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A few big names in triathlon will be missing from the starting line at October’s 2013 Ironman World Championship.
Despite injuries and illness keeping top contenders on the bench this year, the starting list for the 2013 Ironman World Championship still points to an exciting race.
Who Won’t Be in Kona
Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL)
The Belgian led the pro field into T2 solo (after losing Sebastian Kienle to a flat tire) at last year’s Hawaii Ironman, then dropped out just before the Energy Lab, allowing Pete Jacobs to take the lead and eventually the win. This season, Vanhoenacker struggled with an injury that, when diagnosed, was worse than expected, leaving him to wait to head to the Big Island again until 2014. He finished 19th at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, then announced afterward his diagnosis—a stress fracture in his pubic bone, which affected his running.
“I honestly believe we tried everything to make it in time [to race Hawaii], to treat it to the max but my body gives me signs that this will not be possible so I ran out of options and the only thing left for me to do is pull the plug and try to approach the problem by giving it time,” Vanhoenacker said in a statement. “I will use these 3 weeks to heal my body as well physically as mentally and I will try to lay out a new master plan, with a late Ironman in 2013 and with Ironman WC Hawaii 2014 at the end of that journey.”
When triathlon fans and writers noticed that Vanhoenacker was not make the qualifying cutoff through the Kona Pro Rankings, there were comments floating around blaming it on the KPR system. However, Vanhoenacker also stated: “The fact that I will not be in Hawaii is because of an injury and not because of the points. … Injury decided different about this plan and that is it ‘full stop.’”
Chris “Macca” McCormack (AUS)
Soon after returning to Australia this month for a final block of Kona preparation earlier this month, the two-time Ironman world champ, who DNF’ed in Kona last year, tweeted that he will not be racing the 2013 Ironman World Championship. He had mentioned being ill over the previous few days, and his diagnosis prevented him from preparing for or racing Kona: “Epstein-Barr virus, diagnosis mononucleosis. 4-6 weeks recovery. Kona is gone for 2013. Absolutely devastated. Thanks for the concerns.” Leading up to the announcement, Macca had told Bob Babbitt on Competitor Radio that this would be his last time going for the Kona crown. He has not made it clear whether we will see him racing again on the Big Island.
Michael Raelert (GER)
In August, the younger Raelert brother and two-time 70.3 world champion announced on his website that after a year of struggling with an injury, he had undergone surgery on his left knee to relieve inflammation. He attributed the injury to a mountain bike crash in the spring. This year, he finished seventh at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfrut in July on limited run training, and then withdrew from the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Wiesbaden due to the injury. The surgery and rehab also kept him from racing the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Lake Las Vegas a few weeks ago.
As of 2010, Raelert was considered one of the best triathletes in the world, with his dominance at 70.3 racing, but he hasn’t had the same success as his older brother when it comes to Ironman—while his Ironman debut at the 2012 Regensburg looked promising (he was the runner-up behind Dirk Bockel), he didn’t fare as well in Hawaii. Michael was 32nd in Kona last year, while his brother Andreas has finished on the podium four times in Kona.
Julie Dibens (GBR)
The last time we saw the British übercyclist in 2011 was when she clocked a 4:44 bike split in Kona, giving her a 10-minute lead over an injured Chrissie Wellington. Since then, Dibens underwent surgery on a foot injury that had plagued her since 2004 and a knee injury, and spent 2012 and early 2013 recovering from the surgery. When she decided to undergo surgery, she said she had hoped to return to Kona in 2013 to improve on her third-place Kona debut in 2010. However, the former 70.3 and Xterra world champion’s return to the sport has been a slow one. She started with racing in the elite invite-only field at the Women’s Time Trial in May’s Amgen Tour of California, then raced the Xterra Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek, Colo., in July, where she placed seventh. There’s been no word so far as to when (and if) she’ll be racing Kona again.
Virginia Berasategui (ESP)
After the Spaniard’s third-place finish at the 2009 Ironman World Championship and win at the 2009 Wildflower Long Course Triathlon, triathlon pundits kept their eyes on Berasategui to get on the podium in Kona again. She placed fourth in 2010 and 10th in 2011, and didn’t race in 2012. Earlier this year, the 38-year-old Berasategui announced she would retire after the 2013 season, but instead her career ended earlier than expected when she tested positive at May’s Bilbao Triathlon. At first, she tried to appeal the charge, but about a month later confessed to having doped recently and decided not to pursue the B sample. After winning Ironman Lanzarote in 2005, she had also tested positive, but the case was thrown out on a technicality.
