroek (BEL)
Mike Schifferle (CHE)
Timo Bracht (GER)
Per Bittner (GER)
Dominik Berger (AUT)
Stefan Schmid (GER)
Jordan Rapp (USA)
Paul Amey (GBR)
David Plese (SVN)
David Dellow (AUS)
Ivan Rana (ESP)
Horst Reichel (GER)
Daniel Halksworth (GBR)
Andi Boecherer (GER)
Igor Amorelli (BRA)
Pedro Gomes (PRT)
Christian Ritter (GER)
Maxim Kriat (RUS)
Cyril Viennot (FRA)
Ben Hoffman (USA)
TJ Tollakson (USA)
Tyler Butterfield (BMU)
Thomas Gerlach (USA)
Marko Albert (EST)
Dirk Bockel (LUX)
Balazs Csoke (HUN)
Luke McKenzie (AUS)
Ian Mikelson (USA)
Christopher Legh (AUS)
Andrew Starykowicz (USA)
Clayton Fettell (AUS)
Ben Cotter (CAN)
James Cunnama (RSA)

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