Like any of the classic horse races around the world such as the Grand National, Kentucky Derby, Melbourne Cup etc the Ironman World Championship is one of the hardest races in the world to pick. Sure there have been times when there was a domination by one or two athletes but this year, possibly more so than any year in the past, the pro fields are stacked to the rafters.
This year the favourite in the betting market is the German and 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Jan Fredeno. It is a brave person who would bet the weeks rent on a first timer to win Kona. Jan Frodeno is a class act, though many class acts have been before him and learnt some big lessons on the Queen K.
Last years male champion Frederik Van Lierde and second place Luke McKenzie would both rightly believe that they have the ability to win in 2014. It’s interesting to note that past performance seem to mean a lot on the Big Island. In 17 of the last 18 years the men’s winner was a top-four finisher the year before. A classic example of this beingÂ Frederik Van Lierde’s victory last year, having finished third in 2012 before winning in 2013.
ThisÂ is merely 3 of the best in the world who are racing on Saturday Hawaii time, and we couldn’t possibly cover the entire field of 54 professional men lining up.
Three time champion Craig Alexander is having his final tilt at the title and anyone who bets against him would be foolish. The only challenge for Crowie will be his body holding out. In March Crowie ran a race fast 2:43 marathon at Ironman Melbourne and has been focused on Kona since.
2012 Champion Pete Jacobs is back to right the wrongs of 2013. He has not had a great year including a recent public slanging match with the CEO of World Triathlon Corporation. Something that no professional triathlete should have to deal with but Jacobs dealt with it well. On the field this year and things have not gone to plan with some fatigue issues plaguing Jacobs. As with Crowie anyone that bets against Jacobs winning could risk losing the house.
Sebastian Kienle is the one that everyone has been talking about this year but we are not so sure 2014 will be his year. We would love to see him do well as he has such a great personality and approach to the sport. Of course not being an Aussie, 2nd or 3rd would be good – just behind an Aussie at number 1. Of course Ideally we would like to see the Aussies start at 1 andÂ complete the topÂ 10, with ten Aussie men on the start line with the withdrawal of Peter Robertson due to a fractured collarbone just two weeks ago.
Let’s not forget the other Aussies racing, including Tim Berkel, who at 30 is lining up for his first serious attempt at Kona. Berkel made the move to Lennox Head to train with coach Grant Giles, and has worked hard to improve his swim with his sights set on Kona. Berkel is in good form and on his day could shake up some of the big names in the sport. Another young Aussie who could potentially cause a stir if not this year in the future is Tim Reed. Formerly coached by Grant Giles and now with Matt Dixon, Reed is here to test the waters and prepare for a “proper” assault in 2015. Yet another young Aussie, Paul Matthews is mentored by the great Craig Alexander and had a cracker of race in Ironman Melbourne earlier this year, finishing second and only 1:12 back of Dirk Bockel (who is out of Kona due to a hip injury). Then there is Joe Gambles who has had a leaner racing preparation for Kona this year, and finished one short of a podium place in Roth. Gambles is sure to put in a good performance, andÂ will be a name to watch in future Kona’s. Richie Cunningham, the 41 year old Aussie, is a world class contender at the 70.3 distance and it is great to see him racing in Kona this year.
We have been talking about Bart Aernouts for a few weeks now as a potential winner. Based on his recent performances at Kona and his bike leg that is getting stronger and stronger he is going to be dangerous. If he can swim to his potential and limit the damage before he hits the bike he will get closer to the elusive win.
Australian Joe Gambles is one very talented athlete. His Ironman races to date have shown some classy early performances. One of the things that makes it difficult to know where the pros are really at is their reluctance to share the real story. they are all either foxing or not wanting to talk up their chances in case they don’t meet expectations.
Tim Reed is another who is not going to Kona to just get some experience. He is there to perform on the world stage.
A little look at some highlights from the professional press conference held yesterday:
Frederik Van Lierde (BEL):
Despite not having the best year on paper (4th at Abu Dhabi, 4th at Aix en Provence 70.3 and 2nd at Ironman Frankfurt), the defending Ironman World Champion stated “It’s been a fantastic year so far. It was a pleasure to race as a world champion and I enjoy it a lot. It was a great year”.
