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Galveston, Texas, the main city on an island located about an hour southeast of downtown Houston, is eagerly gearing up for the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas this Sunday, April 1.
Even though Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside has typically been considered the triathlon season opener in North America, Ironman 70.3 Texas, held the day after this year, is starting to slightly overshadow it, making the pro field have to choose between the two regions of the country.
There will be an arguably slightly stronger field at 70.3 Texas this weekend, which also serves as the U.S. Pro Championship, because of its larger prize purse and higher points ranking in the 70.3/Kona Pro Rankings. Texas is one of three P-1500 races (the others being the Ironman 70.3 Latin American Pro Championship in Panama, which happened in February, and the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Weisbaden, Germany, in August) that awards 1500 points toward both world championships to the victor. The only 70.3 race worth more points (P-3000) is the Ironman World Championship 70.3 at Lake Las Vegas, Nev.
The timing of 70.3 Texas will help athletes secure their spots on the starting lines in either Kona or Vegas (or both). Professional athletes gain spots in Kona using points from their top five races, no more than three of which can be Ironman 70.3s. Texas will also have a $65,000 prize purse, plus an additional $5,000 going to the top male and female U.S. finishers.
The points, prize purse and timing appeal of 70.3 Texas is evident in the names that will assemble on the start line. In the men’s race, the field will be highlighted by two-time 70.3 world champion Michael Raelert of Germany and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Raelert hasn’t raced since his win at the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship in Laguna Phuket at the end of last year, so if he’s fit and healthy, he’ll be hard to beat. However, Armstrong, who trains in Austin, Texas, has already proven his early-season fitness with a runner-up finish over a stellar field at Ironman 70.3 Panama. Other notable pros include Marino Vanhoenacker of Belgium, who’s typically considered a strong iron-distance racer but proved his 70.3 speed with his win at Ironman New Zealand earlier this month (which was shortened to a 70.3); American Tim O’Donnell, who proved he can race well in the East Texas heat and humidity with his runner-up finish at Ironman Texas last year; Germany’s Sebastian Kienle; Switzerland’s Ronnie Schildknecht; Ukraine’s Maxim Kriat; and American TJ Tollakson.
In the women’s race, Kelly Williamson is favored to win. She placed fifth in this race last year, trains in Austin, Texas, and proved her early-season fitness with a win at 70.3 San Juan and a runner-up finish at 70.3 Panama. Great Britain’s Leanda Cave recently pulled out of the race due to illness, but other top contenders include Canada’s Heather Wurtele, veteran pro Yvonne van Vlerken, American Caitlin Snow and American Amy Marsh.
Check back to Triathlete.com on Sunday for the race report.