Chris Lieto (USA)
After his close runner-up finish in Hawaii in 2009, Americans hoped the supercyclist could return to win on the Big Island, but perhaps that year was Lieto’s perfect race. Up until 2011, Lieto was still racing well, including a runner-up finish at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, but he dealt with an Achilles injury for much of 2012, which kept him from racing on triathlon’s biggest stage last year. This year, he spent much of his time working with his nonprofit organization More Than Sport, which helps the people in the communities where triathlons are held. He’s made no announcement about whether or not he’ll be making another go at the Big Island.
Camilla Pedersen (DEN)
Unlike most of the athletes on this list, Pedersen won’t be missing out on Kona due to qualification issues. The 2012 Ironman European Champion had easily punched her ticket and was in the process of training for a big race when she was involved in a horrific bicycle accident that nearly took her life. Pedersen spent 19 days in a medically-induced coma before she was taken out of it on Tuesday, Sept. 24. She has a long road of recovery ahead of her. Learn more here.
Who Might Be in Kona
Mary Beth Ellis (USA)
Known as a “bulldog” on the race course, Team TBB athlete Ellis has been dominant at 140.6 since her Ironman debut in 2011. She was considered the best U.S. hope for a Kona crown (the last American to win in Kona was Tim DeBoom in 2002) until a bike crash on Sept. 9 left her with a broken clavicle and torn ligaments. As Triathlete.com reported, Ellis underwent surgery and is working to make the start line in Kona next month, but it remains to be seen how her body, specifically her shoulder, will hold up under 2.4 miles of ocean swimming and 112 miles of cycling in the aerobars.
Who Will Be in Kona
While the men’s race won’t have the same story lines we’ve seen in recent years (Macca vs. Crowie, or Raelert vs. Raelert), it will still be an exciting, wide open race. Aussie Pete Jacobs will be defending his title, though he hasn’t had an impressive season so far—he won the 70.3 Sunshine Coast this month in a shallow pro field, and placed 41st at Ironman Frankfurt after walking the last 10K. But none of that matters if his fitness is on for the big day. There to challenge him will be the 40-year-old Aussie Craig “Crowie” Alexander, who will be looking for a fourth Kona title. He had a rough race in Vegas this month after a drafting penalty took him out of contention early on, but he knows what it takes to win in Hawaii—this year could be his swan song. Another top contender is 2008 Kona runner-up Eneko Llanos of Spain. Since switching to Ironman legend Dave Scott as his coach, Llanos has been on fire this season, having won the two big championships—Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne and Ironman European Championship Frankfurt—so far this season. You also can’t count out German Andreas Raelert—after four podium finishes in four attempts on the Big Island, he seems destined to get a title. Also, two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Sebastian Kienle of Germany could use his momentum from his recent win in Vegas to propel him to another top finish. He and Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker had been leading the men’s race on the bike until Kienle got a flat tire about 60 or 65 miles into the ride. Despite the delay of a few minutes, Kienle still managed to finish fourth.
Since the Chrissie Wellington era has ended, the women’s race has remained wide open. Great Britain’s Leanda Cave will be back to defend her title, but—like Jacobs—she hasn’t had many impressive finishes this season, including 13th place in Vegas, but she proved last year she knows how to pull it together for the races that count. Her top competition will come from Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen of Team TBB, who’s had multiple top four finishes in Kona. The 2010 champ, Aussie Mirinda Carfrae, will also be returning, though she’s had a rollercoaster of a season with coaching changes and eventually returning to Siri Lindley, who coached her to her 2010 victory (and is also coach to Cave). Other women we have our eyes on are Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce, who managed an 11th-place finish last year despite being ill race week, and Canada’s Heather Wurtele, who set a new course record at Ironman Coeur d’Alene this year and has added multiple wins and podium finishes to her résumé this year. Having been known for her bike strength, Wurtele has added strong off-the-bike running to her arsenal this year.