Luke McKenzie (AUS):
Following a frustrating year following his tremendous second place in Kona last year, Luke has returned to Kona hungry for success. A new father there is new motivation to provide for his family. McKenzie presented cool, calm and collected at the press conference: “I know I have a really good result in me. I think that’s what makes me hungry about coming back here and racing on Saturday. I know I’ve got good form and I love this race. I know how to prepare for it. I’ve been coming back here for eight years now. I’ve done my time here and I’m hungry to put a day together like I did last year.â€
Sebastian Kienle (GER):
With the palm tree’s blowing the talk of the town appears to be what the weather will be doing on Saturday. Kienle addressed these concerns with a little humour: “Predicting the weather and the winds is just like trying to predict the pro race. Everyone tries. Sometimes it will be very different than predicted. If you believe the predictions it will be a little better, which by better I mean a little worse for everyone else”.
Craig Alexander (AUS):
At 41 years of age Alexander has returned for what will be his last attempt to add another Kona title to his resume. The experienced Aussie on being questioned about his return:Â â€œIt feels good to be back. I thought last year was my last year. When I said it was. I thought I’d be in Australia doing school drop-offs and starting a coaching business or something like that. I changed my mind. I like to race. I liked the opportunity to spend another summer in the Northern Hemisphere. I’m excited to be back and I’m excited to race.â€
Pete Jacobs (AUS):
Jacobs has had a tough couple of years following his World Championship title in 2012, but the Aussie is sticking to his guns and believes in the process. “I’m following the same plan as every other year. Get injured or be sick early in the year and then come back and start training well in August. That’s worked well four out of the past five years. That’s my mindset, that generally what I do here works and it’s a good course for me”. It appears Jacobs appreciates racing under a little less pressure, stating: “It’s nice not to be the defending champion and be down at the other side of the table. It’s a little less pressure”.
Tim O’Donnell (USA):
It’s always interesting hearing the professionals open up about the pressures of racing, and O’Donnell shared his insight. On the pressure to get an American on top of the podium, and his working with coach Mark Allen: “One of the stipulations that Mark put down for working with him was that I have to put in a more impressive performance than he did 25 years ago, so that set the bar high. I was here at the press conference back in 2011 and I felt a little pressure on my shoulders and I ended up with a DNF. Now I’m sitting up here thinking I belong…Â I feel a a little more in place where I am now”.
One name missing from the press conference is James Cunnama (SA), who following his sub-8 hour win at Challenge Roth in 2012, suffered a run of bad luck including a bike crash and two DNF’s to start the 2013 season. Cunnama recovered with a second at Challenge Roth in 2013, although another crash followed at Alpe d’Huez. Cunnama returned to Kona for a very pleasing 4th place finish, and this year has won South Africa 70.3, a very respectable 5th placed finish at Roth this year despite being off form, but didn’t fair so well at the 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant last month with a DNF.
After a sub-8 hour win at Challenge Roth in 2012, Cunnama had a bike crash and two DNFs to start the 2013 season before recovering with a 2nd at Challenge Roth. Another crash at Alpe d’Huez was worrisome, but he gathered himself for an impressive 4th at Kona last year and the South African seemed to be on track for greatness. This year he won South Africa70.3, took a respectable but off-form 5th at Roth then had an off day DNF at Ironman 70.3 Worlds.Â Cunnama is a name to watch in future years, the question for Saturday is whether or not he is in full health and top form.
We wish each and every one of the 54 professional men racing the very best, and look forward to watching the race unfold.
The betting marketÂ http://www.sportsbet.com.au/betting/triathlon/kona-ironman-world-championship.
|1||Frederik Van Lierde||MPRO||MALE||BEL|
|14||Victor Del Corral Morales||MPRO||MALE||ESP|
|20||Tim Van Berkel||MPRO||MALE||AUS|
|39||Peter Robertson (Withdrawn)||MPRO||MALE||AUS|
|107||Yvonne Van Vlerken||FPRO||FEMALE||NLD|
|117||Mary Beth Ellis||FPRO||FEMALE||USA|